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By Jeremy Cato
Oldsmobile may be a dead division within the General Motors Corporation family now, but back in the 1970s and ’80s Olds enjoyed explosive growth while other GM divisions withered under the onslaught of Japanese imports.
The car most responsible for Olds’ success was the Cutlass. Various versions of the Cutlass were produced in that era, including the Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Calais and front-wheel-drive Cutlass Cierra. With Oldsmobile sales peaking at a million-plus units in 1985, someone once said, “Whatever it is, call it a Cutlass and it will sell.”
The last Cutlass Supreme first arrived in 1988 and left the market in 1997 with the arrival of the Oldsmobile Intrigue. Back in ’88, the Cutlass Supreme was one of a trio of all-new two-door coupes intended to help GM regain lost ground in the highly competitive mid-size car market (the other two were the Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Regal). Four-door versions arrived in 1990, along with the Chevrolet Lumina sedan. Olds also introduced a convertible in 1990.
Like so many other GM products in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Cutlass Supreme suffered because of GM’s larger financial problems at the time. In a nutshell, in 1991 GM was close to bankruptcy. Consequently, the company had scarce funds to invest in new product development. New models came to market lacking sufficient engineering and design work. The Cutlass Supreme is a good example of a car that because of insufficient investment never really caught up to its competition.
That said, older Cutlass Supremes are not bad used cars, as long as you avoid cars suffering from a handful of well-documented transmission issues (see buyer’s alerts). The car has a firm, sports-oriented suspension, which makes for pretty good handling and a stable highway ride. Braking is also good.
The cabin is reasonably roomy, as is the trunk. The original dashboard layout, however, was a little confusing and was much improved in 1995 with a new design and the arrival of dual airbags. Also note that seat cushions both front and rear lack a high level of support, a real issue in aging cars. The rear seat cushions, as well, are low and soft, making long distance rides in the back seat less than comfortable.
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Okay, let’s review some dates to remember in the life of the Cutlass Supreme.
In 1990, the four-door arrived, along with a high-output 180-horsepower four-cylinder Quad Four engine (the base Quad Four is rated at 160 hp.). In 1991, a new 3.4-litre dual-cam V6 arrived, rated between 200-210 depending on the transmission choice (five-speed manual or four-speed automatic). The 3.1-litre V6 went from 135 horsepower in 1990 to 160 hp. in 1994.
Modest styling changes arrived in 1992; standard anti-lock braking and a driver’s side airbag in 1994; a more thoughtfully designed cabin and a passenger side airbag in 1995; and, the convertible was dropped completely from the lineup in 1996. Few changes were made for ’97, anticipating the end of the Cutlass Supreme.
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.