Ask most people to name the top volume luxury car brand in America and very few would get it right. The correct answer is … Buick! You see, Buick’s combination of low-profile luxury, effortless highway cruising and reasonable prices have allowed it to beat out all domestic competitors and trounce the import crowd. Now, however, with the new Buick Park Avenue Ultra, their designers are taking aim at not only continuing to be the best luxury brand in sales, but being the best luxury brand period. Let’s see if their crown’s on straight.
One of the brightest jewels in that crown, and Buick’s best hope of securing top luxury status, is the all-new-for-1997 Buick Park Avenue Ultra. The new Park Avenue begins with a new chassis, an updated version of the rigid structure already used on the Riviera. The result is a Park Avenue Ultra with impressive solidity and noise isolation. We recorded an almost whisper quiet 65 decibels at 60 miles per hour.
As we noted during our Park Avenue preview last spring, styling is evolutionary. But there are more robust curves and a wider stance for a road dominating appearance. The signature chrome grille is refined, but still reminds us of a Jaguar. The ‘97 Park Avenue is slightly larger than the ‘96 in almost all interior and exterior dimensions, with a 3-inch gain in wheelbase to 113.8.
Like most Buicks, the Park Avenue’s power source is GM’s 3800 Series II V-6 engines. The Ultra’s supercharged variant is good for 240 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Regular Park Avenues get by with a normally aspirated 205 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque. But supercharging helped move our almost two tons of Ultra from zero-to-60 in a snappy 7.5 seconds. And it helped maintain a strong pull throughout the rev band, giving us a quarter-mile time of 15.7 seconds and a trap speed of 91 miles-per-hour.
The sole Park Avenue transmission is an enhanced 4-speed automatic with adaptive controls. All-speed traction control is standard on Ultras. So are these unique 16-inch aluminum wheels. They wear 225/60-series self-sealing touring tires.
And combined with that rigid body and excellent variable-effort steering, made believers out of our test drivers. “I can’t believe it’s a Buick,” said one. “This car is total control,” said another, of the Ultra’s behavior during our high-speed and braking maneuvers.
One look inside the Ultra’s cabin confirms that this is an all-out luxury car, with large leather seats and real wood trim on the doors and dash among its many standard features. Such as 4-way lumbar to go with the 10-way power seat adjustments, which include the headrests with new seat-integrated shoulderbelts.
The rear seat provides generous passenger accommodations, a large armrest with cupholders and covered storage. Plus there’s even a small pass-through to the trunk. Which is among the biggest in the business, with 19.1 cubic feet of very usable cargo space.
But prices are among the lowest for a full-size luxury car. $30,660 for the Park Avenue, and $35,660 for the Park Avenue Ultra. This new Buick flagship is a lot of car for the money, and more luxury car than any Park Avenue, or even Roadmaster, before it. Clearly this is a Buick capable of leading the luxury brand parade, and their crown is on quite straight, indeed.
Engine: 3800 Series Ii V-6 Engines
Torque: 280 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.7 Seconds @ 91 MPH