What's New for 1999
Oldsmobile has dropped the slow-selling Achieva in favor of this new clean-sheet design patterned after the successful Intrigue midsize sedan. Available in both two- and four-door configurations with three well-equipped trim levels, the Alero represents a quantum leap forward over previous small Olds models.
Introduced to the public at the 1998 North American International Auto Show, the new 1999 Oldsmobile Alero was an instant hit with the automotive press and consumers alike. A sedan and a coupe are available, with your choice of three trim levels and two engines.
We drove several pre-production Aleros and came away quite impressed. While the Alero is technically a replacement for the Achieva, think of this stylish new compact as a completely different car in terms of execution and appeal. Previous attempts by the division to market a small car have been laughable; Oldsmobile is dead serious about attracting Accord, Altima, Avenger, Camry, and Contour buyers to the new Alero. We're here to tell you they've got the hardware to support the effort.
Anything that can be said about the larger Oldsmobile Intrigue can be applied to the Alero. The car is very attractive, featuring styling cues that emulate those on both the Intrigue and the division's flagship, Aurora. Bulging wheel wells, a sleek greenhouse, fluted side panels, and large jewel-like taillights all provide a solid, substantial, sporty appearance.
Like big brother Intrigue, the Alero is entertaining to drive. GX and GL models come standard with a 2.4-liter dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine that makes 150 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 155 lb.-ft. of torque throughout a flat torque curve located between 2,400 and 4,400 rpm. This twin cam unit meets Low Emissions Vehicle standards. Optional on GL and standard on GLS is a 3.4-liter V6 that makes 170 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 200 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. Currently, the only transmission choice is a 4-speed automatic, but Oldsmobile hinted that a five-speed Getrag manual would appear sometime after introduction day.
While neither engine is particularly quiet during operation, they both deliver smooth spirited performance. Not only is the Alero quick, but handling is nicely balanced and braking is excellent though we wished for better brake pedal feel. The setup on our pre-production test car was very stiff, which made modulation difficult.
Alero benefits from a tight, rattle-free body structure making for a stiff, solid car. Attached to the 4-wheel independent suspension are standard 15-inch wheels shod with P215/60R15 touring tires. Optional on GL and standard on GLS are alloy wheels. An anti-lock brake system is standard, as are discs on each axle. A new electronic variable orifice steering system eliminates that dead on-center rubbery spot in GL and GLS models.
Inside, the Alero is a 4/5 version of the Intrigue. The dash artfully sweeps away from the driver with a two-toned flourish. All controls are easy to see and operate, and the steering wheel is thick and easy to grip. Cruise control switches are located on the steering wheel, where they are easy to operate. The stereo sports an actual tuning knob and large pre-set buttons. Climate controls boast large rubberized knobs for ease of operation. Front seats are quite comfortable, providing adequate adjustability and firm but not uncomfortable padding. Stalk controls operate with a refinement uncommon to many General Motors products, but unfortunately still can't match the fluid feel of the imports. There are some glitches. The detents for the tilt steering wheel are too far apart, providing somewhat limited adjustment. The front passenger's cupholder is unable to accommodate drinks taller than a soda can. Side airbags aren't available or planned; a misstep now that theToyota Corolla and Chevrolet Prizm offer these safety devices in the under-$20,000 price class. The cloth upholstery in the GL sedan we sampled was not attractive, and the leather looked and felt too much like vinyl for our tastes. Due to the zoomy roofline, the rear seat is mounted low to create acceptable headroom. While not uncomfortable, we decided we wouldn't want to ride in back for extended periods of time, partially because the back seat is missing a fold-down center armrest.
After a day behind the wheel, we decided that the Alero is a stylish, powerful, sporting car that is willing to play if you are. It can serve family duty when necessary, won't embarrass the owner when pulling up to a swanky restaurant, zooms confidently along when the road turns twisty and won't break the bank when the payment book arrives in the mail. However, to avoid the destiny met by previous small Oldsmobiles, another new nameplate isn't the answer. Long-term appeal and product quality is of paramount importance. One look and drive confirms that the Alero is appealing. The determining factors for Alero's success will be the public's perception of refinement, as well as long-term reliability.