By Jeremy Cato
For 2003, Buick has launched a modest campaign to remind potential buyers about the virtues of Buicks in general, and the Park Avenue in particular. For instance, there’s a new emphasis on “heritage” design cues such as the new badging, as well as three new fender portholes on each side. Buick first used the portholes in 1949. And in the case of the Park Avenue Ultra, Buick has spiced up the car’s face with a new tri-shield emblem on the grille) and added 17-inch chrome-plated aluminum wheels.
That’s the latest on the Park Avenue. Which brings us to a review of what happened when Buick last completely renovated the Park Avenue. It was model year 1997 and Buick brought us a new Park Avenue with understated good looks, loads of luxury and safety features, and the ride/handling of a slimmed down, gracefully aging Arnold Schwarzeneggar. True, post 1997-Park Avenues have a somewhat soft ride. But this is not the pillowy luxo-cruiser you might expect. Rather, this Park Avenue is a substantial four-door sedan with better than average quality, loads of features and an extremely affordable price tag on the used market. Good value here, folks.
If you’re shopping, keep in mind that the base version of the Park Avenue is less powerful by some 35 horsepower, has fewer uptown features and has a much softer, less athletic bearing (especially when the corners get tight and plentiful). The base car is cheaper, though.
The Ultra has a supercharged (240-horsepower) version of the 205-horsepower, 3.8-litre V6 doing service in the base Park Avenue. I’d suggest you find an Ultra with the then-optional Gran Touring suspension. It will give you a much better, much firmer, much more controlled ride.
More critical for road manners, however, is the chassis change Buick served up in the ’97 Park Avenue. The Park Avenue rides on a platform, or the basic architecture, adapted from the relatively rigid underpinnings of two other General Motors’ offerings: the Oldsmobile Aurora and Buick Riviera. This is a good thing. The strong underpinnings make for decent road manners in a large car, not to mention playing a role in reducing chassis noises and vibrations. We’re talking quiet car here.
As for safety, the Park Avenue has done pretty well in crash tests (four stars) and ’97-and-newer versions come with standard anti-lock braking, traction control and dual front airbags.
Finally, design. Buick stylists came up with a clean, confident look that says luxury in an understated way. Call it stately. That’s the form side of the equation.
On the functional side, the designers emphasized an enormous trunk and big and inviting door openings. The cabin boasts oceans of room, with limo-like rear head and leg room. Meanwhile, the instruments are in plain view and switches and controls are large, well-marked, smartly located and easy to operate even in winter gloves. There are, of course, lots of luxury features, too.
The Park Avenue offers traditional North American luxury car virtues: power, roominess and amenities at a reasonable price. On value alone, this car is worth a look for the aspiring luxury car buyer on a budget.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
Jeremy Cato is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist. He is a columnist and feature writer for the Globe & Mail newspaper and his articles are syndicated to a variety of other publications.