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1990s Buick Riviera

A changing market and GM's steadily declining share of it -- down to less than 30 percent by the mid '90s -- would ­eventually claim another Buick, the once-proud Riviera. Its future certainly looked bleak as the decade opened, as the restyled '89 was left to soldier on for four model years without significant change.

Though there were laudable technical advances like electronic transmission control and standard ABS, they only kept the car current without making it more compelling. Worse, the luxury-coupe market started to nosedive in an early-decade recession. As a result, Riv sales were flat for 1991-92 at some 12,000-13,000 per year, then plunged to a paltry 4555 for '93. And there were no '94s at all.


But that's only because Buick had prepared an all-new Riviera for a spring '94 debut. Artfully detailed and refreshingly different, the 1995 model marked a renaissance for the ­personal-luxury Buick -- arguably the most-exciting Riviera in a quarter-century. Styling was a major attraction. Developed under studio chief Bill Porter, it had begun as a variation on the curvy Lucerne showmobile, but ended up like no Buick before. Some saw a hint of trendy "cab forward" proportioning, others a touch of Jaguar and even Ferrari Dino in the smoothly carved nose, tail, and profile.

Even if you didn't like the new look -- and not everyone did -- you had to admire its audacity. Car and Driver, for one, praised "the boldness and coherence of the Riviera's design, [though] the shape somehow doesn't make our hearts flutter instantly. But neither did we tire of it quickly, for there's a wealth of visual detail that was gradually revealed to us as we spent time with the car."

The reborn Riviera was definitely larger and more "substantial" than the 1989-93 generation, growing nine inches longer, 1.9 inches wider, and 238 pounds heavier. The weight gain ­partly reflected the use of a new "G-car" platform, claimed to be the stiffest in GM history. It was the same structure used for Oldsmobile's new '95 Aurora sedan, but aside from sharing a few underskin components and a 113.8-inch wheelbase, the two cars were nothing alike.

The move from E-body to G-car gave Riviera a modern independent rear suspension with semitrailing arms, toe-control links, coil springs and antiroll bar. Together with a strut-type front end and Buick chassis tuning, the Riv handled with confidence, if not Euro firmness, and delivered a great American-style ride.

The interior enhanced comfort by offering space enough for six -- five with available front buckets -- plus the expected upscale decor and a handsome reverse-slant instrument panel that prompted faint memories of 1963.

Early '95 Rivieras carried the 225-bhp supercharged V-6 from that season's Park Avenue Ultra. Despite fair heft (nearly 3800 pounds) and mandatory four-speed autobox, the blown Riv clocked a brisk 7.9 seconds in 0-60 runs by Consumer Guide®.

A less-expensive, standard model soon followed with the unblown 205-bhp Series II engine. Both versions packed standard four-wheel ABS, full power, dual-zone climate control, a remote-keyless-entry system and many other amenities now expected in the class. Even so, the base Riv stickered at just over $28,000, thousands less than pricey foreign luxury coupes, not to mention domestic rivals. The supercharged model was only some $1100 upstream, and even a full option load ­wouldn't push it much beyond $32 grand.

Enthusiasts must have been happy to see Riviera not only alive and well but more elegant and desirable than it had been in a long, long time. Buick was happy to see sales go through the roof, relatively speaking, turning out 41,442 for the extended 1995 run. But that would be the peak. With buyers fast deserting big coupes for upscale sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and luxury import-brand sedans, Riviera sales dropped to just over 18,000 for '96, inched up to almost 19,000 for '97, then plunged to 10,953 for '98.

There were few changes along the way though, the supercharged engine was boosted to 240 bhp for '96 and was the only engine available for '98, when bucket seats were standardized too.

But the market had spoken, and Riviera was consigned to history after a token 2000-unit run for 1999. Of those, about 200 were specially trimmed Silver Arrow models, a nostalgic nod to the Bill Mitchell show car previewing the classic '63 Riviera. Though the valedictory edition may emerge one day as a minor collector's item, it was a sad finale for what had been one of the most glamorous of all Buicks.

For more on the amazing Buick, old and new, see:

  • Buick New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Buick Used Car Reviews and Prices
  • 2008 Buick Lacrosse
  • 2008 Buick Lucerne