New Car Review

1996 BUICK SKYLARK

by Tom Hagin

Regal Photo

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 16,195
     Price As Tested                                    $ 17,050
     Engine Type                             3.1 Liter V6 w/SFI*
     Engine Size                                     cid/3135 cc
     Horsepower                                   155 @ 5200 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               185 @ 4000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   107.5"/72.5"/193.9
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3261 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  17.1 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P195/65R15
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/drum-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                        Six-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 92 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            21/29/24
     0-60 MPH                                       10.2 seconds
     1/4 mile (E.T.)                       17.7 seconds @ 76 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                        N/A
     * Sequential fuel injection

The Buick Skylark is clearly targeted toward the standard sedan buyer wishing for a bit of luxury. Priced closer to a subcompact than its EPA-designated compact class suggests, all Skylark models are well appointed with no-charge items such as air conditioning, dual airbags and anti-lock brakes.

Buick starts the Skylark lineup with the Custom model, while Limited and Grand Sport packages are offered upscale. Our week was spent behind the wheel of a Skylark Custom Sedan with a handful of options.

OUTSIDE - Skylark retains its integrated rear fender skirts, a visual reminder of Buick's past. A mild reskinning of its exterior is all that is noticeable from last year's version. A new grille leads the way, while freshened bodyside cladding extends across its tail. A new taillamp cluster now covers nearly the entire width of its tail, and both bumpers are body-color. Skylark's daring features blend sweeping, curvaceous lines that bespeak luxury, with real world affordability. Our test vehicle came with Buick's "California Value Package," which includes exterior extras such as larger P195/65R15 tires and full wheelcovers. Cargo-hauling is best left to other vehicles, however, as Skylark's trunk is limited to just 13 cubic feet of space, even with its tiny compact spare tire in place.

INSIDE - A totally new interior is welcomed. Gone are the motorized shoulder belts, replaced by three-point, shoulder-height adjustable units, and dual airbags. The new seat belt location has been moved from the previous model's door frame attachment point, to the door pillars. Even as Buick's entry-level vehicle, the interior is geared toward vintage "posh." Up front is a 55/45 split bench seat with new seat material and padding which is softer, and more comfortable. The redesigned instrument cluster is easier to read, and the controls that are most used are within easy reach of the driver. Controls for the power windows (optional on our Custom version), door locks and rear defogger have been moved as well, and backlit for easy identification.

ON THE ROAD - Standard Skylark power comes from a 2.4 liter, dual overhead cam four cylinder engine. This powerplant features numerous refinements, including a composite intake manifold and relocated mounting points for accessories such as the air conditioning, power steering pump and generator, which produce less vibration. Powerful yet small, its 150 horsepower is only five horses shy of Skylark's optional 3.1 liter V6, which powered our test vehicle. Where the standard four cylinder's 150 lb-ft of torque power falls short in off-line acceleration, the V6's 185 lb-ft of twist did well to launch our sedan quickly to speed. Skylark is especially well-suited toward freeway cruising, and long drives are quite comfortable. A four-speed automatic transmission is now standard on all models, and provides better fuel economy than the previously used standard-issue three-speed gearbox.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Skylark is supported by MacPherson strut suspension at all four corners, with softly sprung coil springs to smooth the ride. Its twist beam rear axle is very basic, and made for ride comfort, with high performance road handling coming secondary. Skylark absorbs bumps effortlessly, although with two full-sized passengers aboard in back, its suspension bottoms on large pavement undulations. Its brakes are basic as well, with discs up front and drums in back. A four-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard equipment, and helpful during panic stops. A traction control system, new on 1996 Skylark models, gathers feedback from ABS sensors to reduce wheelspin on slippery pavement. While Custom and Limited models are tuned toward comfort, Skylark buyers wanting a sporting flair can opt for the Grand Sport package, which adds stiffer suspension, a rear stabilizer bar and grippy 16-inch performance tires.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, ABS, and traction control, along with child-proof rear door locks round out Skylark's safety features.

OPTIONS - Power windows: $355; power driver's seat: $305; Grand Sport Package: $2,206.

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