What's New for 1998
The addition of second-generation airbags, three new exterior colors, one new interior color and the availability of OnStar mobile communications are this year's changes.
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 trotted out an all-new Century sedan that put the 1996 model to shame. More room inside, more trunk volume, a more ergonomic interior and a solid structure were the core improvements to the new model, but one look at the smooth exterior shape of the 1997 model spoke 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 federal standards. Oddly, the smaller Buick Skylark comes standard with traction control, but this feature is not available on the Century at any cost.
Changes for 1998 are, ahem, limited. Two new shades of blue and one new hue of gray are available for the exterior sheetmetal, and the interior can now be colored Pewter Gray if you'd like. The dealer will install an OnStar Mobile Communications system if desired, which allows occupants of the Century to call a 24-hour hotline for roadside help, directions to that fancy buffet restaurant, or guidance from Tampa Bay to West Palm Beach.
Buick has a competent sedan with the 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 favorite sedans of any stripe. Buick Century brand manager, Anthony H. Derhake, says Buick's Century 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 midsized sedan, step right up.