1999 Buick Park Avenue

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2003 Buick Park Avenue

This 2004 review is representative of model years 1997 to 2005.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

The Park Avenue and Park Avenue Ultra are roomy, large sedans with a quiet, unfettered ride and decent V6 power. Mild styling updates for 2003 that link to Buick history don't do enough to upgrade these cars vis-à-vis some competitors.
Pros:
  • Roomy inside for up to six
  • Smooth power from supercharged V6
  • Unfettered ride
Cons:
  • Interior lacks upscale feel
  • Traditional styling starting to look old
  • Light feel to steering

Welcome to the calm zone.

Buick's 2003 Park Avenue, especially in uplevel Ultra trim, provides smooth power, a quiet, roomy interior with cushioned seats and a soft ride that skims over road bumps in unfettered style.

What would you expect from Buick's flagship in this, Buick's 100th year?

New styling touches
Yes, the Park Avenue models remain true to Buick's heritage as the brand that provides comfortable, capable and a certain kind of stylish travel, albeit for an older crowd.

Heritage is also evident this year with the addition of portholes on the front fender of the 2003 Park Avenue Ultra model. These portholes were called VentiPorts when they debuted at Buick in 1949.

A new, chrome grille at the front of the Ultra sedan has noticeable vertical bars now—another nod to Buick history.

Wheels on the Ultra are finished with chrome and are larger than before —17-inchers fitted with low-profile tires.

Still, the overall appearance remains unmistakably familiar, with both models of Park Avenue looking a lot like predecessor models of this generation, which debuted in the 1997 model year.

Two V6s offered
The styling updates are the big news for 2003. Engines, overhead valve, cast iron creations that date back years, remain the same.

The Park Avenue base engine is a 3.8-liter overhead valve V6 that's naturally aspirated and capable of 205 horsepower and torque of 230 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.

Mated to a 4-speed automatic, it provides pleasant power without making the car seem sluggish or frantic.

The upscale, supercharged version of 3.8-liter V6 that's in the Ultra is better.

Horsepower is the same 240 as before. Torque also is unchanged, at 280 lb-ft at 3600 rpm.

The power here is never abrupt. Coming on through a heavy-duty, 4-speed automatic with gear shifter mounted on the steering column, the ample, controlled power provides for well-mannered and steady acceleration in this 3,909-pound car.

For example, I merged into city traffic with ease and merged onto highways with equal confidence.

Note the naturally aspirated engine uses regular fuel, while premium is the recommended fuel for the supercharged V6.

Low car seat position
I was a bit surprised at how much I sort of dropped down into the Park Avenue seats.

Many newer sedans, even lower-priced, have repositioned seats higher for easy entry and exit.

Adding to the low feel for me was the high cowl of the dashboard. Still, I could see a bit of the hood of the Park Avenue as I drove, provided I made good use of the power height control on the test car.

Park Avenue seats are wide and rather flat and so can accommodate a range of body sizes.

The seams in the seat were all horizontal in the Ultra model I tested, and this arrangement of seams didn't add to my leg comfort.

Still, the seat heaters worked well—and fast.

The interior is spacious, with more than 41 inches of legroom in both front and rear seats. Rear door openings are good-sized, too.

I wish someone would get rid of that old-style carpeting that's on the parcel shelf behind the back seats.

Headroom all around is commendable, and there's 19.1 cubic feet of space in the Park Avenue trunk.

You know, the new burled walnut wood grain accenting the steering wheel, center console and doors looks so polished, it's difficult to tell if it's plastic or wood!

Ride is quiet
About the only time I heard the engine was during acceleration. Otherwise, the Park Avenue Ultra was quiet.

In fact, I can't recall ever hearing noises from other cars and trucks around me.

About the only untoward sound was wind noise that emanated from the test car's sunroof, even when the roof was closed and the car was traveling at just 40 miles an hour. I lessened the noise by keeping the sunroof cover in the ceiling closed.

"Cushioned" is keyword
The Park Avenue Ultra is a front-wheel-drive car, but in an effort to make the ride a bit sportier, according to Buick, a Gran Touring suspension is standard on the Ultra this year.

I wouldn't call this a sporty car, though, as the ride still feels rather floaty and old style.

The independent front suspension uses MacPherson struts, while the back has semi-trailing arms with lateral link.

It takes very little effort to move the Park Avenue Ultra's steering wheel, and the light touch made the power rack-and-pinion steering difficult for me to modulate.

It felt less than precise, as I'd attempt to turn the steering wheel just a bit and the wheel would go farther than expected and I'd wind up in another lane while driving on a curve.

Odds and ends
With a manufacturer's suggested retail price that starts at more than $34,000 for the base Park Avenue and more than $39,000 for the Ultra model, the Park Avenue can disappoint in terms of interior style and appointments.

For example, the standard audio system isn't a modern, six-CD, in-dash model. So a 12-CD changer is available. But it must be mounted in the trunk where you have to stand outside in the weather to load the CDs.

There's no navigation system available from the factory, although the OnStar emergency notification system is on the Park Avenue.

There's no V8 offered. And there are no side-curtain airbags. Also, the middle rider in the back seat only has a lap belt, not a three-point belt that's commonly found in newer sedans.

Government crash tests aren't as good as they are for other large sedans. Even with standard side airbags, the Park Avenue receives only four out of five stars for side crash protection for front and rear seat occupants, for example.

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BB02 - 9/17/2014 10:48:51 AM