New Car Review

1996 OLDS CIERA SL

by Matt/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 15,955
     Price As Tested                                    $ 16,985
     Engine Type                            3.1 Liter V6 w/SPFI*
     Engine Size                                 191 cid/3130 cc
     Horsepower                                   160 @ 5200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               185 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  104.9"/69.5"/193.2"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3058 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                    P185/75HR14
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/drum-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                  Six-passenger/four-door sedan
     Domestic Content                                 82 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/29/26
     0-60 MPH                                       10.9 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       18.3 seconds @ 80 mph


     * Sequential port fuel injection

(Next year Oldsmobile will celebrate its 100th birthday and for the past few years, the company has been trying to shake off its image as a stodgy old company building stodgy old vehicles for stodgy old people. Its Ciera sedan is one of those "stodgy old cars," according to Bob Hagin but his son Matt points out that it's one of America's best selling mid-sized sedans nonetheless.)

BOB - If the auto press gave an award for the most faceless, invisible car on the market, the Olds Ciera would be one of the leading contenders. Its national advertising budget must be in the low four- figures and most car buffs think the name is the misspelling of a mountain range. This may be caused by the fact that the car really hasn't changed much since it first hit the Oldsmobile lineup in 1982.

MATT - That's true, Dad, but the one thing that the Ciera has going for it is the fact that it still sells very well and appeals to rental car purchasing agents, fleet buyers and "mature" private buyers who want a car that will be as reliable and unassuming as their power lawn mower. Oldsmobile has been selling around 140,000 Cieras each year for a long time and it outsells all of the company's more flashy offerings. The term "bread-and-butter" car definitely applies here.

BOB - That best-seller label must apply to the V6-powered version that we tested, Matt, because I can't picture anyone buying a Ciera wagon or even a sedan with the 2.2 liter, 120 horsepower four-banger that's listed as the standard powerplant. The V6 is an antiquated pushrod design but it's simplicity must help account for its reliability. At 160 horses, it's not a ball of fire but it goes well enough to easily stay up with traffic and merge onto the highway without causing cardiac arrest in us oldsters. The four-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available on the V6 and its lock-up fourth gear is an overdrive ratio which helps account for the 20 city and 29 highway MPG. The four cylinder version gets slightly better mileage but it's so anemic that the transmission that it's mounted to eliminates the overdrive. I guess that it just couldn't pull the car with that high ratio over anything steeper than a driveway.

MATT - It really is a conservative car and this is reflected in its interior, too. So few Ciera buyers went for the optional bucket front seats in recent years that Oldsmobile dropped them altogether. The only available seating up front now is the conventional bench-type split seats with a drop-down center arm rest. Most of the traditional options like a/c, a cassette sound system, tilt steering wheel, tinted glass and power to the front seat recliners are all standard equipment and the only luxury options listed are cruise control and power to the door locks, side mirrors and the driver's seat.

BOB - And I'll bet that not very many retail buyers or fleet managers buy Cieras without those options. Obviously, no performance handling kit is offered as an option either and I think the Ciera could use a bit of stiffening in the suspension department. It leans pretty heavily in the turns and its skinny 195/75-by-14 tires complain bitterly at sudden changes in direction. There's an optional aluminum wheel set offered at extra cost and they're a half-inch wider than the standard steel units but I can't see them turning the Ciera into a ridge-runner.

MATT - Dad, if a buyer wants to stay loyal to Oldsmobile but wants more get-up-and-go, he or she can go for some of the current line of Olds hot-rods like the Aurora or the compact Achieva. The Ciera is made for the driver who isn't a car buff and doesn't need to make a fashion statement out of daily transportation. The Ciera station wagon epitomizes this in the fact that it has a rear-facing fold-up seat in the 'way-back storage area for old folks to carry a couple of extra kids.

BOB - I wish I'd known that, Matt. Next time let's ask for the Ciera wagon to test. I could use it to take a bunch of the grandkids to an afternoon at the zoo.

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