"Achieva" will go down in history as one of Oldsmobile's
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
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
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
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
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
Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on
driving experiences with a vehicle provided by the automaker.
MODELS AND PRICES
Two-door coupe: SC Coupe $19,950; SL Sedan $19,925
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
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.
5-speed manual; front-wheel drive
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
Freight and predelivery inspection — $595; federal air
conditioning excise tax — $100; Ontario fuel conservation tax –
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
Cost of commonly needed parts, excluding installation: muffler
and tailpipe (stainless steel) — $175; front fender — $117;
taillight lens assembly — $204
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
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
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?
1996 Oldsmobile Achieva
"Achieva" will go down in history as one of Oldsmobile's