Room, performance give Cutlass Supreme top mark

Is it possible to buy a roomy, well-equipped, high-performance sedan with a list price of less than $18,000?

The answer is yes, and the car is the base Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme equipped with the performance package and several key luxury options. Thus fitted, this automobile is a remarkable mixture of comfort, practicality, fun and value.


Here's the arithmetic: Start with a base Cutlass Supreme sedan, a spacious, comfortable, five-passenger midsize car with a base price of $15,095 and a standard equipment list that includes a three-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, power four-wheel disc brakes, power steering, a fully independent suspension and a stereo.

Next, add the Sport Performance Package, which includes a 200-horsepower engine, an engine-oil cooler, a four-speed automatic transmission, dual exhausts, a sport suspension, 16-inch aluminum wheels, P225/60R16 performance tires, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Top off this closet full of athletic equipment with the following hedonistic hardware: tilt steering, cruise control, power outside mirrors, a rear-window defogger and a stereo/cassette.


Now, you are up to $17,490. Add $505 for shipping, and the sticker total comes to $17,995.

What you have here is the 1991 car I recently tested. If you want an identically equipped 1992 model, the tariff goes up to $18,793. Either way you go -- leftover '91 or new '92 -- a base Cutlass Supreme outfitted this way is a recipe for more fun than you deserve at these prices.

There isn't a big difference between the '91 and '92 Cutlass Supremes. The car gets minor cosmetic changes inside and out for the new model year and a new standard engine. Instead of the 2.3-liter, 160-horsepower Quad Four offered in '91, the new car comes with a 3.1-liter, 140-horsepower V-6. The optional high-performance 3.4-liter V-6 in the test car is the one that will be used in '92 models.

And what an engine that is. Equipped with dual cams and 24 valves, the high-output V-6 churns out 210 horsepower when mated with a five-speed manual transaxle, and 200 when teamed with the four-speed automatic found in the test car.

That's a lot of power, especially in a car that weighs a moderate 3,375 pounds. As a consequence, the Cutlass Supreme with this engine really moves out. Give it a little too much gas at a stoplight, and you'll find yourself engaging in the ancient teen-age practice of squealing tires.

The athleticism exhibited by this engine is matched by the agility of the suspension that comes with it.