What's New for 1999
Traction control is now standard on the Riviera and this year brings the choice of four new paint colors (Sterling Silver, Titanium Blue, Gold Firemist and Dark Bronze Mist). Buick decided to pull the plug on the big coupe so only approximately 2,000 Riveras were built for the 1999 model year, along with a limited run of 200 special-edition models dubbed "Silver Arrow.''
After decades of mediocre personal luxury coupes from Buick, 1995 brought a stunning new Riviera that sought to recapture its performance roots with an optional supercharged V6 engine. Even more in keeping with its heritage, Buick gave the Riv a flowing, love-it-or-hate-it shape that stood apart from the crowd.
While admirers say that photos cannot convey the elegance and beauty of this design, detractors insist the Riviera looks oddly out of proportion, appearing almost as if it could go down the road either forward or backward without anyone being able to tell the difference. Most will agree that from just about every angle, the Riviera's sheetmetal is intriguing, if nothing else. Like supermodels, it looks most bewitching in dark shades. In any case, the fact that it has failed to capture the interest of the buying public is the sole reason for its untimely demise.
The dashboard is thankfully devoid of digital wizardry, sporting simple, round gauges and a slightly retro look. Real wood inserts on the instrument panel and center console soften the otherwise stark ambiance of the interior. Back for '99 is the availability of the On-Star communications system. A dealer-installed option, On-Star uses a hands-free cellular telephone and a Global Positioning Satellite to help you find your way around an unfamiliar city, get reservations at a swanky club, or notify emergency personnel about an accident.
Last year, Buick made the supercharged 3800 Series II V6 standard on all Rivieras. Despite its 240 horsepower, the hefty Riv needs nearly eight seconds to get to 60 mph. Unfortunately, that means many sports sedans could dust this huge coupe from a standing start. Antilock brakes and depowered dual airbags come standard, and traction control joins the list for '99. While Buick revised the Riviera's suspension and steering last year in an effort to reduce body roll, provide better road isolation and improve steering feel, those areas are still far from satisfying.
Despite its unique look, the Riv's ungainly size, wallowing demeanor and less-than-inspiring driving credentials kept it from seriously challenging the big coupes from Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac. Which is too bad, because today the 1999 Riviera is the quintessential big American luxury coupe, with more than a hint of Euro flavor. But as Lincoln-Mercury had learned from the death of the Mark VIII, it may be time for manufacturers to rethink the personal luxury coupe concept for this ever-changing, increasingly truck-hungry American market.
All is not lost, Riv fans: Maybe the low production run of '99s will make these last Riveras collectors' items.