- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

Last year, Oldsmobile boasted that its Alero had sophisticated styling, precise handling, a smooth ride and a spirited performance in a high-value package. This year, the automaker made improvements.

The new Alero coupe has all of the above, plus a redesigned front console, new cup holders, and increased storage capacity. To give the car a 2002 look, Oldsmobile also redesigned the 15-inch alloy wheels and added Tropic Teal and Polo Green to its color choices. Another option: a 2.2-liter, dual-overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine that produces 140 horsepower, replacing the 2.4-liter engine of the previous year.

However, my tester was the GL model, which is available with only a 3.4-liter V-6 engine linked to a four-speed automatic transmission. Although this engine produces only 170 horsepower, which is modest by today's standards, it did live up to Oldsmobile's accolades of "spirited performance." I'm not too sure the smaller engine would measure up to the praise that is given the bigger engine, but the four-cylinder engine does get better fuel economy: 24 miles per gallon city, 32 highway vs. 20 city, 29 highway for the V-6. Incidentally, both engines require only 87-octane gasoline.

The Alero, when introduced in 1999, became an instant hit with those buying midsize cars. As a result, sales now represent about 40 percent of Oldsmobile's total volume. There are a few reasons: The Alero comes with a high level of standard equipment as a complete package. It has a five-year/60,000-mile GM protection plan, and best of all this car is fun to drive.

The exterior lines of the coupe, especially at the rear end, have good eye appeal. The trunk lid sports a spoiler that suggests the Alero belongs in the fast lane. Actually, it is quite capable of moving along in the fast lane due to the way it handles. The Alero has independent, gas-pressurized MacPherson struts both front and rear, plus a roll bar for extra stability. I was able to maneuver the car through sharp turns with ease. This car is also equipped with traction control and anti-lock brakes.

What's more enjoyable is the ride comfort, even on rough roads. The Alero handles well, has precise steering and tracks in a straight line. Fully equipped, the vehicle sells for $21,030. The only drawback to my coupe tester: getting in or out of the rear seat. The execution requires prowess of the highest order.

An interesting feature on the headlamps, called dim-to-park, allows the driver to dim the headlamps when necessary useful when entering a guarded area, such as a gated community.

The heating, ventilation and air-conditioning knobs match those of the sound system. This system offers speed-compensated volume control, plus the Radio Data System technology, which identifies the station and format the radio is tuned to and makes it more convenient for drivers to find their favorite stations no matter where they are.

The Alero has an eight-speaker sound system that enhances the sound of CDs, cassettes or the radio. One reason for the enjoyment is the low interior-noise level.

As for safety, the Alero now has a trap-resistant trunk latch release. This vehicle also features rear child-seat anchors, making installation of a child seat easier. In the event of a crash, Alero's safety-cage body construction with side-impact protection and reduced-force air bags help protect the occupants.

When you come right down to it, except for the redesigned wheels and cup holders, most of these features were available in last year's Alero.

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