Buick's magic carpet
In the near future, traditional cars will be outsold by trendy SUVs (superfluous utility vehicles), if they aren't already. That's a shame. Fine automobiles such as the Buick Century 2000 get pushed aside because what they offer now seems out of style: good mileage and maneuverability, low cost, and a comfort level matched only by your favorite chair.
Had I kept the Buick longer than the allotted week, it might have become that, a favorite seat. The leather buckets were just the right size. Engineers spent a lot of time generating the car's quiet boulevard ride and I appreciate their effort. The frame, suspension, and engine transmit few vibrations at any speed. The design goal seems to have been moving people with minimal jostle.
For example, with a little background noise from the radio and no tachometer, I found it almost impossible to tell when the transmission shifted. Listening carefully -- and with the radio off -- just barely let me hear the engine speed rise between shifts. GM gives some credit for the quiet ride to an improved four-speed transmission with electronic controls and a larger torque converter.
You might think a quiet comfortable ride was all the Buick has to offer, but hitting the gas pedal shows it has good hustle, too. My estimate for 0-to-60-mph time is about 9 sec. Surely, I thought, this car carries the GM 3.8-liter V6. Surprise -- it was their 3.1-liter engine.
Most three-liter engines with two valves per cylinder produce about 150 hp, so how did GM design such a gutsy performer? First of all, the engine is rated at 175 hp, up 15 from last year. Torque is also up from last year. An added 10 lb-ft increases it to 195 lb-ft. GM says the increase in power comes from revising the cylinder head and engine calibration, and installing less-restrictive air intake and exhaust components.
One benefit of having more power (aside from beating total strangers in the drag race to work) is better mileage -- 30 mpg highway, and on 87-octane gas. The 20-mpg city rating stays the same as last year. That's respectable considering the Century is not a small car (it's midsized) and its better-than-average performance.
We've had a snowy Winter so far, and it was comforting to know the Century comes with antilock brakes, as do all GM cars (even the least-expensive Cavalier).
A few other features also deserve mention. The starter-grind prevention, which does just that, could be a blessing if there are new drivers in the house. And when you signal for a turn, a cornering light casts illumination at a right angle to show what might be in your way. Redundant radio controls on the steering wheel mean not having to lean over to change a station.
Other standard features on the Buick would make most $30,000 cars blush: speed-sensitive power steering, independent suspension, level sensors on the oil, coolant, and washer fluid, electrochromic rearview mirror (it dims automatically at night), and heated, power, outside mirrors. But if all this car had was its wonderfully smooth ride, that alone would validate its $24,280 price tag.