GM's new C-body cars: luxurious in ride, equipment, and price

These are among the nicest cars to come down the American pike in a long time. The cost -- $14,735 for the Oldsmobile 98 base coupe and $15,864 for the Regency, plus destination charge -- while expensive, has to be considered in the context of today's prices. The test car, a Regency with a 3-liter V-6 engine, had options valued at $3,235, for a total cost of $19,599.

General Motors is right on the mark with these two. With the high demand for upscale cars these days, the industry is hard put to build enough of them.

GM's C-body cars -- top-of-the-line Oldsmobiles, Buicks, and Cadillacs -- are luxurious in equipment, ride, and price. They also prove that the Detroit automakers can build a car with almost as much inside room as in the past, yet with the high-tech performance and fuel economy of today.

The designers and engineers make good use of the front-drive configuration. These cars, in fact, show that GM has learned its lesson well and can finally compete with the imports.

The C-body cars are highly aerodynamic -- the Olds 98 has a coefficient of drag of 0.383 -- which translates into less wind drag on the road and more miles on a tankful of fuel. The cars look thoroughly modern as well, with flush-mounted windshields and backlites, low hoods, and a curved rear deck lid to reduce drag.

The cars are more than two feet shorter than last year, yet the interior dimensions are only marginally less. The difference is in the front-engine/front-drive configuration of the new C-body cars compared with the front-engine/rear-drive setup of the cars they replace. The new arrangement allows more space behind the hood.

The wheelbase, at 110.8 inches, is down from 119 in 1984, while the front tread (distance between the wheels) is also reduced. The new '85 Oldsmobile 98 Regency coupes have lost 570 pounds and the sedans even more.

What it all adds up to is an up-to-date, top-line automobile by the world's biggest automaker. The 3.8-liter V-6 engine provides almost the equivalent performance of the old-time V-8s, but with far fewer trips to the fuel pump over the lifetime of the car.

Depending on your taste, you can select the kind of suspension that appeals to you. If you prefer a cushy ride, GM is ready with a cushy suspension. But with the F41 sport-suspension option, you'll get a European-type sport-sedan ride. Either way, match the tires to the suspension for the type of ride you want.

Detroit carmakers refuse to concede any more car sales to the Japanese or Europeans than absolutely necessary. These cars are totally reengineered and restyled, not a rerun of what has been on the road for so long. So far, at least, they come up with very high marks. Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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