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View the cars in our FastSaloons' Fleet Search Visit our Forum   Contact Us Buick Century Test ReportDate:01/07/2003   (Click Here for more details).OurRoadTests Buick Century Test Report  
Buick Century
26th May - 6th June 2003.
14 days.
Roadtested by Mark.

On a recent holiday to Florida I had the chance to drive the Buick Century over the largely undemanding roads of the Mickey Mouse metropolis. I chose a Buick from a select-a-car and drive away hire-car parking lot from Orlando International airport. The pick-up process in the airport was less than enjoyable – suffice to say I would not recommend Alamo at Orlando International to anyone. From the cars I could recognise in the full-size category there was a Mitsubishi Galant and various American machinery. I chose not to pick the Galant as I wanted to try out an American car. The Buick’s name was recognisable and the car itself looked big enough, so I plumped for a rather inconspicous hire-car beige one.

The Buick brand is part of a massive stock of names controlled by General Motors. Although in the UK we have the well known GM brand of Vauxhall, which is staunchly holding on despite pressure for European singularity for Opel, there is also the less-well known GM brand of Saab and the occassional very minor foray into Lincolns and Corvettes. So the UK GM market is fairly well sub-divided with respect to its target segments – Vauxhall caters for the majority with company cars and family sized cars at a competitive (if still not expensive) price. Saab caters for low-end executive market with stock such as the 9-3 going up against the likes of the X-Type, the IS200 and occasionally 3-series and A4s.

The US GM market seems to entail many more brands with dubious positioning and target markets. There appears, to a limey like myself, to be much overlap in style and target market. For the record the GM US market contains Buick, Saturn, Oldsmobile, Chevrolet and also Saab, to name only a few. They all have, again to me, similar ranges and brand images. “Style. Comfort. Value” is what Buick say are the keywords for Century ownership. Well, value – even without the $3,000 currency discount offer, $21,595 MSRP equates to around £14,000, so you get a lot of metal for your buck (but then we do pay over the odds in the UK anyway). Comfort – sure, as you’ll read below it is “comfortable”. Style – hmmmm, long pause – Americans sense of style is different from ours – nuff said, you get the message.

First impressions were good in that it swallowed all our luggage (2 large suitcases, 2 smaller suitcase, 4 other assorted carry on type bags) and our passengers (2 adults, 2 children, 7 and 5). The 325 at home had choked a bit on this main course, and the roof box was called into play just to get us to the airport. One – nil to the Buick. Familiarisation with the car was reasonably easy – I’d used a stick-shift before, so no problems there – once I’d found the parking brake foot pedal we were away.

The Buick that I’d picked was a V6 3.1 litre model. Packing a whopping 175 bhp @ 5,200 rpm, 195 lb/ft @ 4,000 rpm, giving a specific output of 56bhp per litre. These power figures are not particularly impressive from a big-engined V6, but I was hopeful for a little action from up front, at least. First impressions from the airport were difficult to assess, primarily because our hire-car pickup fiasco had put us later and now directly in the path of the mother of all Florida thunderstorms – it was more about trying to survive rather than trying to assess the handling bias or engine torque.

Other than short hops into and out of the Disney area, which didn’t really show up anything on the car, the first few car trips were uneventful. Our first major trip out of town was a 30 to 40 mile trip down to the coast. This is where I could ‘open her up’ and reach the heady heights of 75 mph (calm down!!). Cruising at any speed was always relaxed and unventful. Attempts to move into faster moving traffic in other lanes were always met with a steady, but only reasonable, burst of acceleration. However, the kick-down was occasionally harsh and acceleration met with a marked increase in engine noise. Overall the performance felt like a 1.6 Astra, but with a lazy drawl as the accompanying soundtrack rather than a course 4-cylinder thwack, which was largely disappointing in such a large engined car.

The handling of the car was particularly amazing. For example, the rate of pitching under braking and full acceleration was bordering on the laughable. I’d like to be able to write about the bottom-of-the-seat responses through a series of tight and demanding bends, but in all seriousness, in two weeks of driving I don’t think I went around a ‘bend’ worth writing about. The ‘suppleness’ of the handling and suspension was very good and relaxing – but it felt like sleeping on a water bed against the firm and tight park bench that is my 325 running on sports suspension at home. This turned out to be a blessing as I’d pulled a muscle in my back half-way through the holiday and the stiff treatment I would’ve received at home would not have helped ease the pain.

There was no real reason to drive the Buick in the same way that I drive my 3-series - which makes direct comparisons difficult. But then the whole style of driving, in the large, in the US is different and must be approached with that in mind. We drive much faster over narrower more windy roads. Generally, the driving experience in the US as much more of a way to get from A-B, rather than something that can be enoyed in the process - having to negotiate a twisty B-road to get to your local garden centre is always going to be different than cruising down a 6-lane highway in a point-and-go car. I'm not suggesting that there are not people who enjoy driving or there are no 'good' cars, but the setup of the majority of American cars is to cater for the majority of the driving and drivers. And this pretty much sums up the Buick, it was a good car for what we needed on the roads we drove, but offered absolutely nothing to the more spirited driver. Maybe next time I should try to find the part of the GM brand set that is targetted that way.

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