Do you think General Motors' Buick Division fully appreciates the meaning of the name "Century" that designates its well-known family sedan?
Of course, for the 2001 model year, Buick's marketing operatives clearly mean to imply a new era dawning, with their car leading the way. I cannot deny spending an entirely lovely week in Buick's latest version of its entry-level sedan. But it was clearly a week spent behind the wheel of a car from the former, and not the future, century.
It is decidedly old-fashioned--but surely not unwise--to offer an affordable family car for six passengers in this Brave New Age. Hasn't Buick been paying attention? Don't those Buick slide-rule types notice the rash of minivans and sport-utes that spent the last decade of the last century transforming people into truck cargo? It takes some nerve to buck this trend, I suggest. Just the same, it is the postwar Buick sedan from the middle of the last century that, arguably, represents the apotheosis of the six-seater family car. So if Buick perfected it, why shouldn't the company keep making it?
Certainly, for the Century's base price just under $23,000, it would be hard to find any new minivan or SUV with comparable seating room, interior comfort — and let's not forget plain and simple grace. As old-timey as a three-passenger front bench seat may be, this latest Century has thoroughly modernized it: When there are just one or two up front, a handy console folds down to create an impression of semi-sporty bucket-like seats, split 55/45 between driver and passenger. The console even has functional, un-fancy cupholders and rectangular cutouts for holding items like cell phones and pagers, plus a covered, leather-upholstered bin under the driver's right forearm. But...when occupant number six steps up to claim his seat, the console folds back, and a new berth is born. State-of-the-art 1950, I'll admit; but you'd be hard-pressed to count the competing models offering a similar retro-change-o front-bench layout in 2001.