What's New for 1998
Side-impact airbags are standard for front seat passengers, and Oldsmobile is building more short-wheelbase vans with dual sliding doors. Front airbags get second-generation technology, which results in slower deployment speeds. Midyear, a Premiere Edition debuted, loaded with standard features including a TV/VCR setup in back.
After years of unsuccessfully peddling a plastic four-wheeled version of the Dustbuster found in your hall closet, Oldsmobile went back to the drawing board and introduced a fresh, conservative, steel-bodied, fun-to-drive minivan to market. Available in four trim levels and three body styles, the new Silhouette is indeed one minivan consumers need to consider.
Why is this Oldsmobile so good? You name the convenience, and Olds has thought of it. Want a sliding driver's side door? You can get one here. Wish that passenger's side sliding door was power operated? Oldsmobile has you covered. Want leather? A CD player? Separate audio controls for rear passengers? Traction control? A powerful V6 engine? Easy-to-unload seats that can be configured in a variety of ways? It's all here, depending on the body style and trim level you select. Even a TV/VCP for rear seat passengers to enjoy.
Silhouette is available in four flavors; regular length three-door and extended length four-door equipped in GS, GL, GLS or Premiere Edition trim levels. All Silhouettes are front-wheel drive, and are powered by a 180-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 mated to an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. Dual airbags, side airbags and antilock brakes are standard.
GS models come with air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power door locks, power windows and fog lights. Optionally available are traction control, alloy wheels, integrated child seats, leather upholstery, and eight-passenger seating.
The GL trim level adds remote keyless entry, a theft deterrent system, power sliding right side door, power seats, and deep tinted glass to the GS equipment list. Next up is the GLS, which adds a touring suspension package, rear climate controls, alloy wheels and rear audio controls to the GL standard equipment roster.
A new model appeared in the spring of 1998. Called the Premiere Edition, it comes with nearly every goodie standard, including a combination television and video cassette player for rear seat passengers. The only available options on the Premiere Edition are a towing package, a gold package, On Star communications, and an engine block heater.
We've driven the Silhouette and came away from our ride quite impressed. The van is smooth, powerful, and fun-to-drive with excellent road feel provided by sharp steering and easily modulated brakes. Our complaints are limited to uncomfortable rear seating and a noticeable amount of cheap-looking plastic inside the cabin.
Some of you may have seen the Dateline NBC expose in which several minivans were crashed into a deformable offset barrier at 40 mph. While there is no standard regarding offset crash protection in the United States, and the Silhouette does meet all current federal safety standards, this test showed that GM's new minivans did not do a good job of protecting the driver in such an accident. General Motors responded that the test represented a tiny percentage of real world crashes.
Later in the year, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ran a new GM minivan into a fixed barrier at 35 mph during official crash testing, and the van scored well for both front seat occupants. If GM's contention is correct, and head-on crashes are more common, the Silhouette should protect passengers adequately. But here's the Catch 22; after several GM vehicles performed poorly in NHTSA's side-impact testing in 1997, the company denounced NHTSA's procedure, claiming it did not adequately correlate with real world crashes. Go figure.
While we like the Oldsmobile Silhouette, and find its exterior styling to be the most attractive of the three GM minivans, we can't help but wonder just how crashworthy this model really is. Maybe the new-for-1998 side-impact airbags will help.