With sporty styling, an elegant interior, a smooth ride, and spirited performance and handling, the Oldsmobile Alero is one of the best of the mid-size domestic sedans.
For 2002, a new more fuel-efficient 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine is offered along with a smooth V6. Automatic transmissions are standard, but a five-speed manual is available for four-cylinder models.
A classy interior, a roomy back seat, and a sizeable trunk make the Alero comfortable and practical. Clean lines differentiate the Alero from the pack of relatively bland mid-size sedans. Sedan and coupe body styles are available to suit your lifestyle.
The Alero is stable at high speeds, whether on a lonely Interstate or going through fast, sweeping turns. Quick, precise steering makes it enjoyable on winding back roads. The optional V6 engine delivers good mid-range torque for quick passing maneuvers, combined with quick, positive shifting from the available automatic transmission. Best of all, the Alero is affordably priced.
Over the next several years, the more than 100-year-old Oldsmobile brand is being phased out of the General Motors portfolio. This shouldn't be a big concern for buyers, however. GM says its dealerships will continue to honor all warranty claims and maintenance for Oldsmobiles.
Coupe: GX ($17,210); GL ($18,620); GLS ($22,190);
Sedan: GX ($17,210); GL ($18,620); GLS ($21,965)
Alero shares a strong family resemblance with Oldsmobile's bigger Intrigue and Aurora sedans. Examples of where that can be clearly seen are in the squashed-oval horizontal headlights and in the artful treatment around the fog lamps and front bumper. Enormous tail lamps are by far the Alero's strongest design element; they look like they are draped around the corners of the car and are instantly recognizable from quite a distance.
Oldsmobile's Alero shares its chassis with Pontiac's Grand Am. The common Alero/Grand Am platform provides a rigid body structure that allowed more precise suspension development, which in turn provides a decent ride and competent handling. Tubular door beams and strategically placed foam blocks help guard against side-impact injuries.
For 2002, Tropic Teal and Polo Green have been added to the pallet, and a new 15-inch six-spoke alloy wheel is standard on the GL and optional on the GX.
Aurora's influence on the Alero carries through to the expensive-looking interior. All the individual pieces fit together in a way that is natural without being ordinary, scientific without being flashy. The instruments, located under a deep, curved hood that keeps the sun off the faces, are large and legible. Audio controls are positioned in the center of the dash above the less-often-used rotary switches for the climate controls. Alero's interior colors, textures, and shapes are tastefully done and fit and finish appeared excellent in our car.
Alero's front bucket seats are supportive and hold you in place well when cornering. Interior space is comparable to other cars in this class, and the Alero accommodates large drivers with ease. We especially liked the seat-mounted three-point seat belts, which move fore and aft with the seat. They seem more comfortable around the shoulder than traditional belts mounted to the door frames.
For 2002, the console area was redesigned with a bigger cupholder, and storage capacity was increased for CDs.
Rear seats are surprisingly roomy, offering lots of headroom for taller passengers. All models now get child seat anchors in the package shelf. The trunk is big; at 14.6 cubic feet, it is significantly larger than the Honda Accord's 13.6 cubic feet of cargo space. The rear seats fold down for more space and are split for carrying one rear passenger and longer items at the same time. A low liftover height makes it easier to lift groceries and other cargo over the rear bumper.
This is an enjoyable car, whether on a long trip or running around doing chores.
When driven hard, our GLS delivered good grip, more than we expected from such a high-volume family car. The P225/50R-16 Goodyear Eagle LS Touring tires that came on our car are part of it. The other part is that Oldsmobile's engineers have optimized the suspension system to deliver the ride and handling demanded by import-oriented customers. The front and rear suspension struts attach to the car through intermediate subframes, which allow the springs to keep the tires in firm contact with the road without transmitting a lot of harshness to occupants. An ultra-stiff floor pan allows for more compliant suspension travel in the interest of smoothness.
The large tires on the GLS impart a somewhat heavy feel to the steering, which, like most cars from GM, has a slight dead spot at straight-ahead. But overall the steering feels quick and precise. This steering response makes the driver feel connected to the road. The Alero is taut, yet remarkably free of rattles over potholes. A bit of road noise and vibration dampened our enthusiasm slightly.
The 3.4-liter V6 that comes on the GLS delivers good mid-range torque. That means you've got good power for making passes on two-lane roads. This V6 is also clean enough to qualify for California's stringent Low Emissions Vehicle rating, but with 170-horsepower on tap still makes for an entertaining driver.
The four-speed automatic transmission works well with the engine and offers smooth, positive shifts.
We haven't tried out the Alero's new five-speed manual transmission nor the new four-cylinder Ecotec engine, but we expect it to be a good combination. Getrag, a German manufacturer renowned for superb manual gearboxes, builds the gearbox, while Lotus and GM designed the new engine.
All Aleros come standard with anti-lock brakes and electronic traction control. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control of the car during emergency braking maneuvers. Traction control reduces wheelspin under hard acceleration.
The traction control system uses ABS wheel-speed sensors that detect when the front wheels are spinning; torque is then reduced by upshifting the transmission, retarding ignition timing and, if necessary, cutting fuel to the injectors. Oldsmobile says this system has proven to be more effective than other traction control systems that use both power reduction and brake application to maintain control. A switch allows the driver to turn the system off if necessary, such as if the car is stuck in a snow bank.
Given its sophistication and features balanced against its attractive price, the Alero is clearly Oldsmobile's best attempt yet at making a small car to compete with the benchmark cars from Japan. As a solid entry-level choice that no longer feels like a cheap rental unit, the Alero is quite appealing and should not be overlooked.