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On The Road

Park Avenue is quietly sophisticated

Auto Review

After driving the 2001 Buick Park Avenue Ultra for two weeks and 2,300 miles on a trip to Florida and Georgia last month, I feel I really got to know this car.

My conclusion: the Park Avenue is perfect for people who gobble up miles on the interstate. Traffic on Interstate 95 in Florida is normal 80 mph and people pass at 90. The Park Avenue was not hindered - serving as a filter for bumps, potholes and traffic annoyances - and cruised in comfort as well as style.

When you travel in unfamiliar territory, you want a few more pounds and several more inches of protection wrapped around you while behind the wheel. The full-size Park Avenue does all of that with 4,000 pounds of steel, wide opening doors, and sufficient space for heads, legs and arms.

Safety features include four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock (ABS) control to help protect against skidding and dual front and side-impact air bags that move with you whenever the seat is adjusted.

The engine, a 3800 Series II V-6, is powerful and frugal. The standard Park Avenue engine delivers 205 horsepower, while the engine in the high-end Ultra produces an impressive 240. The Ultra's engine allows drivers to scoot into a merger lane without hesitation, especially when there's limited room to join the moving parade of cars.

Except for oil and filter changes, the Park Avenue claims to be maintenance-free for 100,000 miles.

Fuel economy numbers are 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. With the Ultra's supercharged engine, I found the 18.6 gallon fuel tank gave me 27 mpg in mixed driving conditions, where I reached speeds of 80 mph.

What I didn't like was the large 113.8 wheel base and the overall length of 206.8 inches, which can make parking a challenge. When trying to park between two vacant white lines you have to swing wide to get the nose pointed properly and the back end to follow in the same path.

The console that separates the two front seats is awfully large. It offers a bunch of goodies, such as cup holders, a cell-phone holder, a flip-up writing tray, coin holders, a power plug and storage bins. A slimmer design would be better.

This is a good car, but it's probably not going to persuade Lexus and BMW drivers to convert to Buick. Every Park Avenue ad I see on television features the owner carrying golf clubs in his trunk five days a week.

The base price of a Park Avenue Ultra is $36,800. With the news that General Motors is temporarily closing factories because of large inventories, the price is presumably negotiable. Negotiation could go a long way if the dealer has a bunch of Park Avenues on his lot.

I would recommend the Buick Park Avenue as a statement of American luxury. It's a great car for a vacation, because the trunk is immense and the ride is comfortable on long drives.

Here at home, I question Park Avenue's enormous size. But as people age, they tend to like wide-opening doors, comfy seats and lots of room.

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