A Steal on Any Street?

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By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 9, 2001

You do some things for pride. When loss is imminent, you try harder. You fight back, take a beating, but win some measure of self-respect.

Oldsmobile understands. It's the oldest car division of General Motors Corp. It's going out of business in three years -- clobbered by falling sales, rising competition and GM's bureaucracy.

The company's executives allowed Olds to languish for a decade with noncompetitive products in a market increasingly influenced by innovative, sharply styled rivals. By the time GM realized its mistake in 1992, it was too late. Olds was a goner.

But it wasn't going quietly. Olds stalwarts were determined to show their automotive prowess. They rolled out some winners -- the Aurora, Intrigue and Alero sedans, and now the Alero coupe.

It's a good way to say goodbye.

I drove two versions of the 2002 Alero coupe, an economical four-cylinder GX model and a surprisingly fast and agile V-6 GL2 Sport. Both were equipped with five-speed manual transmissions, rare gearboxes for Oldsmobile. Both were good values for the dollar.

I spent most of my time in the four-cylinder Alero GX. It came with one of GM's newest engines, an all-aluminum, 2.2-liter 140-horsepower job that gets 25 miles per gallon in the city and 33 on the highway when mated to the manual transmission. That is a 3-mpg increase for city travel and a 1-mpg gain for highway cruising over the four-cylinder engine previously used in Aleros.

Both the Alero GX and GL2 Sport hold 14.1 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline. I drove the Alero GX on a 500-mile round trip from Northern Virginia to New York City on 1 1/2 tanks of fuel, including gallons wasted in congestion on Interstate 95 and the New Jersey Turnpike.

Overall, it was a good drive. The GX's cloth-covered front seats were comfortable. Road noise was minimal. Acceleration was competent, facilitating quick lane changes in traffic moving at about 70 mph.

I wound up feeling good about the car, only because I expected so little from it. I thought it would be heavy and loosely built in comparison to models such as the Honda Accord coupe. But the Alero GX actually weighed less -- 2,946 pounds, vs. 2,967 for the comparable 2.3-liter, four-cylinder Accord.

The Alero GX also was just as tight as the Accord. There were no rattles, squeaks or anything of the sort. It also handled as well in crash-avoidance maneuvers (a normal part of driving on I-95) and in dense urban traffic.

The difference?


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© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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