By on February 13, 2009

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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67 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora...”


  • avatar
    enderw88

    OK, call me stupid. I own a W124 E420 (1995, bought off eBay several years ago). Its a sedan. I find it hard to get excited about. But it does what I want it to do, which is give me a backup to my motorcycle and my SuperStalker. This is not the first article you’ve written extolling the virtues of the car I see as a necessary evil due my large family. Why not a capsule review of the W-124 in all its glory so that I can recalibrate my sense of satisfaction? I want to know wht a great thing I have..

  • avatar
    AndrewDederer

    You left out the other reason the Aurora couldn’t lift up Olds, price. This (quite nice) thing was well north of 30 grand when it arrived (often north of $35000). It had an almost-Caddy engine and had a price to match.

  • avatar
    anoldbikeguy

    Sajeev –
    Your review of the gen 1 Aurora is pretty spot on – there are a great many enthusiasts for this model. A colleague has a nice example with @ 270K miles – I ride in it on occasion and find it is still quiet, exudes quality and performs very nicely.

    However, the gen 2 also has a great number of enthusiasts – myself among them. I have a 2001 (first year of gen 2 – there was no 2000 model) and find it more appealing than gen 1 – purely subjective opinion, of course. I like the exterior styling better. Very quiet inside, which I appreciate due to the number of miles I drive annually. The interior exhibits nothing like your description “black plastic overkill, sub-Lexian door panels and switchgear action that rivals the feel of biting into dry biscotti”. – It is two tone on the dash and door panels, high quality leather, which is also on the door panels front and rear – has extremely comfortable seats, real burled walnut trim and touches of chrome. The 3.5L Shortstar while rated at 215 hp versus 250 for the optional 4.0L Northstar, is a gem of an engine – extremely smooth with the willingness to wind out very quickly – passing is a treat whether from 40-60 or 60-80 the drivetrain is instantaneous in response – while my long term fuel economy is 25.5 over the last three years (from 41K when purchased to 221K now).

    It handles very well with a well chosen combination of ride quality and performance capability (I do have fun when people try to tailgate me on entrance and exit ramps) and the brakes are phenomenal – excellent response and modulation control, while offering amazing durability – fronts lasted just over 98K and the rears just hit the wear indicators at 221K – original brakes were from either Delphi or Akebono – ceramic in either case.

    The car is as tight as it was when I bought it and every feature works perfectly – and for a 2001 it has a very high level, everything from traction and stability control to the aforementioned heated memory seats – the memory also retains your audio system station presets, previous station, volume, etc. and the settings of the dual mode temp control.

    Rain sensing wipers, heat load sensor to adjust the temp control for sun load and on and on. Oh yeah – they also came with a 50K bumper to bumper factory warranty.

    I went to the auto show last year and frankly, saw nothing from any OEM that appealed more to me than this car (although cooled seats and a heated steering wheel would be nice!). A colleague has a Lexus ES of the same vintage and there is frankly, no comparison – the Aurora is simply better executed, more engaging to drive and performs better. While the Lexus may have outsold it, I would suggest that at that point people were not sufficiently aware of this vehicle to comparison shop it.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    No personal experience, but I seem to recall that the Gen 1 Aurora developed a reputation of being repair-prone. Not good in a 30k (in 1995) car.

  • avatar
    Jeff in Canada

    The last picture is actually an Intrigue, not the Aurora. My Grandfather had one, so it looks very familiar. Nice car as well, for it’s time anyways.

  • avatar
    anoldbikeguy

    Oh – and the first picture is Gen 2

  • avatar
    relton

    At the risk of sounding like an old guy, I remember these cars when they were new. I wasn’t very impressed then, and I’m still not impressed.

    Grossly overweight (over 4000 pounds!), not all that comfortable for tall people, mixed quality interiors, and worst of all, front wheel drive.

    I had extensive experience modifying the sister car to this, the Riviera. The structure was grossly overbuilt, the suspension underbuilt. The transmissions failed with regularity as well, partly due to the excessive weight.

    Why wouldn’t you have bought an Impala SS, for less money, more performance and better handling? And a lot quieter as well.

    I remember driving both side by side many times in 1995, and being far more impressed with the Chevy. So were other people; the Chevy outsold the Aurora about 3 to 1, as I recall.

    Bob

  • avatar
    Casual Observer

    Oldsmobile’s late-90’s car lineup of Alero, Intrigue, Aurora was one of GM’s better ones. Better than what Pontiac, Buick, and Chevy were putting forward.

    I drove an Alero in college, and it was exceptionally reliable, fuel efficient, and capable in the passing lane when it needed to be. Plus, the styling was much better than anything the domestics were doing then.

    Damn GM for ruining this brand.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    jpcavanaugh :
    February 13th, 2009 at 8:24 am

    No personal experience, but I seem to recall that the Gen 1 Aurora developed a reputation of being repair-prone. Not good in a 30k (in 1995) car.

    The first-gen Aurora was no Toyota Camry or Honda Accord when it comes to utter reliability, but it’s also not the norm for American cars of that era. As mentioned in the review and in one comment, many see the upside of 200,000 miles without trouble. The 4T65 transmission, especially in heavy duty form, is remarkably strong for an automatic, and the Northstar engine, though it often suffers an oil pan leak around 100,000 miles, can last for 300,000 with regular maintenance. The Aurora V8 (the 4-liter version used only in this car) is detuned and destressed, and often lasts even longer than the Cadillac version. Whereas other GM cars are often totalled by a trans failure, fire (due to manufacturer defect), and other common mechanical problems, junked Auroras nearly always have body damage and still run fine. The low resale value of the cars means insurance totals them for even minor body damage.

    Our 2001 has performed superbly since we’ve owned it. It’s just recently crested 52,000 miles (I know, not alot, but still…). It’s a V8 with every single option. I have lots of love for the original, but I have to agree with the guy that likes the second-gen better. I’m in love with the car.

    The first picture is of the second-gen, not the first.

    The last picture is indeed an Intrigue, the 2000 OSV concept (Aurora 4.0L V8, supercharged if I remember correctly – Olds created OSV showcar versions of their entire lineup but it never got off the ground. OSV stood for Oldsmobile Specialty Vehicles). That concept was just auctioned last month at Barrett-Jackson in the GM Heritage Collection cleanout.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    I like more first generation Aurora and I think that it’s aged well. A friend of mine owns a 1998 and does not wants to change it. Very nice ride and vehicle also has aluminum suspension. I also like a 2-door twin of this car – Buick Riviera. But Riviera come with a V6 only, later appeared supercharged version of a V6, but no V8. What I didn’t like about this Oldsmobile is that it looked big on the outside, but wasn’t as big as one would expect on the inside. And it should’ve had a RWD layout.

  • avatar
    NickR

    I loved this design when it came out. Distinctive in a good way, which few cars are. My former boss had one, and last I saw of it it had crested 400,000km. I vaguely recall it had a manual transmission, but I could be mistaken.

    I think that at that time Buick was far more deserving of the axe than Oldsmobile. Oh well.

  • avatar

    Pictures fixed. I hope.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    For the guy who said it should’ve been RWD, keep in mind this is the spiritual successor to the Oldsmobile Toronado coupe, which pioneered modern front wheel drive, though not really for fuel economy or construction cheapening reasons. So it really fit that the Aurora would be FWD with a V8 as more of a brand heritage thing than a “we’ll use this FWD platform we have laying around” kind of thing.

    Of course, this is GM and they did have a FWD platform laying around (the Cadillac K-Body) that could accept a V8, so they modified it into the G-Body (Aurora/Riviera/Park Ave/Bonneville/LeSabre/Lucerne) and called it good. But with the Aurora, it still sort of fits better.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    BTW, the new last pic of the silver 2001 Aurora – that’s my mom’s. Haha. I took that pic and threw it onto Wikipedia.

  • avatar

    I think that at that time Buick was far more deserving of the axe than Oldsmobile. Oh well.

    Absolutely.

    John

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    As a rooter for the home team (even if my posts don’t always sound like it), the Aurora is a great frustration for me. But not with GM for a change… with the car-buying market.

    The Auroras were EXACTLY the cars that I thought GM should be building as Oldsmobiles. I also liked the Riveria from that period. I really thought that they were signs that GM was putting thought (and money) into their cars.

    They were IMHO great cars that should have succeeded.
    Why didn’t they?

  • avatar
    wannabewannabe

    My step-mother bought one new in 1995. Great driving car, but it was finally undone by non-functioning secondary systems. The engine and transmission never gave any trouble. But everything else did. My pops finally sold it for $1000 cash with none of the electric windows functioning, the cd player on the fritz, and the HVAC control not able to control the AC. To fix it all was going to cost several thousand dollars, and by then he had given me his Corvette for a 94 Cadillac Fleetwood I owned.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    It’s funny, because when the Aurora came out, I actually believed the GM hype of “this is the very next big thing that will Save GM’s/Oldsmobiles/Whatevers bacon. I actually thought it looked pretty neat and benchmarked. It looked like the right car at the right time, with the right kind of hope for the future. And the next thing happening was Oldsmobile closing for good…

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    KalapanaBlack

    many see the upside of 200,000 miles without trouble

    Point taken, but nobody knows this when a car is new. And when the Ford Panther cars are considered as competition, they had a reputation for being quite reliable.
    Upon reflection, these old Auroras kind of remind me of 60s MoPars. Very overbuilt in certain respects, very durable over the long haul, but you had to put up with a lot of smaller quality and repair issues to get there.
    Two of my favorite things in a car are a tight structure and long term durability. Maybe I ought to put an old Aurora on my list next time I look for an old, cheap car.

  • avatar
    geeber

    This is still an attractive car. It harks back to the Bill Mitchell era at GM, when dramatic looks were more important than function or interior space. In retrospect, it was less of a new beginning and more of a last hurrah…

    And while the structure was stout, I’ve heard many complaints of failure of the transmission module (a four-figure repair bill) and air conditioning compressor well before 100,000 miles. And the Cadillac Northstars don’t have a good reputation in the field. Don’t know whether that also affected the Aurora V-8.

    Bottom line is that, aside from the dramatic looks and stout structure, it was too little, too late…

  • avatar
    carguy622

    They had the best ads for this car when it debuted. The woman bored in the art gallery and imagining herself driving through the curvy “Pollack-esk” painting.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I remember seeing one of these in Montreal and tailing it for a while because it really was striking. It was a bit tacky (GM, remember?), but the overall shape was nice. It didn’t really look American, Asian or European, either.

    There was a pearl-white second generation that I used to see on my way into work. Again, it was a striking car, only slightly tacky, and much better than Cadillacs (which were really tacky) and Buicks (which just looked fat) of the same era.

    The problem with this car, as many have alluded, was reliability: both the Northstar-derived six and eight were failure-prone, and the “death of a thousand cuts” little problems that typified domestic ownership were myriad. All sorts of little things went on this car. Often.

    It was pretty typical nineties GM: pretty, quick, evil.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    @anoldbikeguy:

    Just the fact that the post below yours by….

    Jeff in Canada :
    February 13th, 2009 at 8:29 am

    The last picture is actually an Intrigue, not the Aurora

    …pretty much says it all about the Gen 2 Aurora. No more flowing sheetmetal…..a little too Intriguing.

    (Hey Jeff in Canada….the pic is right….it IS the Aurora 2.0!)

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I always preffered the second gen Aurora due to it’s roomier interior, real wood accents and nicer ambience and choice of engines because choice is good. The second gen also was noteworthy for actually being lighter than the first, especially with the V6, running a 3.71:1 axle with the 4.0 liter V8 combined with the lighter weight making it faster than the gen one and for starting out cheaper than the 99 model Aurora. Also take note GM’s move to make Olsmobile more global or Asian in nature by abandoning split bench seats, traditional styling, less models, drag gray or charcoal only interior colors and consoldating several models into one etc. Buick has followed in the same footsteps and is too in danger of being deleted.

  • avatar

    I had the pleasure of test-driving one new. I thought it was stunning-looking, more than fast enough, but I didn’t like the interior so I ended up with a Land Rover Discovery. (Yeah, odd.)

    For what it’s worth, the 2G Aurora was never meant to be an Aurora. It was originally called the Antares and the plan was for the Aurora and Antares to occupy the traditional Ninety-Eight/Eighty-Eight spots in the lineup. Cash-flow issues and the imminent death of Oldsmobile caused GM to take a shortcut and just rebadge the Antares instead of developing an all-new Aurora.

    One thing that I think often goes unremarked-upon is how successful Oldsmobile was in building an attractive, tasteful brand identity prior to their death. Aurora, Antares, Intrigue, Alero; they all looked good, all looked similar, and were all pretty decent cars in their own ways. Seriously. Take a look at an Intrigue and tell me you don’t like the styling of it 200% more than the modern Camcords.

    • 0 avatar
      JEFFSHADOW

      I just bought a 2002 Intrigue GLS from Copart in Kansas City for $700. It should be in California by next week. Indigo with two-tone interior. Totaled by the insurance company because of the right front fender damage. I already have a complete spare door and fender off a junkyard Intrigue last week.
      Best thing: 57,000 original miles!
      I also have two of the X-Files Intrigue jackets!

  • avatar
    mistercopacetic

    Beauty must be in the eye of the beholder, because I remember one of my supervisors had one and I had to constantly keep from telling her how ugly her (1st generation) Aurora was. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but this was in 2005; maybe in 1995 some of the styling was more common, like cutout headlights and one-piece taillight. As I recall from the few rides inside, it was perfectly comfortable, but I also remember it had the same kind of digital readouts that my uncle’s Reagan era Olds had. Perhaps if the car is as good as Mr. Mehta describes an enthusiast following is appropriate, but I just wanted to put in my two cents that I still find the exterior styling rather unappealing (I’m also under 30, for what it’s worth).

  • avatar
    geeber

    The Intrigue was a very attractive car – it still looks better than most modern mid-size family sedans.

    A co-worker bought one of the first Intrigues in the city during the summer of 1997. We went out to see it in the company parking lot over lunch. She tried to start it – and it wouldn’t even turn over. The car was completely dead. It had to be taken away by flatbed truck (there was a problem with the anti-theft system).

    That incident set the tone for the remainder of her ownership experience with the Intrigue.

    The final Oldsmobiles looked good, and had some appealing attributes, but, in the end, they were neither fish nor fowl. They didn’t offer the features (bench seat, column shifter, etc.) and styling attributes Oldsmobile loyalists expected, and the build quality and reliability just weren’t up to Toyota and Honda levels.

    GM’s pricing scheme was also completely unrealistic. I remember visiting the Oldsmobile dealer in the fall of 1999 and looking over the new Intrigues. Most of them were between $27-30,000! And this was almost ten years ago!

    It wasn’t the failure of the Aurora that doomed Oldsmobile. It was the failure of the Intrigue to gain traction that really put the nails in the division’s coffin, as it was aimed at the heart of the traditional Oldsmobile market. The Camry and Accord have been selling to a demographic that, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, bought Cutlass Supremes. When those buyers ignored the Intrigue, the division was doomed.

  • avatar
    tedward

    “this is the spiritual successor to the Oldsmobile Toronado coupe, which pioneered modern front wheel drive”

    pioneering front wheel drive sedans is on par with pioneering herpes. Nothing to be proud of.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    this is the spiritual successor to the Oldsmobile Toronado coupe, which pioneered modern front wheel drive

    Ummm…

    I think it’s more accurate to say it pioneered the typical American implementation of front-wheel drive, which was not a good one.

    pioneering front wheel drive sedans is on par with pioneering herpes. Nothing to be proud of.

    Now, I like front-drivers: they’re usually light, quick, efficient and well-packaged. The Toronado was none of these: it was a big, heavy, gas-guzzling bastard. It ought to have been a rear-driver.

    The Aurora was lighter, if nothing else, but it’s price point probably would have been a little easier to take were it an all-wheel drive car. I don’t know if they could have done it even if the rear wheels got in the act. Olds was in a tough spot: fighting for space with Buick and Cadillac, but still saddled with the working-class reputation of the Cutlass. And it was glitchy.

    GM did the right thing by killing them, and they should have knifed Pontiac and Buick at the same time.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    One thing that I think often goes unremarked-upon is how successful Oldsmobile was in building an attractive, tasteful brand identity prior to their death. Aurora, Antares, Intrigue, Alero; they all looked good, all looked similar, and were all pretty decent cars in their own ways. Seriously. Take a look at an Intrigue and tell me you don’t like the styling of it 200% more than the modern Camcords.

    The sad part about that statement? It applies to Saturn today.

  • avatar

    The media hooplah over the Hyundai Genesis bears more than a passing resemblance to the same media hooplah heaped all over the original Oldsmobile Aurora when it debuted.

    Both cars are dramatic departures for their respective brands and each had the same mission in mind. A perception and game changer.

    Except it didn’t work out that way for Oldsmobile and GM. In fact GM did to Oldsmobile what they eventually did to all their brands. Removed the names the brand was famous for and that people wanted to buy from them instead of refining them and making them into the types of cars that made the brand famous in the first place. They also removed any semblance of styling heritage from Oldsmobile vehicles as well.

    As a result they sucked all the soul out of the brand and left it a husk only to see it fail. GM eventually went on and did this to all of their other brands, repeating the exact same mistake with Pontiac, Saturn, Buick, Cadillac and to a lesser extent Chevrolet.

  • avatar
    tedward

    psarhjinian

    yeah, I was just being obnoxious with that herpes comment. It would have been more accurate to make the distinction you did between FWD and American Sedan FWD. On the other hand I’d then have to pick a nastier venereal disease to really make my point.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    @Jack Baruth: c’mon, you know that the stereotypical Toyota/Honda buyer doesn’t give a damn about styling. As long as it ticks off enough features, it will do.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Sajeev:

    Interesting auto to review. I never cared for the Aurora’s styling and my perception of Oldsmobile was, well old. Nevertheless, I felt GM was headed in the right direction with this car, the Intrigue and the Alero. Oldsmobile started to seem like the division that got it. As you point out, it didn’t nail it with its GM parts bin construction but it was headed in the right direction.

    Typical that GM gets cold feet and kills the whole deal and allows wallowers like the Buick Century/Regal and Pontiac Grand Prix & Grand Am to continue on in mediocrity. This Oldsmobile line-up may have been GM’s best (last?) chance at really cementing true change and improvement.

    Hope springs eternal I guess, but the clock is close to running out for GM and they may never get another chance to really do it right.

  • avatar

    The second-generation Aurora wasn’t designed to replace the Aurora, only to replace the 88. A possible name was Antares. GM was developing an actual second-generation Aurora, along with a replacement for the Riviera. When both got killed in 1997 or so, GM decided to have the 88 replacement replace both the 88 and the Aurora.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Can’t say that the original Toronado wasn’t a good car. It proved that the front-wheel-drive layout was practical for large-displacement engines. It was also the first front-wheel-drive car with a truly reliable fully automatic transmission.

    The Toronado wasn’t designed to be space efficient – no 1960s personal-luxury coupe was. It was designed to be different and to prove that a front-wheel-drive layout could work with a large engine and an automatic transmission, while offering drivers new levels of traction in snow. And it did just that.

  • avatar
    TEW

    This is a great car. I was one step away from buying one until I saw the HVAC was on the fritz. I figured with a complex car the repairs would be too high for a college student to pay for.

  • avatar
    63CorvairSpyder

    I always kinda liked the Aurora and the Intrigue and thought they had generally decent reviews.

    I’m always on the lookout for a low mileage original owner one that I can “steal” from an old coot(older than this old coot). I like driving 6-12 year old cars for my daily driver. Very wallet friendly. If I happen to get a bad one, I simply unload it without taking much of a bath.

  • avatar
    pb35

    Like others have mentioned, this design always looked to me like it came out of the 60s (not a bad thing). I lived in Detroit in the mid-90s and always admired these though I couldn’t afford one at the time.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It was designed to be different and to prove that a front-wheel-drive layout could work with a large engine and an automatic transmission, while offering drivers new levels of traction in snow.

    Fair point, but other than the traction-from-start in snow, what I’m hearing is “different for difference’s sake”.**

    I’m good with engineering proofs of concept, and I realize that there’s no better way to prove things than in production, and hindsight is certainly 20/20, but a luxury coupe with a big engine and front-drive seems like a question no one was asking.

    ** which also defined the Corvair. And the Vega. And possibly Saturn.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    Back in 1995 I would’ve bought an Aurora if I had the cash available, hence the problem.

    The design was striking, it had a V8, 250 HP was an oddity at the time and it offered all the upgrades the camcord class didn’t offer at that time.

    That’s the major problem, the Aurora was a nice competitor to the mainstream mid-sized cars. Just cost too much. At the time I was driving a Taurus and didn’t notice a significant difference in interior volume. What I longed for in my Ford is what the Aurora had – more power, “modern” dash layout, some electonic gizmos and leather seats/sunroof.

    The thought of an Oldsmobile being competition to German or Japanese luxury vehicles was laughable… The only reason I looked at the Aurora is because I thought it was a mid-sized, middle income vehicle. Imagine my surprise when the dealer told me $35k. I was expecting $25k tops.

    Looking back the Aurora in 1995 was what the camry and accord are today. Both have V6 mills pushing similar horsepower. Both have gone way upmarket in luxury ~ leather seats, etc. Both have grown to near Aurora porportions. Was Oldsmobile just ahead of its time?

    As for the Intrigue, never thought it was near the vehicle the Aurora was…and overpriced at that. The whole late ’90’s Olds lineup was one of the better at GM, but face it, nobody in their right mind was going to spend that much on an Olds. Lower prices and better engineering and we might be saying different things today. Unfortunately we aren’t.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    .
    The company I was with then supplied 1st generation leased Auroras to mid-level managers. They were very well received. None wanted to swap them for second generation models when the leases matured. Those that that did were very disappointed.

    I seem to recall a design flaw with the positioning of the 1st generation car’s fuel filler flap. Shutting the rear door would damage the open flap! I believe GM reversed the hinge on later production cars.

  • avatar
    Emro

    I don’t have any driving or passenger experience with either gen of the Aurora, but my one pet peeve with the 2nd gen is the twin rear fog lights in the bumper… PLEASE TURN THEM OFF WHEN YOU’RE DRIVING AROUND TOWN!! Few driver’s in North America know what rear fog lights are or have been trained on how to use them, so why GM felt they needed to put them on this car I would love to know, did they think it would make the car more “euro-cool”? It’s bad enough that every Pontiac on the road has glare-inducing, poorly-aligned front fog lights, that for some reason every owner seems compelled to use at all times. Ok sorry, rant over.

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    Trust me, a well-styled cabin with nice colors built with cheap materials is better than a drab all-gray cabin with good materials. My Civic has soft touch materials throughout the cabin, but the dash is from a corporate parts bin, shared with the Integra and CR-V, as such, the design is bland, rendered in a dull gray. It may have terrific ergonomics and plastics that wear very well, but the design is as boring as they come.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    While I would never call the 1st G Aurora good looking, it certainly was modern. It reminded me very much of “the car of the future” designs that won GM’s modelling contests back in the 60’s. Am I right in assuming the same team did the Saturn EV1? Many of the design themes are identical.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    My first car (not bought by my parents) was a 1999 Intrigue GL with the Shortstar (not the 3.8 that lasted through ’99). I bought it with 22,XXX miles on it and absolutely loved its power, room, looks and decent fuel economy considering the powerful engine. I sold it to my sister with 93K miles and she loves it also. I still think it was GM’s best sedan of the turn of the century, and, yes, it’s still a looker.

    I can’t speak to the Shortstar in the Aurora, but in my (our?) Intrigue, it has caused absolutely no problems whatsoever. The engine is still strong and the drivetrain still fluid.

    I do disagree with sticking the Shortstar in the 2nd gen Aurora, though.

  • avatar
    geeber

    psharijinian: Fair point, but other than the traction-from-start in snow, what I’m hearing is “different for difference’s sake”.**

    That’s the difference between the GM of the 1960s and the GM of today – it could afford to do things like that.

    Although I wouldn’t group the Toronado with the Vega and the Corvair. The latter two did serious damage to their parent division’s reputation, and were considered problematic even when new. The Toronado gave Oldsmobile’s image a huge image boost at a critical time (the division was being overshadowed by Pontiac with the GTO from below, and by Buick with the Riviera from above), and was actually quite reliable.

  • avatar
    wmba

    The review states:

    “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.”

    These are the kind of words I wince at reading GM ads. Perky final drive, argh! What is a magnet-infused steering box? Autobahn package? Only in GM marketing`s mind, methinks, like a Lumina Eurosport. No European would have mistaken a braying pushrod V6 taxi for a Sport.

    I have had the misfortune of driving several of the Intrigues, not Auroras, admittedly. Both had the DOHC V6, a soulless engine with no propensity to rev freely, just so much response for so much throttle, numb steering, and a general feel of a very strong front structure dragging along a wet cardboard box. These are horrible cars to any enthusiast. Each time I was forced to drive these at work, I would retreat to my Impreza and realize it was a MUCH better car. Period. In the same way that it was a better car than a Dodge Magnum gunslit wagon. It has a oneness to it that I have never really experienced in a Big 3 car in 45 years of trying.

    I`ve only had a ride in an Aurora, but driven a 99 Cadillac DeVille quite a bit. Was the Oldsmobile Aurora actually fun to drive, or a dog like the Caddy is? This capsule review really gives me no idea at all.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    A request – can we get a capsule review of the original 1999 (2000 model year) Lincoln LS. Like the Aurora, on paper the LS looked like Ford was finally figuring it out (manual tranny, RWD, near 50/50 weight distribution) and had a competent competitor to the german/japanese. Instead it failed.

    Another car I pined for but balked at buying thanks for price. Today I see used ones (Aurora and LS) treated like crap and oft sold at sleazy used car lots preying on people with poor credit. Seems such a shame for vehicles that had potential.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    wmba – in all fairness to the intrigue, it’s a different vehicle than the impreza. I can echo your complaints about the engine, etc., but you’re comparing apples to oranges. Nobody cross shops an Impreza with an Intrigue. Now was the Intrigue better than an Avalon or Camry or Accord. I’d say no, but at least it’s a fair comparison.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    My old man has a Gen 2 with the updated body styling. He’s also dumped a Cadillac 4.6 N-Star in it. Still have the 4 liter laying around the garage if anyone’s interested (lol).

    The vehicle has suffered some pretty intense reliability problems over the past couple of years. Not sure if this could be related to the motor swap, but many a transistor in the steering column gizmologies have decided to punch out early. The car’s flaky electrical behavior (defrost works one day, takes the next day off, works the day after…) brings to mind classic British engineering if you know what I mean.

    Reviewer has good impression of the interior as being both solidly built, yet somehow cheap at the same time. But with that Northstar 4.6, you run 90 MPH at 3 grand on the Interstate. You can drive the thing with your left thumb while resting your hand on the door. Car just eats the miles in any weather. Great car for when you’re TIRED of driving after eight hours..it doesn’t grind you down with its foibles over a long haul, its really when the car is at its best. In that context, it delivers like only an American car can.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Take a look at an Intrigue and tell me you don’t like the styling of it 200% more than the modern Camcords.

    The late-90’s Olds’ were well designed cars (certainly better than Buick or Pontiac), except I, for one perhaps, have to have a grill. The early-mid ’90’s Hyundais, Civics and Saturns all look odd without a grill as well.

    In comparison to the Genesis, there is no comparison except a stretch from their previous offerings. The Hyundai is well priced for what you get, and the reliability will likely be outstanding.

    BTW, does anyone else remember the controversy over Olds not badging the Aurora as an Olds? Now that is very much like the Genesis…..

  • avatar
    netrun

    I’m glad someone liked these cars because I sure didn’t. I thought the styling was just too much and the striking creases were overdone for me. It was also a lot bigger than the ‘cool Euro cars’ of the time like the 3 series, Saab, etc.

    I did like one of it’s sister cars, the Alero, though. I bought the Alero new. In four years I replaced the power steering, the alternator, the windshield seal (it flew off the car while on the freeway), and I had the ‘they all do that’ failed lower intake manifold seal.

    That last failure allowed coolant to flow into the engine and I’d had it with the car. Original price of $22k and sold at $6k. So I lost $4k a year in depreciation while having to wrench and buy parts for the car. It was my first and last new GM car.

  • avatar

    Thank you all for reading. Yes I think the Aurora is worthy of Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell’s praise…its enough to make me gloss over it’s (numerous) faults both when new and right now.

    ——————————
    enderw88: It sounds like you bought a used, old E-class not for the historical appeal. Forget about GM benchmarking this, the W124 had amazing build quality, craftsmanship, etc that you simply don’t find in new Benzes. And I have yet to find a more supportive bucket seat than that car. I’ll see if I can “capsule up” one of these to get you to my kinda thinking. :)

    —————————————–
    anoldbikeguy : I can’t argue with you re: the GEN II, but they do nothing for me. They don’t look special, its just a big Alero. Or a GEN I that lost its muscular shoulders and got beaten with an ugly stick. But hey, you should hear me talk about my cars!

    —————————————–
    jpcavanaugh : I thought about touching on the reliability, but I knew the B&B would get it. The Northstar is far from durable and cost effective to repair, but its not the nightmare of a first-gen Q45. And the fact that stuff breaks on it is no biggie, the problem is its an expensive to repair Oldsmobile that ain’t worth much. Only imports can get away with that crap.

    —————————————–
    NickR : I think that at that time Buick was far more deserving of the axe than Oldsmobile. Oh well.

    Exactly.

    —————————————–
    Lokkii : The Auroras were EXACTLY the cars that I thought GM should be building as Oldsmobiles. I also liked the Riveria from that period. I really thought that they were signs that GM was putting thought (and money) into their cars.

    You nailed it! I was young and foolish enough to see these cars as the rebirth of GM design, engineering, etc.

    —————————————–
    doctorv8 : pretty much says it all about the Gen 2 Aurora. No more flowing sheetmetal…..a little too Intriguing.

    The halo/flagship car should never emulate the base offerings, its supposed to be the other way around. Unda-Achieva!

    —————————————–
    Jack Baruth : Thanks for the Aurora/Antares info, I didn’t know that! Just more proof that you can’t take shortcuts when building a brand.

    —————————————–
    mistercopacetic :Perhaps if the car is as good as Mr. Mehta describes an enthusiast following is appropriate, but I just wanted to put in my two cents that I still find the exterior styling rather unappealing (I’m also under 30, for what it’s worth).

    I’m 31, so I think you need to pick up an original sales brochure and see this thing in better lighting. :)

    —————————————–
    TriShield : The media hooplah over the Hyundai Genesis bears more than a passing resemblance to the same media hooplah heaped all over the original Oldsmobile Aurora when it debuted. Both cars are dramatic departures for their respective brands and each had the same mission in mind. A perception and game changer.

    Very well put. Let’s see how history unfolds, hmm?

    —————————————–
    Gardiner Westbound : The company I was with then supplied 1st generation leased Auroras to mid-level managers. They were very well received. None wanted to swap them for second generation models when the leases matured. Those that that did were very disappointed.

    Yup. The thrill was gone.

    —————————————–
    wmba :These are the kind of words I wince at reading GM ads. Perky final drive, argh! What is a magnet-infused steering box? Autobahn package? Only in GM marketing`s mind, methinks, like a Lumina Eurosport. No European would have mistaken a braying pushrod V6 taxi for a Sport.

    Ouch! The Autobahn package had speed rated tires (no governor?) and that “perkier” final drive. And it has Magnasteer, which might be as cool as today’s Magnaride. If you want more of the hard engineering info, google them. There’s a good Aurora forum on the ‘net, btw.

    99 Cadillac DeVille quite a bit. Was the Oldsmobile Aurora actually fun to drive, or a dog like the Caddy is? This capsule review really gives me no idea at all.

    If the Aurora floated and wallowed like a Caddy, I’d mention it. It corners pretty flat, even the worn out model I drove. I bet the steering would be as willing as a BMW if my tester had new tie rods. Even torque steer was not a problem because of the reasonable horsepower and flat powerband.

    —————————————–
    200k-min : A request – can we get a capsule review of the original 1999 (2000 model year) Lincoln LS.

    It’ll be like the 2006 model I reviewed here, just with less power and interior gadgets. If I can get my hands on a V6 5-speed stick…that’s another story.

  • avatar
    davey49

    I never thought much about these Olsmobiles. I figured OLds was ruined in 1989 when they went to FWD.
    The best part about the Aurora was the DOHC race engine that was used in sports car and Indycar racing. It helped both those series get through rough patches.

  • avatar
    salhany

    I had a ’99 Intrigue for 5 years and the styling was very effective and striking IMO, being based on that set by the Aurora. I sold it two years ago after getting it to 135K miles. I really enjoyed owning the car and even today I miss it at times at its highway ride was exceptionally comfortable.

    It was reasonably reliable for an American car of that time, although it oddly chewed up a bunch of tires. The real problem was my incompetent dealer, who needed 4 trips back there before being able to fix my climate control system issues. The overall build quality was good, but inside there were the usual cheap GM touches. One thing that I liked a lot about it was that the steering wheel stalks were not overcrowded with functions (unlike its cousin the Regal), so they felt tactically pleasing. Having the ignition on the dash instead of the column was another nice touch.

  • avatar

    I never much cared for the Aurora’s styling — it’s not hit-you-with-a-stick awful in the manner of some current cars, but it always struck me as overwrought. I felt the contemporary Riviera was better looking (although it had a perfectly dreadful interior), although I grant that it was the nicest Toronado of them all.

    @ psarhjinian: The Toronado did not pioneer the American approach to FWD. It was the first production FWD in America since the Cord 812, true, but its powertrain layout was very different from most modern FWD cars. See here for more about the Toro and its “Unitized Power Package” concept. It was a really neat idea that wasn’t really used, except for the Toronado and contemporary Cadillac Eldorado. It probably wouldn’t make any sense in modern context, but it’s certainly an interesting approach.

  • avatar
    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.

    From 1996 onward, one could buy a full-size car with the supercharged 3800 which made more torque at lower RPM than the 4.0. The supercharged cars weighed between 200 & 500 pounds less than the Aurora, had a larger trunk, and saved you around $4500.

    There was also the big LT1-powered B-body cars the Olds had to deal with for ’95 & ’96.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    A request – can we get a capsule review of the original 1999 (2000 model year) Lincoln LS.

    I should’ve clarified….5 speed V6. Already ready the 2006 LS review.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Michael Karesh : The second-generation Aurora wasn’t designed to replace the Aurora, only to replace the 88. A possible name was Antares. GM was developing an actual second-generation Aurora, along with a replacement for the Riviera. When both got killed in 1997 or so, GM decided to have the 88 replacement replace both the 88 and the Aurora.

    The thing that really killed the original second-gen Aurora (which led to the Antares-based Aurora) was the low sales volume of the Riviera. For cost reasons GM needed to share the Aurora’s chassis with something else, and when the Riviera died it put the nails in the coffin for the real Aurora.

    Buick experimented with little suicide jump-seat doors (like on the Saturn Ion Coupe and the Mazda RX-8) on the Riviera and there was talk of a Riviera 4-door sedan. Ultimately Buick decided to kill the Riviera, which led to the death of the true Aurora and the name being used on the re-badged Antares.

    Too bad they didn’t have the guts to try a 4-door Riviera. It might have saved the real Aurora.

    It was unfortunate that GM hired those “marketing experts” from General Foods to market their products. Ironically, when they finally pulled the plug on Oldsmobile the cars that they were selling were being bought by the desired upper-middle class demographic they were going after. There just weren’t that many people from that demographic to make it worthwhile. And the people from other demographics were alienated away from the brand by then.

    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.

  • avatar
    akear

    The Aurora was ancestor to the modern GM cars we have today like the CTS. First year sales of the Aurora were excellent. The Shortstar V6 in both the Intrigue and Aurora was a smooth and durable engine. I put 200,000 trouble free miles on that power plant. GM apparently cancelled the short star due to production costs, and stuck with dated engines like the pushrod 3.8l v6. After driving a 2000 intrigue for 8 years the engine in a used 2004 CTS sounded coarse and unrefined. Of course the CTS would easily out turn my old Intrigue, but its engines is still too noisy. I hear today the CTS still has a relatively noisy drive train when compared to its best competition.

    Fast Fact:
    In 1999 and 2000 the Shortstar made Ward’s ten best engine list.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Ah yes, the Oldsmobile Aurora…what a car! I worked at an Olds dealer back in 2000-01, and I remember how much I loved driving these cars. The boss was rather fond of them and kept one for a demo and would try and bring home a first-gen whenever he could find one at the auctions. It was definitely one of the nicest FWD cars I had ever experienced, and the sound of that V8…I got a kick out of just turning the key and listening to it start! From the neat gadgets to the wonderful stereo, to just standing in front of it and staring down at the hood (it’s a thing of pure beauty from that angle), it really did it for me.
    It’s no secret that I am still partial to all things Olds (hence my screen name). Towards the end Olds was making some rather interesting cars, and I found the idea of Olds being a niche player rather, well, intriguing.

    I have my oh-four Alero sedan, a really nice little car that has for the most part, aged rather well. It’s comfortable, and has features that most cars in it’s class didn’t come with, such as the ABS/traction control combo, four wheel discs, a decent touring suspension, oil life monitor, and power everything. And let’s not forget the fabulous sounding stereo! My biggest gripe with the car now is that since it has turned over 80000 miles, it’s starting to give me problems. The ABS/trac seems to have a short in it, and I just don’t know what to do about it. But I digress…I wish I could still find a car with the comfort and style of an Olds to replace it with. Maybe I’m getting old (at 33), but I still think it just sounds classy to say “I drive an Olds…”

    I guess my next car will either be a Fusion, Corolla or Civic…

    BTW,great review Sajeev, I really enjoy reading all your submissions.

    EDIT…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.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Emro: “I don’t have any driving or passenger experience with either gen of the Aurora, but my one pet peeve with the 2nd gen is the twin rear fog lights in the bumper… PLEASE TURN THEM OFF WHEN YOU’RE DRIVING AROUND TOWN!! Few driver’s in North America know what rear fog lights are or have been trained on how to use them, so why GM felt they needed to put them on this car I would love to know, did they think it would make the car more “euro-cool”? It’s bad enough that every Pontiac on the road has glare-inducing, poorly-aligned front fog lights, that for some reason every owner seems compelled to use at all times. Ok sorry, rant over.”My sentiments exactly. The fact that a majority of people that bought Oldsmobile’s last cars didn’t seem to have a clue as to when the rear foglights should be used (or what they were, for that matter) probably says a lot about why the Aurora/Intrigue (and Oldsmobile, in general) died. It’s a shame because, had GM put just a little effort into the division, Oldsmobile might have survived (or at least forestalled death for a bit longer).

  • avatar
    DeanMTL

    wmba: “No European would have mistaken a braying pushrod V6 taxi for a Sport.”

    Poetry.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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

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