Overall, despite the fact that it appears this car has had several problems; it's been relatively good to me. With the exception of the transmission and the AC, all of these problems are very very inexpensive to fix in comparison to other vehicles, so long as you can do it yourself. I paid less than $2000 on this car, and have invested approximately another $2000 in repairs in the 4 1/2 years I've owned it.
Build Quality & Reliability:
The brakes are a known problem on this vehicle. The rear calipers have a tendency to lock up, and the front brakes take an exceptional amount of abuse because of it. An investigation by GM revealed that the cause of this is that the brake system is the same brake system that was incorporated on the Chevy Cavalier/Pontiac Sunbird. The Cutlass Supreme, as well as all W-Bodies weigh approx 800lbs more than these vehicles, causing a higher amount of stress on these parts then they were designed to take. The only fix for this is a brake system conversion to the system implemented after the year 1993.
The warping of the dash is extremely common, and difficult to fix. The problem is due to poor quality glues used on the dashboard, as well as a serious design flaw of having no boarder sealant between the dash vent and the vinyl dash piece. As a result, moisture would build up around the opening of the dash vent, on the vinyl piece, causing it to warp.
The oxygen sensor is also a relatively common problem on this car, however it is extremely cheap to fix. A do-it-yourselfer can repair it for ~$10, and a mechanic would do it for approx 1/2 hr labor time.
The paint problem was addressed on all GM vehicles between the years of 1991-1996, as the original clearcoat formula had a flaw in it that made it wear quicker then usual. During those years, GM was reapplying the new clearcoat formula.
The electrical problems, while not common on this vehicle, were expected to begin to appear considering the vehicles' age. Since the transmission died, the digital dash has begun to flicker intermittently and at times has forced me to pull off the road and restart my car so I know how fast I'm going, the oil pressure sensor ground has gone bad, making it look like the oil light is on all the time, the brake switch has gone bad, causing me to have no brake lights, and making my cruise control not operate properly, the power door locks have stopped locking the car properly, and the radiator fan relay has failed, which isn't a serious problem considering the engine will run cool so long as you do not turn on the AC. I live in Florida where the temp is warm to too damn hot all the time, and I have never had my overheating light come on, nor has my car shown any signs of overheating since it's failed.
Overall, the electrical problems have been the biggest issue on this car, and the issues stated in the last paragraph have all cropped up within the last 9 months of ownership. This leads me to believe that my particular vehicle is headed towards a total electrical failure. As I said, not common, but costly and bothersome.
The car's exterior styling has held up well for it's age. The car has a rather muscular stance when looking at it from the front, and with the exception of the ride height, it looks sporty from the side as well. The 1988-91 models had a rather forgettable rear end, making it look a little bit like a sad clown from the back, but this was remedied with the 1992 and later models. The interior of the car is simply not worth noting, as nothing stands out. It's very plain and simple, arguably boring.
My car came equipped with power steering and brakes, power door locks, cruise control, intermittent wipers, and air conditioning. It's relatively basic. The digital dash, while attractive at first, wore thin on me rather quickly due to the fact that its feedback was extremely limited. 1988 Cutlass Supremes digital dash came only with a speedometer, odometer, and fuel gauge. All other notifications were limited to warning lights.
The front seat room is plenty enough for your average height driver, and relatively comfortable for taller drivers. The rear seat head room is exceptional as well, however the foot room is a bit smallish, and the rear seat bench isn't elevated enough to provide adequate clearance for your standard adult.
The ergonomics in terms of driver view are unmatched with this vehicle versus nearly any car on the road. General Motors managed to all, but eliminate the 'blind spot' by using very thin pillars to hold the glass into place, and relying on the glass itself to hold the roof up in the event of a rollover. Tests have shown that this design was sufficient for most rollover accidents. It's no less save then any other car without a rollbar installed.
My Cutlass was equipped with a 2.8L V6 generating 125hp and 160lb/ft torque. By today's standards, that's quite smallish, however this car runs no slower then your standard fare economy car of today due to the higher torque. It holds a huge advantage in reliability over today's engines however, in the fact that it's a V6, which puts less overall stress on the engine components, as a high RPM is not necessary to generate this power.
Acceleration is adequate for the daily driver, with 0-60 times around the 10-second mark, and quarter miles around 18 seconds, but this is obviously no racer. While the car's turn radius is comparable to today's vehicles of similar size, in hard turning situations, there is an unacceptable amount of body roll, even with the FE3 suspension package installed. Another side effect of the undersized brakes is a poor stopping distance of 60-0 floating almost 250ft.
While this car will never be a good car to take down to the drag strips, there are a few performance upgrades available for the vehicle that will make it respectable. The 2.8L V6 was replaced 2 years later by the 3.1V6, with the only differences between the cars being a crankshaft and pistons. Effectively, purchasing these parts would provide you with a 'stroker' kit for the 2.8. The 3.1 adds 15HP and 20lb/ft of torque. If you're willing to spend a little cash on a rebuild, the engine responds very very well to overboaring the pistons, as well as a port n' polish job on the heads. Several different camshafts are available for this vehicle's engine, providing the ability to adjust the power band and timing of the valves. The stock wheels on this car are 14"; so buying bigger wheels would provide a considerable handling improvement. An aftermarket suspension kit would do the same. A nitrous kit is also available for this car from NOS.
If you really want to try to make this car a go-fast, there are two different forced induction kits available for this engine. A centrifugal supercharger kit sold aftermarket, and a GM provided turbo kit that was installed on special edition Grand Prix from 1989-1990. The Turbo kit will fit onto either the 2.8 or the 3.1, however this engine had it's own special pistons so considering this upgrade would all, but require an engine rebuild.
Overall, I am happy with my Olds. It will be a shame to see it go, but after nearly 5 years of ownership, the cost of repair now greatly outweighs the value of the car. I would recommend this car and ones like it to first time buyers as reliability of major components is pretty good, and cost of repair for most parts on the car is very inexpensive. I would also recommend this car to a tuner who loves sleepers, as this car is by no means fast stock, but can be made to run pretty quick with some standard modifications. I would NOT recommend this car to people who want a luxury ride, people who want to drive a fast car, people who want a sporty handling car, or people who want to do a lot of hauling, weather it be other people or inanimate objects.