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1996 Oldsmobile Achieva

  • Driver

"Achieva" will go down in history as one of Oldsmobile's

shortest-lived nameplates.

It replaced Cutlass Calais when the car was revamped in 1992.

It will disappear when the current model spills down the pipe at

the end of the 1997 model year.

Achieva is one of General Motors' family of compact sedans and

coupes that includes the popular Pontiac Grand Am and the

somewhat less-so Buick Skylark. This N-car platform derives from

the previous-generation Chevrolet Cavalier, so it's hardly

leading-edge, despite several upgrades over the years.

Achieva's improvements for 1996 centre on an all-new interior.

Standard dual air bags eliminate those dreadful door-mounted

seatbelts on four-door models.

The bags require a new tubular cross-member in the dash for

support, which has the added benefit of reducing the squeaks and

rattles that often originate from this region.

Also included is a new set of legible analogue instruments,

although the fuel gauge drops to empty in a clockwise motion,

while the temperature gauge reads "hot" to the left, both of

which seem counterintuitive.

Heater, ventilation and (now-standard) air conditioning

controls are simple, round "oven-style" knobs. They aren't

electronic, however; the temperature knob is quite stiff.

Achieva has stayed with beefy steering column stalks for

lights and wipers; Buick's Skylark has reverted to the bad old

days of GM's corporate single leftside stalk system. Two

cookies for Oldsmobile here.

The front bucket seats have extremely short cushions, which

won't fit long-legged riders. The driver's seat optionally gains

a knurled knob down on the right front corner to adjusts lumbar

support. The interior is too narrow to allow a knob in the more

logical spot on the side of the seat back.

There's quite a stretch to reach the seatbelt on two-door

Achievas, such as my test car, an inevitable downside to coupes

unless there's a belt retaining clip on the seat back, in which

case access to the rear seat is even more difficult. "Coupe"

equals "compromise" — no doubt about it.

The rear bench is ostensibly a three-seater, but that'll be

kids-only. Any middle rider taller than about 5 feet, 5 inches,

will jam his/her head up against the centre high-mounted

stoplight housing. The outer positions have three-point belts.

A split-folding seat back augments the sizable trunk whose lid

is cut down to bumper height for easy loading. My car had an

optional cargo net to help keep things from sliding around back

there.

Additional nice-touch features include a dual-sided,

either-way-up single key for doors and ignition (finally!) plus a

standard PASS-lock security system, which requires that a

magnetic sensor in the ignition lock match the signal sent by

the ignition key, to prevent hotwiring.

Achieva's base engine is the newest iteration of the Quad 4

double-overhead camshaft four-cylinder. The reengineering on

this year's variation, which is also shared with uplevel

versions of Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire, is so extensive that

GM is calling it an "all-new" engine. Well . . .

Lengthened stroke increases displacement to 2.4 litres, and

boosts low-end torque. Horsepower stays at 150, same as last

year. Dual balance shafts, introduced last year, help keep the

noise that this engine is infamous for under control.

A high-tech direct ignition system with no plug wires in the

conventional sense, plus a compression ratio of 9.5:1 — very

high in these days of low-octane fuel — help achieve complete

combustion for good performance and fuel economy. A knock sensor

allows running of the engine safely on 87-octane regular

unleaded.

The revised engine does a pretty good job of getting this car

down the road. The Quad 4 was always quick; this variant, with

its ample torque, works especially well with the optional

four-speed automatic transmission, with which my test car was

equipped.

The noise level is intrusive only when the engine is revved

hard, and it seems louder when the engine is cold. Once rolling,

Achieva is a quiet highway cruiser, aided in no small way by

tall overall gearing. Buyers will no longer feel compelled to

check the box for the optional 3.1 litre V6.

New this year is a traction control system borrowed from

Saturn that cuts engine power and upshifts the automatic as

needed to keep wheelspin to a minimum. It's included in all

Achievas when the automatic option is specified.

I had the chance to try this on some snowy and icy roads. It's

less irritating than many such systems, coming in more gently

and less obtrusively, but it's hardly the safety breakthrough

some carmakers would have us believe.

Achieva no longer offers a sport suspension package. Just as

well, since all it ever did was degrade ride quality with no

particular improvement in handling.

Achieva's road manners are limited by the age of the structure

and simplicity of the suspension design, but the car does a

decent job of isolating the occupants from the harsh realities

of the road. The harsher the realities, the less successful it

is, as larger bumps defeat the suspension.

The power steering single-ratio with the four-cylinder

engine, variable ratio on the V6 has a slightly artificial

feel to it, not as liquid or linear as the system on the new

Cavalier. It's okay, but no more. The BFGoodrich Touring tires

did a good job of gripping wet and slippery pavements.

Achieva's role within Oldsmobile's mandate of being GM's

"upscale import fighter" division is to take on cars like the

Accord coupe and Mazda MX6 Mystere in two-door form, and add

cars like Nissan Altima to the target in sedan guise.

In appearance, I find it an attractive but not

earth-shattering car, with a profile that reminds me of the last

Toyota Corolla hatchback coupe and much less fussy detailing

than Oldsmobiles of the recent past.

On paper, too, Achieva has the specs to do the job: twin-cam,

16 valve engine, dual bags, anti-lock brakes, and a host of

other upscale features as standard equipment.

What it lacks is the refinement of its Japanese-branded

competitors. Achieva is vastly better in this regard than it was

even last year, but we'll have to wait until the all-new

platform arrives in a couple of years to see if it has met or

exceeded the benchmark.

Meanwhile, the car will have to compete on price. A

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price of $22,800 for my well

equipped Achieva coupe looks to be in tough against the

currently advertised Toyota Camry "Plus", which offers similar

equipment and legendary quality and refinement for nearly the

same money.

But the fine print always says, "dealers may sell for less",

and I'm sure Oldsmobile dealers will be ready to counter.

If you like your friendly local Oldsmobile dealer, and you

want to buy a small car from them, you could well be happy with

one of these.

But despite GM's comment in its press release that Achieva

buyers have "an emotional attraction" to their cars, Achieva

doesn't seem likely to inspire great affection or instil an

insatiable urge-to-buy among many people — witness the numbers

of them you see in the fleets of car rental companies.

May I, please, be the last to refer to this car as an

under-Achieva?

Thank you.

Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on

driving experiences with a vehicle provided by the automaker.

Oldsmobile Achieva

MODELS AND PRICES

Two-door coupe: SC Coupe $19,950; SL Sedan $19,925

STANDARD EQUIPMENT

SC Coupe: dual air bags; anti-lock brakes; air conditioning;

stainless steel exhaust system; centre console storage bin with

auxiliary power outlet and coin holder; programmable power door

locks; dual cup holders; remote fuel door and trunk releases;

analogue instrumentation with tachometer and trip meter;

illuminated entry system with theatre-dimming; trunk, glovebox

and underhood lights; covered visor vanity mirrors; AM/FM

stereo 4 speaker radio; reclining front bucket seats with

four-way adjustment for driver, easy-entry feature for passenger;

floor mats; tilt steering column; variable intermittent wipers;

PASS-Lock theft deterrent system.

SL Sedan:as above, less easy-entry front passenger seat; plus

adjustable shoulder belt anchors; childproof rear door locks

ENGINE

Standard: 2.4 litre 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valve; 150 h.p. at

6000 r.p.m.; 150 pound feet torque at 4400 r.p.m. Optional: 3.1

litre V6, OHV; 155 h.p. at 4200 r.p.m.; 185 poundfeet torque

at 4000 r.p.m.

TRANSMISSION

5-speed manual; front-wheel drive

DIMENSIONS

Manufacturer's figures: WB — 2627 mm; L — 4772 mm; W — 1742

mm; H — 1358 mm; front headroom — 961 mm; rear headroom — 928

mm; trunk capacity — 14.0 cubic feet/0.4 cubic metre; fuel tank

– 57.5 L; weight — 1248 kg

PRICE, AS TESTED

SC Coupe: $22,800 (excluding extra charges and taxes)

OPTIONS ON TEST CAR

Preferred Equipment Group 1SC, including cruise control, AM/FM

stereo radio with clock and cassette, rear-window antenna, power

mirrors and windows, remote keyless entry, splitfolding rear

seat back — $1,455; 6-speaker radio upgrade — $80; 4-speed

automatic transmission, including traction control system –

$1,035; P195/65 15 tires with wheel covers — $140; fog lamps –

$80; trunk cargo net — $40; driver's-side lumbar adjuster — $20

EXTRA CHARGES

Freight and predelivery inspection — $595; federal air

conditioning excise tax — $100; Ontario fuel conservation tax –

$75

SAFETY WATCH

Dual air bags — std.; anti-lock brakes — std.; meets 1997 U.S.

side-impact standard — yes; theft deterrent system — std.;

height-adjustable shoulder belts — std. sedan only

TRANSPORT CANADA FUEL ECONOMY

City: 10.7 L/100 km; highway: 7.1 L/100 km; estimated maximum

range (tank capacity x 100 / highway fuel consumption): 810 km

PARTS BASKET

Cost of commonly needed parts, excluding installation: muffler

and tailpipe (stainless steel) — $175; front fender — $117;

taillight lens assembly — $204

WARRANTY

Entire car — 3 years, 60,000 km (no deductible, no transfer

fee); rust-through — 6 years, 160,000 km; roadside assistance

3 years, 60,000 km

COMPETITION

Nissan Altima — this is best compact sedan value overall;

Mazda Protege — unless this one is; Pontiac Grand Am Achieva's

GM sibling flashier, same car underneath; Buick Skylark

Achieva's other GM sibling, weird exterior, less effective

interior; Mercury Mystique — all-new car doesn't offer as much

as ancient Achieva

RATING

Bold face denote's Kenzie's rating: 14: yeah, it's a car;

56: it's got price going for it; 78: good value; 9: great

value; 10: where do I sign?

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