Brand management was bad news for Oldsmobile, reducing the make to just three car lines by 2000. The most commercially promising was Intrigue, a new import-flavored midsize sedan arriving in May '97 as the 1998 replacement for Cutlass Supreme. Though related to the latest Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Regal, it was arguably Detroit's strongest challenger yet to the all-conquering Accord and Camry.
Intrigue rode a 109-inch wheelbase, the same as the Regal's but shorter than the GP's. Styling, previewed by the 1995 Antares concept, was clean and understated, with more than a hint of Aurora. The interior, also tastefully restrained, featured clear, well-placed gauges and controls; plus comfortable space for four adults, five in a pinch.
Roadability was another asset. Said Car and Driver: "What's genuinely surprising is how the Intrigue's chassis mimics the behavior and feel of the imports -- European imports at that. The structure always feels solid and tight the suspension keeps a very tight rein on body motions."
The only engine at first was GM's decidedly un-European "3800" pushrod V-6, but its 195 bhp made for brisk acceleration (just under eight seconds 0-60) despite a mandatory four-speed automatic. For 1999, Olds phased in a new 3.5-liter twin cam V-6 derived from the all-aluminum Olds/Cadillac Northstar V-8. Dubbed the "Shortstar" by some, it made 215 bhp despite less displacement, but it had little more torque than the 3800, so performance was comparable. Even so, the 3.5 was quicker to rev, sounded neat, and backed up Intrigue's credentials as a serious alternative to imports.
Intrigue bowed in plain and fancier GL trim, followed by a late-arriving, leather-upholstered GLS. All came with premium features like front bucket seats and console, all-disc antilock brakes, traction control, and 16-inch wheels and tires at low- to mid-$20,000 prices, the heart of the market. A worthy new option for 2000 was an antiskid Precision Control System, which helped the keep the car on course if it started to slide.
Consumer Guide® welcomed Intrigue as "more sophisticated than the brash Grand Prix and more nimble and poised than the Ford Taurus or Camry V-6. If you're looking for a midsize car with a thoughtful blend of features and performance, don't decide until you've driven this pleasant and surprising new Olds."
Yet despite that and many other endorsements, Intrigue sales tapered off right away, going from nearly 108,000 for extra long model-year '98 to just under 94,000, then to about 80,500 for 2000. But this wasn't the car's fault. Other factors were at work, as we'll soon see.