Just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that I’d never placed my real estate license in retirement and that I was still actively circulating the ’burbs with an MLS book at my elbow and prospective buyers in the backseat. You could fairly well bet that my car would serve as my office, if not my home. And the appearance of my car, both inside and out, would say a heck of a lot more about me, my ambitions, and my effectiveness as a house-trader than ever was uttered by a Harris tweed blazer and worsted wool slacks. Cute, sporty, and devil-may-care are not the qualities appropriate to such a car or such a career. Solid, substantial, and expansive are more like it; and if the car might somehow appear dazzling in a discreet way, so very much the better.
In a climate of superlatives, where ”best buy,“ ”real steal,“ and ”dream house“ form a base currency of conversation, the car in which I’d choose to earn my Realtor rewards would be monikered accordingly. ”Ultra“ is by no means excessive; ”Diamante“ but slyly suggests a girl’s best friend. And indeed Buick has been at this game long enough to know precisely who does or should want its sumptuous Park Avenue Ultra sedan. Mitsubishi, like a watchful apprentice, has set its Diamante’s snares with equal care. Both of these so-called ”near-luxury“ sedans are veritable poster cars for the real estate crowdor for anyone whose life and livelihood tend to coincide behind the steering wheel of an automobile.
Buick Park Avenue Ultra
Whereas Buick may be suffering an identity crisis due to its superannuated clientele, the image of its Park Avenue sedan is arguably more timeless than dated. This is a flagship car in many senses of the term: It is huge in a nautical way; it is the most deluxe sedan in Buick’s lineup; and it boasts a spirited powertrain that relishes sailing at the head of the fleet.
The upscale Ultra version of the Park Avenue is distinguished foremost by a 240-horsepower supercharged V6 that is ready, willing, and able to sprint at any excuse. The joys of supercharging are showcased best in a car like the Ultra: Unlike turbocharging, which effects a slight pause between ”want to“ and ”go,“ supercharging stands ever-ready to deliver an instantaneous kick in the pants whenever you mash the accelerator to the floor. It literally transforms Buick’s 3,800-lb. lumbering beast into a force majeure out on the highway.
Updated extensively for the ’97 model year, the Park Avenue shares its platform with Buick’s svelte Riviera coupe. It is a massive car, with a nearly 114-inch wheelbase and 75-inch width. Understandably, it cannot entirely repeal the laws of physics that dictate a certain ”boatiness“ of ride feel. A Gran Touring suspension package is available if you must force the issue, but even without it, the Ultra features GM’s trick ”magnetic variable effort“ steering, which allows a dealer to dial in whatever steering feel you prefer, from comfy to sporty with degrees of nuance in between.
All such driving enthusiasms, however, are almost beside the point for a car meant to squire prospects and colleagues all over town. And in observance of this more sedate responsibility, the Park Avenue interior is, um, eminently uptown. For example, the rear bench seat is a barque of spaciousness. Then, up front, the two buckets are really just stuffed and tufted La-Z-Boys with multiplex electric adjusters and memory buttons that allow for different drivers’ preferred recumbencies. The heated front seats and full-auto climate control are especially nice; what’s even nicer is the passenger-side override, which lets two metabolisms coexist in climatic peace.
But the most conspicuous element by far in the Ultra’s interior is its optional ”convenience console.“ What at first appears to be a giant, plastic Jersey barrier between driver and front passenger actually hinges open, unfolds, and flares out into a combination deskette, dual cupholder, phone cozy, and angled writing surface, complete with pre-wiring for both phone and fax. When deployed, this...extravagance dominates the interior, and, in truth, manages to de-luxify what is otherwise an operatic performance of automotive interior design. Suddenly, the spell is broken, and the coach becomes a cart. Back to work you go: ”Would you consider three bedrooms and two baths upstairs with just a half-bath down? No? Well, let’s just see what else is in this neighborhood.“
Perhaps it’s just as well. For an eye-bugging sticker price of $37,370 (as tested), the ’98 Ultra encourages a decidedly nose-to-grindstone posture.
Mitsubishi Diamante ES
At $31,905 (as tested), Mitsubishi’s top sedan sneaks in well below the Park Avenue Ultra to satisfy a more valid interpretation of the ”near-luxury“ price range. In fact, the car’s base price is just $27,650it’s the $2,700 ”Premium Package“ and $930 sunroof that punch the sticker over the $30-grand threshold.
It’s hard to pin down the multifaceted personality of the Diamante. After a dramatic makeover for the ’97 model-year, the car became more powerful and statuesque, that’s for sure. Its 210-horsepower V6 virtually mirrors the output of the V6 in Acura’s stately 3.5RLbut the latter costs almost $20,000 more. Plus, the Diamante, with slightly better torque, feels zestier in acceleration and allows its exhaust note a bit of a sporty rasp.
Diamante’s exterior persona, too, has matured from a nondescript introvert into a rakish, windswept flirt with hints of Infiniti’s Q45 and BMW’s 7-Series in its curves and creases. With the Premium option package in particular, the car’s interior makes an impressive presentation. It’s roomy; nicely appointed with leather and wood trim; and replete with conveniences that range from auto climate-control and electric memory-seating to CD stereo and a remote-keyless entry system. Whereas ABS brakes were optional for ’97, they’re standard now; this rounds out a handling and powertrain package that feels nimble and likes to pick up the pace.
But the Diamante also betrays a certain edge that may not meet universal acclaim. Its defenders will equate this edge with charactera sort of automotive personality that wants to do things the brash, glib, Diamante way. Its detractors, on the other hand, may fault the car for falling a bit shortfor not being quite comfortable enough, solid-feeling enough, respectful enough. In both cases, actually, it’s a matter of polish: Some will prefer the car’s buff and spirited behavior; others will wish the jewel in Mitsubishi’s lineup had a little more gleam.
There’s a showdown shaping up in Nashville that represents a most unlikely contest: the battle for Middle Tennessee’s Volkswagen loyalists. This week, Rocky Hendrickson has quietly opened a new Volkswagen dealership at 2431 Gallatin Rd. N. in Madison. Although a formal grand opening is promised in early February, new V-dubs began arriving Monday. ”The timing couldn’t be better,“ said a spokesman for the new dealership. ”The new Beetle will be arriving in March. After its North American debut at Detroit, it seems likely to become the cult favorite for the ’98 model year.“
Indeed, the enthusiast and trade press reported hours-long waiting lines to view the new Beetle at the recent Detroit Auto Show, and dealers nationwide are being besieged with early orders that promise to outstrip initial supply. The new Hallmark VW dealership will rival Nashville’s existing VW franchise, VW of Nashville, located at 630 Murfreesboro Rd.
Although Middle Tennessee is not particularly regarded as a hotbed of VW partisanship, the presence of two competing dealers in the area coincides with VW’s aggressive global resurgence. After years of seeming to operate in the doldrumsespecially in North Americathe world’s fourth-largest automaker is introducing innovative new products and is polishing its somewhat faded reputation. Clearly, VW intends to battle with renewed vigor for the heart and soulnot to mention the walletof the American auto buyer. Provincial as our city may appear on the map, Nashville’s acquisition of a second VW dealership is symbolic evidence of a global salvo heralding VW’s ambitious intentions.
Dealer news and other views are invited via e-mail to Autosuggestive@compuserve.com.
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