Capsule Review: 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
capsule review 1995 oldsmobile aurora

In theory, the Oldsmobile Aurora started something great for the GM’s Rocket division. In reality, the car that re-invigorated this brand died by the system that created it. Though Oldsmobile saw the writing on the wall, they didn’t go down without a fight. As the first TV spot proclaimed, “See what happens when you demand better?”

I can’t explain the kinetic energy emitted from the Aurora’s purposeful creases, trimmed flanks, and sculpted posterior. Think Mercedes CLS, but with a proportionally correct greenhouse, sleek beltline and sexier fascias. The front is a thing of beauty: a beaked hood and almond-shaped eyes that swung low to the ground. The rear’s minimalist demeanor positively radiates passion with its muscular haunches and tapered quarters. The only letdown is the roofline: sleekness is not an option with the rear window’s thick black frame on an artificially thin C-pillar. But the package is so engrossing that the (commonly chosen) champagne metallic paint looks like solid gold.

Chop top claustrophobia is gone: there’s ample room with tall-shouldered bucket seats that seemingly shrug at you and say, “meh.” Maybe that’s because the GM parts bin rules the roost: black plastic overkill, sub-Lexian door panels and switchgear action that rivals the feel of biting into dry biscotti. But, in true early 90s fashion, the cabin is so driver-centric that the passenger’s vent register rests on the side of the center stack.

Putting the Aurora in motion is a feast for the senses, since it shimmers in the reflections of buildings, tanker trucks and chrome wheels. Which is facilitated by a smooth, taut ride and quiet cabin, even with frameless window glass. It’s no surprise the Aurora’s chassis benchmarked Stuttgart’s finest: the W124 Mercedes E-class. Proving the point, my high mileage (over 300k) tester is creak, groan and rattle free. Which explains how the Aurora’s large fenders and demure lids/portals put long-term driving pleasure ahead of practicality. Too bad the flexi-flyer metal on its nephew, the Buick Lucerne, missed that memo.

BMW 3-series fanatics need not apply: the Aurora’s nose-heavy driveline and near 4000lb weight mean that 10/10ths driving creates understeer. But the mighty Olds corners without excessive body roll and sports a magnet-infused steering box that never forgets the driver is on a need-to-know basis. The optional Autobahn Package with a perky final-drive certainly helps, too.

Rarely does a lower-echelon GM product get a Cadillac mill, but the downsized Northstar V8 has plenty of grunt from its four liters (250 horses) while the four-speed automatic performed admirably. So it’s no surprise this team still powers GM’s lineup of FWD luxobarges. But, like most GM success stories, it all went wrong.

The Aurora’s po-faced Y2K makeover was less appealing than its new mission: provide a value model to eliminate the Delta 88 and keep the top spot ceded by the Regency 98. With uninspired design and a standard “shortstar” V6, the Aurora got old in a hurry.

And when the Aurora sneezed, the entire division caught a cold. Then pneumonia: the unflinching progress of its foreign rivals was unstoppable. Then a fatal case of sepsis: Cadillac’s relentless downmarket downplays (from German blueprints) and GM’s final indictment in 2000 nailed this coffin shut.

Perhaps the spiritual successor to Jay Leno’s automotive interests will exalt this forgotten Olds in the (un-foreseeable) future. But if the Aurora never had a chance, at least the last grasp for Oldsmobile’s former glory is the real deal.

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  • DeanMTL DeanMTL on Feb 14, 2009

    wmba: "No European would have mistaken a braying pushrod V6 taxi for a Sport." Poetry.

  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Feb 14, 2009
    ajla : The Aurora really only seems like a good idea if you place it in a bubble. Even among the GM family, it was a bad value. And GM's "value" proposition is precisely why they are screwed right now. You mentioned the 3.8L FWD cars in your post, and those motors were almost as crude and tacky as the cars that were motivated by its unbalanced 90-degree V6 architecture. Granted I have a soft spot for a Park Avenue Ultra in a dark color but no amount of torque and durability makes me want those GMs the way I would an Aurora. And to those multiple B-body references: those cars had great powertrains, suspensions, etc but they are the epitome of GM's deplorable interiors. Plus, they look like upside down bathtubs on wheels. Zero refinement. There is a reason nobody bought them, why the Panthers still exist, and (maybe) a good justification why GM plowed R&D money into their SUVs instead. Then you have the Aurora: the future of GM, not just Oldsmobile. Its not a perfect car (at all) but far more appealing to non-GM people...the people this company desperately needed to avoid the cluster-NSFW of market share slide and Death Watches only a decade later. ________________________________________________ Johnster : Too bad they didn’t have the guts to try a 4-door Riviera. It might have saved the real Aurora. It seems like a double pity that the Oldsmobile 4.0 liter V-8 and 3.5 liter Short-star V-6 were apparently junked and not used in any other GM products. Instead GM soldiered on with the likes of their tired old 3.8 liter V-6. Got a link with pics of that Riv concept? I don't remember it. And about V6s: GM's has so many V6 engines for FWD applications and most of them seem like crude waste compared to the Shortstar. I don't understand why GM needs many FWD engines for big cars: the pushrod V6s may be cheap and durable, but there are only two motors worthy of their foreign competition: the Shortstar and that new 3.6L motor. ________________________________________________ supremebrougham : I almost forgot a bit of trivia! When the Aurora debuted, there was some rather serious talk of renaming the entire Olds division Aurora. And around the same time it was thought that the car would be marketed as a separate brand. I remember seeing many dealer’s plate frames that read “So and So’s Oldsmobile, Aurora, Buick” etc… I always found that rather odd. I vaguely remember that. Just what GM needed back then, another brand! Then again, imagine a post-CH11 General Motors where all of Buick, Pontiac, GMC and Saturn's most desirable creations-----that'll be, like, 8 cars-----lived on with Chevy and Caddy in a new GM brand called Aurora??? I like it.

    • H-OCarriage H-OCarriage on May 07, 2014

      I own 2 Auroras, both 1995. 145,000 kl and 280,000 kl. Rear wheel support system failed in the 280,000 - rust. Both have good bodies and run well. For me they are best viewed from the rear. The front design would not be my choice. My all time favourite car is the 1947 Monarch. My father bought a '47 Monarch 5 pass coupe in 1947. My grand father owned a '37 Olds 6cyl 4DR at about the same time. I have a picture of me standing in front of these 2 cars sometime in '50 or '51. Date established because in Dec '51 my father bought a '51 Ford. I was born in 1947. At the moment, the 145kl Aurora is my wife's daily driver, but..... I am working on plans for both of them. The 145kl eng will go into my '47 Monarch 4DR and I am grafting a '37 Olds 6cyl grille on to the 280kl hood. This will bring the nose up about 10 inches. Quite an improvement on the duck billed platapus GM used. I have a set of Olds '37 bullet tail lights to add just aft of the rear doors on the rear fender tops. Perhaps hard to imagine, but in drawings it seems to work. Remember Harley Earle couldn't draw either, he just pointed where he wanted the lines changed. I will post progress photos as the project develops. If the '37 Olds nose does not work, at least I will get a great photo of me in front of my '47 Aurora/Monarch and my '95 Aurora/37 Olds cars, sort of a re-enactment image 64 yrs later. Hope those I have offended will not be too outraged. Regards to all, H-OCarriage

  • Charles I had one and loved it . Seated 7 people . Easy to park , great van
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  • Alan I would think Ford would beef up the drive line considering the torque increase, horse power isn't a factor here. I looked at a Harrop supercharger for my vehicle. Harrop offered two stages of performance. The first was a paltry 100hp to the wheels (12 000AUD)and the second was 250hp to the wheels ($20 000 (engine didn't rev harder so torque was significantly increased)). The Stage One had no drive line changes, but the Stage Two had drive line modifications. My vehicle weighs roughly the same as a full size pickup and the 400'ish hp I have is sufficient, I had little use for another 100 let alone 250hp. I couldn't see much difference in the actual supercharger setup other than a ratio change for the drive of the supercharger, so that extra $8 000 went into the drive line.
  • ToolGuy Question: F-150 FP700 ( Bronze or Black) supercharger kit is legal in 50 states, while the Mustang supercharger kit is banned in California -- why??
  • ToolGuy Last picture: Labeling the accelerator as "play" and the brake pedal as "pause" might be cute, but it feels wrong. It feels wrong because it is wrong, and it is wrong because Calculus.Sidebar: I have some in-laws who engage the accelerator and brake on a binary on/off all-in basis. So annoying as a passenger.Drive smoothly out there. 🙂