- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2000

MODEL: Oldsmobile Aurora

VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door sedan

PRICE-AS-TESTED: $30-35,000

MILEAGE: 17 city, 25 highway

MARINA, Calif. This is the image that Oldsmobile wants you to equate with its brand. Good weather, great scenery, a sinuous road along the ocean with rolling hills close at hand and a comfortable, responsive car to help you enjoy it.

Oldsmobile is seeking to rekindle a love of touring in the European tradition. Not high-performance driving, but traveling on challenging roads in style and confidence. The new Aurora delivers on that dream.

Five years after the first Aurora, Oldsmobile has redefined its flagship brand; Aurora focused and spearheaded the division's revitalization. The new Aurora uses a more rigid chassis enabling solid road holding, even higher quality and better safety. Aurora brought a new family of engines to Oldsmobile and it has capitalized on those power plants' twin-cam performance with racing-series dominance in sports sedans, unrestricted prototypes and now in the cars that race at the Indy 500.

Oldsmobile engineers lopped two cylinders off the potent V-8 and created a V-6 that will be borrowed by the other divisions to power their premium models.

In the Aurora the V-6 provides a value-priced model, about three grand less than the V-8 version, but owing more of that difference to package variations than to the engine cost. Just about all the detail changes between models are available as options on the V-6, and when they are added to the ticket, the real difference only varies about $1,500.

But the forte of the Aurora is its handling and the test is whether the new engine is blended to the demands. It is. In normal back-road meandering, there is little to recommend the larger engine, and the V-8's extra 35 horses are only of real value when rapid acceleration is desired. If a buyer is planning on taking four persons and their baggage on trips, a V-8 might be wise, but otherwise its main advantage is boasting rights. Both engines provide state-of-the-art performance and refinement.

The V-6 was recognized as one of Ward Auto News' 10 Best Engines for 1999, in its first year of eligibility. It's based on racing-derived elements like a forged crankshaft and chain cam drive that never needs replacement, but these are more of value for durability than performance. Only in rare situations would someone puncture the cooling system and need the "limp home" feature but that's a great confidence builder.

Even though it is shorter, Aurora's front and rear crush zones can absorb more impact energy, helping preserve passenger space. In a feat of designer magic the interior is larger, and a driver and front passenger side-impact air bag system adds side-crash protection. Safety belts are built into the front seats, providing more comfort, and being more likely to be worn, more safety.

The previous Aurora was criticized for being a bit too large, and while its sportiness was valued, it tended to be a bit harsh. Even with the V-8, the Aurora is 165 to 285 pounds lighter. That may help performance, but probably helps ride and gas mileage more. The wheels are 17-inchers on V-8 cars and 16-inchers on V-6s, with tires chosen for handling.

The suspension boasts more roll stiffness, higher spring rates and better balance. If you get in over your head, traction control and precision control (stability) systems will help you out. They are standard on the V-8 and optional on the V-6. Aurora shares its platform with the latest Pontiac Bonneville and Buick LeSabre. Good company to keep.

The new Aurora has more headroom, shoulder and hip room. The trunk is a cubic foot smaller but has a larger opening, making it more usable. Trimmed in real burled walnut, real leather and with soft-touch plastic surfaces, the passengers will feel comfortable, even pampered. Power accessories are everywhere, but giving your passenger the ability to have full control over the right-side seat will cost more.

Also, the heated seats and sunroof are optional, but most else is standard. Chrome wheels will be popular, but hopefully the buyers will have enough taste to convince Oldsmobile to drop the gold trim option.

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