What's New for 1997
Buick redesigns its bread-and-butter midsize sedan, dropping the wagon variant in the process. A 3.1-liter V6 engine, roomier interior, larger trunk and traditional Buick styling cues highlight the new Century.
How many of us know someone who owned a Buick Century between 1982 and 1996, aside from Avis or National? Buick moved more than two-million A-body Centurys during this period, which means that more than one out of every 150 Americans brought one of these no-nonsense sedans home during the past 15 years. Wow. That's almost scary, isn't it?
For 1997, Buick trots out an all-new Century sedan that puts the 1996 model to shame. More room inside, more trunk volume, a more ergonomic interior, and a solid structure are the core improvements to the new model, but one look at the smooth exterior shape of the 1997 model speaks volumes about the Century for the next century.
Wayne Kady, chief exterior designer of the new car, was looking for a shape that would have a long shelf life. "We purposely avoided anything that could be considered trendy," said Kady. No duh. The new Century is about as exciting to look at as a Dan Ackroyd movie. The most distinctive feature is the traditional chromed oval grille up front. Closer examination reveals a hand-me-down from the Riviera and Park Avenue; a character line running from the forward edge of the hood to the decklid along the bottom of the windows lends the Century a bit of class. Inside, the Century boasts contemporary styling, with large and legible gauges and controls facing seating for six passengers. Rear seating is elevated theater-style, lending an airy feel to the interior.
Two flavors are available. Custom comes fully loaded, unless you want a remote decklid release, retained accessory power, automatic ComforTemp climate controls, and speed-sensitive steering. For these items, you've gotta pop for the Limited model. The wagon disappears, like Brontosaurus into the La Brea Tar Pits.
Hardware includes a 3.1-liter V6 engine good for 160 horsepower. A four-wheel independent DynaRide suspension and four-wheel antilock brakes are also standard. Battery rundown protection means the car won't suffer a meltdown in extremely cold weather. Families benefit from an optional integrated child seat, and side-impact protection exceeds 1997 standards. Oddly, the smaller Buick Skylark comes standard with traction control, but this feature is not available on the Century at any cost.
Buick has a competent sedan with the 1997 Century. However, GM stablemates Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac have similar vehicles that differ mainly in terms of styling and content. The Chevy Malibu LS is an amazing value. Ditto the euro-flavored Oldsmobile Cutlass. The new Olds Intrigue is simply gorgeous, and Pontiac's Grand Prix is one of our favorites of the new year. Buick Century brand manager, Anthony H. Derhake, says Buick's new sedan is "classic and contemporary without being trendy. It has a clean, enduring design with classic Buick themes..." That's the essence of the Buick Century, according to the marketing whizzes, so if this is what you're looking for in a mid-sized sedan, step right up.