Complementing Intrigue for 1999 was a more competitive Oldsmobile compact, the Alero. Pontiac's redesigned Grand Am used the same platform and power trains, but Alero was very much a junior Intrigue, with similarly handsome Aurora-inspired styling inside and out.
A 107-inch wheelbase, rangy for compacts, served sedan and jaunty coupe body styles, each offering GX, GL, and top-drawer GLS trim. A 170-hp 3.4-liter twin cam V-6 (with roots in 1980, by the way) was standard for GLS models and available for GLs in lieu of a 150-bhp 2.4-liter "Twin Cam" four-cylinder, a more-civilized version of the Quad-4 and one of the few carryover items from the last Achievas.
Like Intrigues, all Aleros had standard all-disc antilock brakes, but also traction control (albeit a simpler setup). GL and GLS added a handy electronic tire-pressure monitor, and a firmer Performance Suspension Package was available for GLS coupes.
Alero tilted even more toward sportiness for 2000, when a five-speed manual transmission -- supplied by the renowned Getrag of Germany, no less -- replaced the four-speed automatic as standard for some four-cylinder models. Olds shuffled prices and some features that year and again for 2001. Model-year 2002 introduced GM's new 2.2-liter "Ecotec" four-cylinder engine, then phasing in for all the company's smaller cars. It made less power than the superseded 2.4, but was more refined and easier on gas.
Like Intrigue, Alero was greeted as another sign that Olds might just be turning itself around. Car and Driver judged its V-6 GLS coupe "downright world-class." Road & Track, after testing a similar car, praised "expressive styling, a lively chassis, and…satisfying torque."
Being smaller and lighter than Intrigues, V-6 Aleros posted slightly quicker 0-60 times and were even more nimble. Four-cylinder performance was adequate, though also rather noisier.
But if not perfect -- what car is? -- Alero gave value-minded shoppers another reason to visit their local Oldsmobile dealer. As Consumer Guide® observed: "This new Olds comes across as a refined car that's not embarrassed by a twisting road. Alero feels more mature than [Grand Am], and with a long list of standard features and competitive prices, shapes up as a good value."
Despite the impressive one-two punch of Intrigue and Alero, Olds sales kept sliding. Buyers were hardly reassured by some journalists' persistent doubts about Oldsmobile's future, a chorus that only grew louder once Chrysler announced termination of once-mighty Plymouth. Nothing, it seemed, was sacred in Detroit at the turn of the millennium, not even America's oldest surviving nameplate. after model-year 2001.
Heavy symbolic freight thus attached to the all-new 2001 Aurora that reached dealers in spring 2000. Actually, there were two now: a 4.0-liter V-8 model and a more-affordable companion with Intrigue's snappy 3.5 V-6. Both were slightly smaller in most dimensions than the original Aurora and looked more conservative, but the trusty G-body platform was reengineered to be stiffer and thus more protective in a crash, and quieter with it.
Options were few, as both models were lavishly equipped with standard leather-and-wood interior, automatic climate control, all-disc antilock brakes, GM's OnStar assistance system, and much more. V-8s added 17-inch wheels instead of 16s and the antiskid Precision Control System.
At just over $30,000 to start, the V-6 Aurora was basically a stand-in for the departed Eighty-Eight, bringing distinctive style and surprising performance to the family-car market. The uplevel V-8 version was arguably less-special than its predecessor, but it also cost a few thousand less.
And true to the Centennial Plan, each was a fine road car. Said Motor Trend: "This fresh Aurora is a fun-to-drive, remarkably well-executed sport sedan that nicely balances the luxury-comfort and responsive-agile sides of the driving equation at a reasonable price. Less can be more, after all." But not for GM managers, who by now were more pressured than ever to boost the company's bottom line and especially its stock price.