1998 Buick Park Avenue Ultra 3.8 Supercharged from North America
One of GM's unsung great cars
Leaking water pump. I have to wonder if this is a time-related issue rather than mileage-related, since the car only had 44K miles and had had dealer service every 3K miles of its life. Pump went bad on my high mileage 95 LeSabre after the 12 year mark also. This is a very high dollar repair item, especially on supercharged Ultra models. I always do my own maintenance when I can, but after 5 hours of attempting to simply remove the serpentine belts, I gave up and took it to the dealer. The engine mounts have to be removed to get the belts off(!), and a variety of special tools are needed, plus an engine hoist. Since this is such an expensive, labor-intensive procedure, at the time of the water pump replacement, I had the belts changed, too!! The repair took the dealer 1.5 days labor and cost $971 with the belts. Good news is that I should be good for another 100K miles now.
Other issue is the front seats. Unlike the old days with one motor and three solenoids actuating cable drives, these Park Avenue seats have 5 motors and a variety of movement mechanisms. Horizontal movement is of the old reliable cable drive variety and should never go bad. The recline mechanism is similarly reliable. However, the front and rear vertical movement is by delicate 90 degree worm gears that strip easily. They were gone on both seats. Motors worked fine, but nothing happened. So I simply took off the lower cushions exposing the mechanisms and using the motors to assist (the gears would catch intermittently), cranked the adjusting rods with a wrench to a comfortable position. (I hear that replacing the drive mechanisms means a whole new seat frame and about $1000, so I am happy with the wrenched compromise.) Before buying my car, I shopped around for six months. This seems to be a congenital flaw, because most others I tested had the same issue.
Otherwise, with these two exceptions, I am very impressed with the engineering and precision assembly of this car.
If you are reading this review, you might be shopping for a Park Avenue. Have you noticed most of them on the market have 120K-170K miles? Original owners don't seem to want to let go of one until it has racked up impressive mileage!
These are easily one of the best used car bargains on the market. Built to a very high standard, they typically have had very careful owners who drive them gently and give them proper care. Proper care is made simple by various alerts. Keep clean oil in the engine and coolant in the radiator, and most engines will run forever. Park Avenues tell you when the oil needs changing, whether you are a quart low or not, and whether the coolant level has dropped. As a result, most have been kept in good working order. Few people realize how small the overall cost of ownership is on these cars, or know about their surprising economy of operation. So they settle for some bleak, anonymous, similarly priced Toyota or Honda sedan.
I searched for six months for the "right" one. Found a flawless 42k mile Ultra in Madeira Red Pearl with a matching RED leather interior. Had to have the red leather because it was the last time a red interior was offered on any American sedan. Dropped from the option choices by 2000, later Park Avenues only came with mouse grey or mouse beige innards. Buyers who want something unique should realize that the 1997-99 models had a choice of medium blue, dark red, sage green, grey or beige interiors.
My car has the only two of the four available options I would have ordered: Gran Touring suspension with the beautiful road wheels, and the moonroof. (The other two options are the heads up display, and center console, neither of which I particularly want.) It had a seven page CarFax showing religious dealer service. The original owner had even put red rubber floormats over the factory embroidered Ultra carpet mats. Definitely the right car!
I wanted an Ultra because they all come loaded with every option (save the 4 mentioned above), have a nicer interior with real wood trim on the door panels, and of course, the high performance drivetrain.
I love this car. Previous car was a 95 LeSabre Limited, and this Park Avenue is a completely different animal. The assembly quality is impeccable. Consistent tight shutlines everywhere. All panels and trim line up perfectly, the paint is deep and lustrous, everything fits as it should.
This car has the strongest body ever made by GM - an upgraded development of the Aurora chassis, previously the strongest. The result is a strength and solidity that keeps the car free from vibration, chassis quiver, and rattles. Along with the use of lightweight aluminum suspension arms, this tight body allowed the suspension to be tuned for maximum comfort and performance - especially so with the Gran Touring option. Also, with all the discussion of plastic intake manifold issues, know that the supercharger manifold is metal, and the issue does not occur on Ultra models.
The performance of the Ultra is all that one could ask of a family luxury sedan. Although it doesn't feel much more powerful than my spritely old LeSabre off the line, if you are on the highway doing 60mph and need to pass, just a light push on the pedal will drop you into 3rd gear and the rpm sweet spot for the supercharger. You really feel the difference then! Feels as strong as my Roadmaster with its Corvette-derived LT1 V8. But it doesn't use gas like my Roadmaster. Around town I get 17-18. On the one long trip I have taken thus far, it averaged 29mpg. The only downside is that premium gas is a must. The ride and handling are almost Jaguar-like in its ability to smother bumps and go around a corner. And the car is whisper quiet at all speeds.
One favorite feature is the standard RainSense wipers. They come on when the rain starts, constantly adjust to the amount of rain falling, and turn off when the rain stops. The driver memory feature is also great. Each key fob can be programmed for seat position, side mirror position, favorite radio station, HVAC setting, door lock process (horn beep or no horn beep, all doors or just driver).
So there you are. LOVE the car. Only the waterpump/serpentine belt replacement process is a pain, and beware of seat motor gear issues. Otherwise, these cars are essentially bulletproof, and quite simple and inexpensive to maintain and operate.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 29th September, 2010
30th Sep 2010, 16:58
You are very right about these cars. I am on my second. My first was a '99, which I traded with over 145,000 miles. I now have one of the last '05s with 37,000 miles. Mine is not an Ultra, but has most of the options, including the 12 disc CD changer, sunroof, and HUD (it's also White Diamond).
I have the Dynaride suspension, which I love since it reminds me of the "good old days" when cars floated like boats.
I have not had any issues with the power seat motors on either car, and I use mine every time I get out, since the cushion tends to get deformed, and I need to move the seat bottom down to smooth it out (maybe it doesn't wear out because I adjust it when I'm not sitting in the seat).
Anyway, it's a shame Buick quit making these fine sedans. I will probably trade mine in a few years for an Enclave or Town Car, since none of the new Buick sedans appeal to me at all.