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The Park Avenue is large and luxurious, Buick's flagship. Though the Park Avenue is dated, it is a solid sedan, offering some of the latest technology for safety, convenience and communication from General Motors.
Equipped with a supercharged V6 engine, the top-level Park Avenue Ultra is fast, stable and satisfying to drive. It's surprisingly agile and responsive. It's equipped with StabiliTrak, a superb active safety system that can detect the beginning of a skid and help keep the car on its intended course by pulsing individual brakes.
Buick Park Avenue projects a muscular grace, like a big cat ready to leap. At the same time, its trim design emphasizes efficiency. The Park Avenue's cabin and trunk are the roomiest in its class. Big doors make getting in and out easy. Yet the Park Avenue packs these virtues into a shape that's graceful and quietly elegant.
Park Avenue's Buick heritage is evident in the high, curved hip line, oval-shaped, vertically textured, forward-thrusting grille, bold horizontal taillights and slim, wraparound headlights.
The Park Avenue boasts more interior room in both the front and rear seats than the Lincoln Continental or Chrysler Concorde Limited. Slipping into the seats is easy, and free of the simultaneous duck-and-bend maneuver required by swoopier designs.
The interior is clean and tasteful. For 2002, Southern Walnut trim accents the dash and door panels. The cowl curves modestly over the main instruments. Besides its contemporary appearance, this design allows room for a big speedometer and tachometer that are easy to scan. Audio and climate controls use big buttons that are easy to find and operate when the car is in motion, and are visually set off from the rest of the interior by contrasting colors. A trip computer allows the driver to calculate fuel economy and miles-to-empty. It also provides tire pressure, oil level and coolant level information. Two trip odometers are provided, which can be useful on long journeys.
The Ultra adds premium CD sound, leather and power everything, which make the going more pleasant. The Concert Sound III stereo system, standard on Ultra and available on Park Avenue, comes with nine speakers, an amplifier, an integrated antenna system, and steering-wheel controls.
Seating for six is standard, although the front-middle passenger may find the accommodations a little tight. It may make more sense for Ultra buyers to order the individual front seats ($185), which come with a new center console.
Next Generation (reduced force) dual front airbags are standard; so are side-impact airbags. Park Avenue offers strong safety cage construction, and its doors are designed to automatically unlock within 15 seconds of an airbag deployment. Not surprisingly, insurance costs are low compared with other cars.
OnStar, GM's 24-hour on-demand driver assistance and navigation system, is standard on Ultra and optional on the base Park Avenue. So is Personal Choice, a feature that includes individually programmable key fobs that control security feedback, perimeter lighting, delayed locking, and memory settings for door locks, climate control, radio presets, seat adjustments, and inside and outside mirrors.
Park Avenue's trunk is slightly larger than that of the Chrysler Concorde or Lincoln Continental.
Buick Park Avenue is powered by GM's proven 3800 Series II V6. This 3.8-liter engine delivers smooth, quiet power and brisk acceleration. The 3800 provides low-rpm getaway power, instant throttle response, and plenty of punch for passing. It's rated at 205 horsepower in the Park Avenue, and is supercharged to 240 horsepower in the Ultra for quicker acceleration performance. The Ultra's supercharged engine is audible at full throttle, but we think it's worth a little extra noise to enjoy its superior thrust.
Power is transferred to the front wheels through one of GM's butter-smooth electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmissions. They're among the best in the business.
Park Avenue also offers surprisingly good fuel efficiency, with an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway for Park Avenue and 18/27 mpg for the supercharged Ultra.
Park Avenue is built on a stiff unit-body chassis. That's a big plus, because a rigid structure ensures precise movement in the suspension. It also means that the springs, and not the body, absorb the bumps. Those two factors help suspension engineers to precisely tune ride and handling. A stiff chassis also helps reduce noise and vibration, and pays long-term benefits in durability.
Quiet operation has always been a top priority for Buick sedans, and here the Park Avenue represents a step forward. Wind noise has been reduced to a mere whisper, and the unit-body does a superior job of keeping road noise out of the cabin.
Add roomy seats with real move-around comfort, and the going becomes positively serene, particularly during freeway cruising. The Park Avenue isn't quite as quiet as a $54,000 Lexus LS 430, but the distinctions are academic in most operating situations. The distinction in price is not academic in any situation.
There is a discernible difference in handling between the basic Park Avenue and the flagship Ultra. The base model behaves very much according to stodgy Buick tradition, floating atop its wheels, with pronounced body roll and vague power steering.
We prefer not only the livelier acceleration performance but also the tighter handling of the Park Avenue Ultra. With its supercharged engine and firmer suspension, it can easily take on the best Lincoln and Chrysler have to offer. The Ultra's more positive control and firmer ride lend a contemporary feel that's a pleasant step forward for Buick.
If the Ultra's crisp handling and enhanced performance aren't important to you, then the standard Park Avenue may be the way to go. The Park Avenue comes well equipped and stacks up as an exceptional buy among large cars.
An optional Gran Touring suspension improves the responsiveness of either model. On the Ultra it costs $200 and includes unique alloy wheels and Goodyear Eagle LS Touring tires, albeit in the standard 225/60R16 size. The stiffer suspension reduces the ride height slightly and yields much sharper responses in quick maneuvers. The tradeoff in ride quality is insignificant.
On the standard Park Avenue, the Gran Touring package costs $285. That's because it includes not only the upgraded suspension, wheels, and tires but also the leather-wrapped steering wheel and Magnasteer variable-effort steering that come standard on all Ultras. Magnasteer adjusts steering effort and ratio according to vehicle speed and steering angle, keeping effort low while still providing a significantly better sense of where the front wheels are pointed. The system is even dealer-programmable for effort and feedback.
StabiliTrak stability control is standard on Ultra and optional on Park Avenue. StabiliTrak monitors yaw rate (how fast the vehicle is turning) compared to steering-wheel angle (how fast the driver wants the vehicle to turn) and selectively applies the brakes to one or more wheels to help maintain control when there is danger of sliding or skidding.
Optional Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist can detect objects that are close be
Buick has characterized itself as a purveyor of "Premium American Motorcars," and the Park Avenue is its ambassador for this theme, with subdued good looks, class-leading roominess, and many luxury features. It's offers excellent value among luxury cars.
Park Avenue is no sports sedan, but an Ultra equipped with the Gran Touring Suspension is surprisingly athletic.
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