Oldsmobile Aurora(2001)

Aurora "Is this your father's Oldsmobile," is the first question everyone asks. That's probably not the right question, since your father has probably been driving Camrys and Accords for a generation now. So the real question is, "Is this your grandfather's Oldsmobile?"

Fortunately, it's not. The Aurora was the first "new generation" Oldsmobile that the company put out back in 1994. At the time, Oldsmobile was a dying brand, with old, stodgy cars and fewer and fewer nongeriatric customers. The Aurora was supposed to change all that. Unfortunately, if you read the news that GM is dropping the Oldsmobile brand, you know it didn't work.

Well, the first Aurora was still your grandfather's Oldsmobile. It certainly looked more powerful and less stodgy, but underneath, it was pretty much the same heavy, soft Oldsmobile that Grandpa would happily have driven to bingo. And seven years later, Olds sales are still sputtering along.

So here comes the 2001 Oldsmobile Aurora--and it's better. But GM has decided it's not good enough to save Oldsmobile. The engine, probably the old Aurora's best feature, is carried over. It's still powerful and smooth. The rest of the car was put on a diet and took off just under 300 pounds. It also lost about six unnecessary inches in the process. The result is a mid-size, American-style car that rides and handles pretty well.

It's not a BMW or a Lexus, but it's a nice, firm riding sedan. And the advantage it has over the other "near luxury" cars in its price class (cars.com target price of $34,400) is its V8 engine.

It's pretty clear that Oldsmobile would like to compete with the imported near-luxury cars. They've done a complete tacky-ectomy on this car, removing all traces of tacky old American car chrome. The interior is fairly clean and Spartan, like what you would find in a European import. Grandpa would be disappointed, but Oldsmobile had hoped the grandkids wouldn't be.

Driving Experience

This is what your average American cars could be if more attention were paid to suspension and handling. It's not stiff, it's not sports-car-like, but it's quite acceptable. There's not a lot of body lean or dive. No Dramamine required. Competent is the word that comes to mind. The handling doesn't call attention to itself. It does its job. The car is also very quick--quicker than its predecessor. The fact that the four-liter, 250-horsepower engine was carried over from the old car, while 300 pounds of sheet metal were not, has something to do with that. Tommy thinks it's too fast--he says Oldsmobile ought to put a sticker on the dashboard: Warning: Rapid Acceleration Could Result in Spilling Your Cappuccino. We noticed also that the engine--aside from being powerful--is very, very smooth. That may still be the Aurora's best feature.

Interior

The Aurora interior is simple: no plush seats, no yards of chrome. American luxury car aficionados may be disappointed by the car's lack of tufted velour, but that wasn't Oldsmobile's target audience with this car. There's even a bit of genuine burled walnut on the dashboard just to drive home the point.

Thankfully, when the engineers shaved half a foot off the length of the car, they didn't take it from the interior. Legroom, headroom, and tuchus room are within a half-inch or so of the old car's measurements and are fairly generous.

Oldsmobile says there's room in back for three adults. Why? Because the copywriters who tout that fact don't actually have to ride there. Anyone who has the misfortune to get stuck in the middle will be grumpy after 10 minutes back there.

One annoyance: The back windows set a crummy new standard for how little they lower. The windows go down about a third of the way at most. Maybe it's Oldsmobile's new antilittering strategy?

Ergonomics

Here's something we liked: the radio controls are actually easy to understand and use. Good work, Oldsmobile! And, after exhaustive testing by Tommy, we can say that the remote control for the outside mirror is a fine piece of work too. In trying to compete with the imports, Oldsmobile was also forced to simplify its interiors, which is all to the benefit of the driver. The dashboard has nice big, round gauges. Thankfully, Olds has managed to buck the luxury-car trend of replacing perfectly good switches and knobs with a video touch screen--so far. Overall, almost everything was where you would expect it to be. The quality of the switches felt good but not extraordinary.

Styling

The new Aurora is a little more toned down. The first-generation Aurora was almost as ostentatious in its new way as older Oldsmobiles were in theirs. The new Aurora is more tasteful, subtly powerful looking without calling a great deal of attention to itself.

Reliability

Previous Auroras have an average to worse-than-average rating in "Consumer Reports."

Overall comments

Standard features include air conditioning; side airbags; antilock brakes; cruise control; fog lamps; CD player; tilt steering wheel; and power windows, locks, and mirrors. And this year the Aurora is available with a V6, for those of you inclined to eschew the usual V8. But then you'd be missing out on the Aurora's best attribute.

The closest competitors to this car are the Lincoln LS, which is considerably more expensive, and the Buick Park Avenue Ultra, which is a lot softer and traditionally styled.

There's a large group of great near-luxury imports in the same price range as the Aurora, like the Lexus ES 300, the BMW 3 Series, the Audi A4, and the Infiniti I30. If you're looking for a slightly heavier car, a car with a big V8 engine, and a car that's more a highway cruiser than a mountain-road runabout, the Aurora is worth considering. There's nothing that will knock your socks off about the new Aurora, but it's a pretty nice car and offers some advantages in size and power over its imported competitors.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


[Test Drive Notes Index]