by Jim Kenzie
MONTEREY, Calif. — The '80s were not kind to Oldsmobile.
They started the decade with the best-selling car on the continent — the Cutlass Supreme. By the early Nineties, the very future of the division was in doubt. It's not a stretch to say that the Aurora, introduced in 1994, saved the division.
That first Aurora was a beautiful car, and remains so — you still turn to watch one go by, nearly six years after its debut. It was also General Motors' first effort, along with sister ship Buick Riviera, at a truly rigid chassis in the European tradition. The chassis was also European-inspired, offering taut handling and a firm — maybe a bit too firm — ride. The engine was a 4.0-liter version of Cadillac's brilliant all-aluminum twin-cam 32-valve Northstar V-8.
The Aurora was a critical smash hit, but only a modest success in the showrooms. For starters, it may have been a bit too intense for then-typical Olds shoppers, positioned among contemporary Achievas and Eighty Eights.
For 2001, Oldsmobile has an all-new Aurora. It is based on the "G-platform" which the original Aurora initiated, and which has evolved several times to form the basis of the Buick Park Avenue and Le Sabre, Pontiac Bonneville, and Cadillac Seville and DeVille. With the G-platform, the Aurora gets one-piece body-side stampings to ensure perfect door fit, front strut towers integrated into the cowl for improved structure and a magnesium cross-cowl beam to offer a strong support for the steering column and the air bags, plus a rattle-free dashboard.
The Aurora also uses aluminum for the hood and, on V-8-equipped cars, the trunk lid too.
Several design elements that have been seen on other Oldsmobiles — the cat's-eye headlights, below-bumper air intakes, strong body-side sculpting and large, round wheel openings — originated with the first Aurora, and are continued on the second. That said, you may see a bit of the Chrysler 300M in here too, especially from the rear. The new car also boldly displays the divisional nameplate on the trunk lid — the original Aurora had the word "Oldsmobile" only on the radio face plate, and that could have been changed at the last moment if the decision had been made to scrap Oldsmobile and sell the car through another franchise.