Machine Design

2001 Aurora delivers luxury in a lean package

When I was growing up, my mother's love for Oldsmobiles didn't leave much room for diversity in the family-car department. With that experience, I thought I knew what to expect from the Aurora 2001, but I was happy to find out I was wrong.

The Aurora fits the entry-luxury market, but not with what Oldsmobile calls "in-your-face luxury." Luxury begins with a standard two-tone leather interior and continues with real burl walnut trim accents on the center console, door panels, and vents. The Aurora is sophisticated, but I didn't feel like I had to wipe my shoes before getting in. From behind the wheel, it's easy to see the Aurora was designed with the driver in mind. The steering wheel is comfortable and dashboard controls are within easy reach, but the steering-wheel controls make the interior feel crowded.

Oldsmobile's flagship packs quite a punch with a 4.0-liter DOHC V8 that puts out 250 hp at 5,600 rpm with 260 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. A 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine rated at 215 hp at 5,600 rpm with a peak torque of 234 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm is also available. I had the opportunity to test both engines and both showed impressive pickup, but it seemed smoother in the V8. To be fair, I've never driven a V8 before (yes, never) so it's possible that all that power rushed to my head. In both models, however, I heard more engine noise than I expected from a luxury car, and it was especially noticeable in the V6. A manual transmission isn't an option, and although I'm sure the gated shifter is a poor substitute, it was a nice touch for automatic-only drivers like myself. Along with making shifting easier, it made the Aurora and its test driver feel sportier.

A muscular exterior hints at the power hidden under the hood. At 199.3 in., the 2001 is 6 in. shorter than its predecessor, but interior room has been increased in front and back, leaving plenty of head and legroom for drivers and passengers. Although the trunk is 1 cu ft smaller than the original, a wider opening and low lift-over make loading and unloading easier. The Aurora has also slimmed down -- the 4.0 liter weighs 165 lb less and the 3.5 liter is 285 lb lighter. The redesigned body makes the Aurora more agile, and low-friction struts and shocks reduce body roll. The trimmer body coupled with a retuned suspension add to the car's responsiveness on wet and winding roads.

During my drive, a driver-information center informed me when tire pressure was low and also beeped to courteously suggest headlamps when rain darkened the afternoon. The rain also gave me a chance to test the moisture-sensitive windshield wipers. Once the wipers are in delay mode, sensors detect the amount of moisture and automatically activate. In addition, the Aurora caters to all passengers with a climate-control system that is adjustable on both driver and passenger sides.

The 2001 Aurora comes at a base price of $30,800 for the 3.5 liter and $34,975 for the 4.0 liter. Both prices include a $670 destination charge. From the muscular exterior to the powerful engine, the 2001 Aurora is a testament to Oldsmobile's longevity. And it's definitely a car even my mother would love.

-- Kathleen Franzinger

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