- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

“Different strokes for different folks” is an old saying that is as true today as when it was first uttered.

Buick’s Park Avenue Ultra is aimed at a segment of car buyers who are older and prefer a luxurious full-size car with the old-fashioned, soft American ride. If this is your preference in a car, look no further. The Ultra will fill the bill.

The Ultra’s soft ride will turn off the import crowd, but with the conditions we find on the nation’s city streets and highways there is a lot to be said for a soft, compliant ride. The ride is softer than what many import owners have come to expect, but the Ultra features a touring suspension package that allows the car to handle well for a large car.

Ultra buyers get a stability-control system as standard equipment and it is a definite aid on twisty roads. The system is optional on the base Park Avenue.

On some undulating road conditions there was some floatiness, but the car handles well. There is some body lean on corners but it is not troubling. The steering is light but it provides quick reaction to the driver’s wishes and it provides excellent road feedback.

Acceleration is quick thanks to a supercharged 240-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6. The base Park Avenue gets the same engine but without the supercharger. It provides 205 horsepower.

Unlike the old American cars, the Park Avenue models are front engine/front drive rather than rear drive. For a big car (curb weight 3,970 lbs.) the Ultra is quite thrifty with fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 18 miles per gallon city and 28 highway. On the test car the average was 20.1 in driving that covered both freeways and city streets. Premium fuel is recommended for the supercharged engine.

A smooth four-speed automatic transmission with the gearshift lever located on the steering column is mated to the engine on both models. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are standard and emergency tests showed the brakes are more than up to the job.

The Ultra’s appearance is a neat mix of the new and old. The past is brought back with a prominent vertical-bar grille and front fender portholes. First featured in 1949, the portholes are strongly associated with the Buick.

The grille is a modern interpretation of a design created by Harley Earl, General Motors’ first design chief, for the 1938 Buick Y-job concept car.

Portholes last appeared on Buicks in the 1980s. The three chrome-plated portholes on each front fender are said to be functional and allow additional air to be directed to the engine compartment.

Also featured on the Ultra are new 17-inch chrome-plated aluminum wheels shod with Goodyear Eagle blackwall touring tires.

Overall I would rate the design as excellent. It is clean and is not marred by chrome or plastic add-ons. The interior matches the exterior’s luxurious look.

The instrument panel has been redesigned and is easily read, though the steering wheel in some positions blocks a portion of the panel.

Buyers have a choice between a three- or two-seat front layout. The test car came with the individual front seats. I found them comfortable but not as supportive as true bucket seats. The rear bench seat provides excellent room for three.

I took an almost instant dislike to the front seat belts. They offered little or no adjustment and were difficult to hook up.

Another dislike was the rearview mirrors. They offered the convenience of changing position when the car is in reverse providing a better view of what lies behind. My complaint is that when the car returns to drive, the mirrors remain unchanged and the driver finds himself looking at the sky.

The instrument panel consists of four analog gauges plus warning lights. All controls are within easy reach of the driver. The sound system has secondary controls on the steering wheel — a plus and minus feature. Easy to operate, but it is also easy to accidentally hit the controls for unwanted changes.

The trunk is large but not deep. It is more than adequate for several large suitcases. There is also a small pass-through in the rear seatback for longer items.

If you’re not an enthusiast driver and prefer comfort over sporty handling, then the Buick Park Avenue Ultra has many virtues and is worth a look.

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