Used Vehicle Review: Oldsmobile Intrigue, 1998 2002  used car reviews oldsmobile
2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

When General Motors announced a few years ago that it planned to shut down its Oldsmobile division, the decision raised a lot of difficult questions among car enthusiasts. You were (and still are) probably more likely to discover who built the pyramids, or why the chicken crossed the road, than you are to find a logical answer as to why GM decided to axe its most interesting and oldest division: the company dates back to 1897, and the first famous “Curved Dash” Oldsmobiles started clattering around the streets of America in 1901.

At the time of the announcement, Olds was the only GM division building cars that the automotive press and everyday car geeks actually liked, producing cars that were vastly more interesting than Chevrolets, lacked the tacky plastic body cladding that Pontiac slapped on everything it built, and didn’t elicit snores like Buicks and Cadillacs did at the time.

In fact, if you ask just about any car nut, they’ll tell you they should have killed off Buick instead. After all, the most recent generation of Regal is the only Buick acknowledged by enthusiasts, with the rest of the Buick line-up being suited only to seniors. That would have left Oldsmobile to continue to develop what was an excellent line-up of cars: the Alero, Aurora and Intrigue. It’s the last of that trio that is the focus of this week’s used car review.

The Intrigue was brought to market in 1998 as the replacement for the aging Cutlass Supreme, a product of the late 1980s that many people would like to forget. The Intrigue was light-years beyond the Cutlass Supreme in just about every aspect: it looked good, offered good power and had a fighting chance of actually competing with the larger import sedans to which it was conceived as an alternative.

Originally, the Intrigue was powered by GM’s ubiquitous 3800 Series II V6, an engine that only seems like it’s been around since the days of the Curved Dash. Despite its age, it’s a capable motor, and was well-suited to the Intrigue’s purpose, producing 195 horsepower in this application. In 1999, a 215 hp 3.5-litre DOHC V6 was added as an option, with the 3.8 remaining as the base engine. In 2000, the 3800 was dropped from the line-up and the 3.5-litre (dubbed the “Shortstar”, as it was basically a Cadillac Northstar V8 minus two cylinders) became the sole engine option. A typically smooth GM four-speed automatic was the only transmission offered.

Used Vehicle Review: Oldsmobile Intrigue, 1998 2002  used car reviews oldsmobile
2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue. Click image to enlarge

As is common practice for GM, the Intrigue shared much of its structure with several other General Motors cars. The Intrigue was a “W-Body” and had a lot in common with the Buick Regal and Century, Chevrolet’s Monte Carlo (2000 and up) and Impala, and the Pontiac Grand Prix. That parts commonality will make getting replacement pieces much easier. The Intrigue was common enough in its own right that any worries about future parts availability are unfounded.

The Intrigue was a well-equipped car, right from the start. All Intrigues featured dual airbags, ABS, four-wheel disc brakes and traction control as standard equipment, as well as an anti-theft system, air conditioning and cruise. The 1998 Intrigue was offered in base and GL trim, and the line-up was expanded in 1999 to include GX, GL and GLS models.

All of that safety equipment didn’t add up to very good crash safety, though. In crash testing conducted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Intrigue earned four stars for driver protection in front impacts, but no better than three stars for front passenger protection. In side impacts, it fared ever worse, earning three stars for front seat occupants and just one star for rear passenger protection.

The story on fuel economy is more encouraging, though, with the two large-displacement V6s performing better than one might expect. The numbers varied slightly throughout the Intrigue’s five-year production run, but expect one of these cars to consume no more than 13 L/100 km in the city and 8 L/100 km on the highway.

Used Vehicle Review: Oldsmobile Intrigue, 1998 2002  used car reviews oldsmobile
2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue. Click image to enlarge

Both Consumer Reports and the Canadian Automobile Association’s Vehicle Ownership Survey give the Intrigue an average reliability rating. Consumer Reports cites issues with the electrical system, suspension and power equipment as its main gripes.

Oldsmobile’s demise and typical General Motors depreciation means these cars are a bargain used. According to the Canadian Red Book, you shouldn’t have to pay more than $15,100 for a 2002 Intrigue GLS, a mere 45 per cent of its MSRP when new.

The only other sizeable sedans from 2002 you’re likely to find for that kind of money are other domestic products. The Chevrolet Impala, Pontiac Grand Am and Buick Regal can be found for similar coin, and each offers its own take on the GM W-Body platform. Even non-luxury imports like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima are pricier than the Intrigue, and higher-end domestics like Chrysler’s 300M and Lincoln’s LS sedans are worth more, too.

Oldsmobile’s passing has left a hole in GM’s product portfolio that many enthusiasts – this writer included – feel will be hard to fill in, not just because of the history behind the Oldsmobile badge, but for the fact that it never got a chance to expand on what was arguably the best all-around bunch of vehicles produced by a General Motors company in a long time.


On-line Resources

www.oldsmobileforums.com – As its web address suggests, this site is a good place to start for any Oldsmobile owners looking for information on their car. The site is still in Beta format, but has almost 1,000 members. The forums are divided into sections for different Oldsmobile models, including a section dedicated to the Intrigue. Membership is free.

www.w-body.com – This site covers the General Motors W-Body family of cars, to which the Intrigue belongs. There’s a variety of information here, but not a lot of it is Intrigue-specific. Still, with more than 1,800 members, this could prove to be a good resource for more general information about the W-Body line of cars. Membership is free.

Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003336; Units affected: 55,411

1998: On certain vehicles, the lower pinion bearings retainer tabs were not crimped properly. These retainers may fail and permit the ball bearings to escape. If the problem were to occur, the driver would have to exert more effort to turn the steering wheel. Correction: Dealers are to inspect the condition of the lower bearing, and replace the lower pinion bearing or the rack and pinion steering gear assembly, if necessary. This is an extension of recall 02-199.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000051; Units affected: 10,407

1998-1999: On certain vehicles, the rear seat shoulder belts may twist, allowing the webbing to be jammed in the retractor. When the shoulder belt webbing becomes jammed in the retractor, the seat belt becomes unusable. This condition could prevent a person from using the seat belt system, and risk of injury to an unbelted person in a vehicle crash would be increased. Correction: Dealers will remove any twists from the rear shoulder belts and install newly designed clips to the belt web guide to prevent twisting.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998109; Units affected: 11,662

1998: These vehicles do not comply with C.M.V.S.S. 108 – Lighting System and Retroreflective Devices. The English owner manuals for the Oldsmobile Intrigue and the English and French owner manuals for the Buick Regal and Century vehicles do not contain the required information pertaining to the vehicle headlamp aiming device. Correction: dealers will place an owner’s manual insert containing the correct information on headlamp horizontal aim in the owner’s manual.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998201; Units affected: 124

1999: These vehicles may be missing a heater hose clip. If the clip is missing, the heater hose may contact the oxygen sensor and rub through, causing a coolant leak. If leaking coolant contacts the hot exhaust manifold, an engine compartment fire could occur. Correction: a heater hose clip will be installed on affected vehicles.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000104; Units affected: 588

2000: Certain vehicles may have internal fluid leaks in the brake hydraulic control unit. When the rear brake proportioning, antilock brake, traction control, or stability control feature is activated in some driving situations, the feature may not perform as designed and the driver could lose vehicle control. Correction: ABS hydraulic modulator unit will be inspected and replaced if necessary.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000196; Units affected: 16,621

2000: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of C.M.V.S.S. 209 – Seat Belt Assemblies. Vehicles may have seat belt assemblies that will not withstand the force requirements of the standard. In a crash, if the belt buckle fails, there is an increased risk of injury to the occupant. Correction: Suspect buckle assemblies will be replaced.

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.

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