Buick Park Avenue Car Reviews
|Review Notes: Buick Park Avenue Ultra|
|Personality||Retro highway luxo-cruiser granted handling by modern electronics|
|Quirks||Mix of retro and modern features and styling; tiny keys|
|Unusual features||Loads of gadgets, supercharged V6|
|Above Average:||Handling, technology, luxury appearance - inside and out|
|Needs Work In:||Gas mileage, cruise control, instrument panel appearance, console covers|
The Buick Park Avenue is an interesting mix of the new and old. It takes some traditional strengths of American sedans, such as woodgrain interiors, lots of space, and style, good handling, and lots of gadgets to them. The handling is actually due to a gadget - namely, the Stabilitrak II second generation active suspension. This system quietly and without fuss helps the Park Avenue to stay sure footed at all times. It does so, unlike the original Stabiltrak, with a very subtle feel so you would normally just think that the Park Avenue has a better suspension than it really does. With the optional Stabilitrak system, we suspect most drivers would find handling to be on par with larger BMWs. That is not too denigrate BMW, but to be realistic about what about how 90% of drivers drive. Without Stabilitrak, the Park Avenue suspension provides a good soft ride with acceptable but not exciting handling. Most find this trade-off to be just fine, if Toyota Avalon sells are any indication.
The interior, rather than the handling, probably makes some BMW owners jealous. The Park Avenue's tastefully applied woodgrain across the doors and dashboard combined with well chosen, matching tan leather creates an aura of luxury missing on some luxury cars. Although the small instrument panel seems out of place, as does the the 1980s looking stereo, the general effect is pleasing, and works well with the classic exterior.
The exterior styling is traditional General Motors brought up to date. It avoids the current jellybean shapes, without going into far into the absurd. Indeed, it would pass muster in the days when GM still controlled the American market with an iron fist; there is even a traditional chrome grille. A recent addition is a pair of a small vents on the front fender, which supposedly vent air under the hood. We are sure they do and that and, but the question is: does it need to be done? We suspect they are only there to link to the past, and and that is perfectly fine. We also suspect that these are the brain child of Bob Lutz, who brought many symbols of Chrysler's past into the present.
Thanks to a supercharger, the engine feels retro - that is, like an old and good V8. Gas mileage suffers, though, about 16 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway. With the supercharger you must use premium gasoline, and driving more calmly will be rewarded in gas mileage. The Park Avenue is also available with a standard 3.8 liter which takes regular and gets a respectable 205 horsepower.
The supercharger works very surreptitiously, simply providing power without extra noise or any serious delay, so there is instant power on tap without fuss, but with more of a feel of power than with the faster Cadillac DTS. The engine note is pleasant and sounds strong, only get strong acceleration and the streets, but you can keep it around turns, and not worry about screaming tires or flying off the side of and the road. The combination of Stabilitrak and front wheel drive solves two issues of older Buicks: getting around in snow, and finding yourself in the wrong direction after you've hit the gas hard.
Inside the car, there are a large number of helpful gadgets. First is the optional status display, which is controlled by a series of five well marked buttons. For example, press fuel info and you will get average and instant gas mileage. Press gauge info, and you get exact oil pressure and the like. These buttons also help you personalize various car features, such as the door locking and making mirrors tilt down when you reverse (those who do not get the status display can use a variety of tricks described in the owner's manual to do the same thing).
Another gadget is the "Eye Cue" heads up display, which very conveniently places the speed you are going on a small part of the windshield. It is controlled in brightness and position by controls in the overhead console. This turns out in helping you keep your eye on the road. Also shows you important things in such as the turn signal status and whether you should check your gauges.
Two more bits of convenient technology are the rain sensing wipers, which due to good weather we could not test, and the automatic headlights, which work as you would expect them to. There are also the usual luxury features such as dual-level heated seats, passenger climate control, L.E.D. turn signals in the mirrors, integrated compass, thermostatic climate control with outside temperature display, door lights, heated outside mirrors and auto dimming inside mirror, and of course power everything, including power memory driver's seat. Being a GM product, the Park Avenue features OnStar built into the rear view mirror.
One part of the Park Avenue's retro design which we appreciated was the transmission and emergency brake controls. The Park Avenue is only sold with an automatic, so a stalk shifter with a foot operated emergency brake makes the most sense, and we were happy to see it had them; shifting is easier from the column. We liked the center consoles less, with their awkward-opening lids, though the main console could store a full-sized tissue box and had a place for a portable tissue pack.
Generally, the controls of the Park Avenue were well designed and easy to use, though the traditional GM cruise control stalk is awkward. The steering wheel included both radio and climate controls. The small instrument panel seemed out of place, as did the slanted text on the indicator lights, and for that matter the tiny, undersized keys.
The stereo is actually very good even though it looks somewhat old fashioned; the speakers are well placed for good sound and stereo positioning. The climate control is easy to use and understand, and the fan is quiet except at its highest speeds, but one needs to wait a while for the engine to warm up. There is a rear vent as well which can be positioned air up for down.
We found the Park Avenue to be very likable indeed, and the equal of many newer vehicles. Our best alternatives are the new Cadillac CTS, based on an Opel but more Cadillicized than its predecessor; the Chrysler 300M, which has a remarkably well designed interior, and a more powerful engine - even without a supercharger; and the Pontiac Bonneville, for those who like luxurious performance.