2003 Buick Park Avenue Ultra

July 10, 2003
The Buick Park Avenue Ultra is one of those luxury cars with looks that could let it pass for a full-sized and well-kept early 1970s sedan.

It's fairly large and has styling that can be summed up in two words: Staid and solid. Sure, it has a"toothy" grille that hearkens back to Buicks of the 40s and 50s. And this year's model revives the VentiPort, a styling cue that traces its lineage to World War II fighter planes. (The six chromed ports are even functional, letting cool air into the engine compartment.) But no one is going to cite this car as an example of cutting-edge design, which probably suits its target audience just fine.

Inside, the car has everything most drivers would ever need. (And for $42K, maybe it should.) The Ultra's standard 3.8-liter V6 is supercharged and puts out 240 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm, more than enough power for this full-sized sedan. The ride and steering are smooth and predictable, thanks to the specially tuned Gran Touring suspension and rear stabilizer bar, and the magnetic variable steering. (The Gran Touring suspension, standard on the Ultra, includes a firmer suspension, aggressive tires, and turn-signal lights in the mirrors.)

One Buick trait I appreciate is the way its engineers add technology without adding complexity. The Stabilitrak traction control, magnetic steering, and the easy-to-use driver info center give the car performance, safety, and reliability without asking for driver inputs. One of the best examples is the EyeCue system, a $300 heads-up display option. It projects the car's speed and turn-signal status on the windshield so only the driver sees it. Perhaps its price will come down as it gains acceptance among girl and boy racers who want to know how fast they're going without taking their eyes off the road, and those more concerned with avoiding speeding tickets and higher insurance premiums.

The car also carries ultrasonic rear-parking assist. And the windshield wipers, advertised as "moisture sensing," use an optical sensor mounted near the rearview mirror to correctly gauge rain intensity. I had a chance to check the wipers out on a 3-hr trip through intermittent downpours and sprinkles. Once I found the proper setting, a 10-min trial-and-error process, the wipers slowed or stopped or started flashing back and forth to beat the band to keep my view clear. I left the wipers in that setting for the rest of the week.

The Ultra Luxury package, however, I would leave at the dealer. It's $1,875 for a sunroof, trunk-mounted CD changer (in addition to the one in the dash), a top-of-the-line rear-seat armrest with cupholders, writing pad, cell-phone compartment, and power outlets, as well as rear-seat temperature controls. However, Buick is offering a $1,000 option rebate, so it only really costs $875.

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