(UPDATED: October 7, 2000 - Scroll to bottom for update)
Four and a half years ago, I needed to replace my 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity station wagon. That car was 10 years old, had over 150,000 miles on it, and was starting to be more trouble than it was worth. I liked the car, and I wanted a similar replacement.
I mourn the near-extinction of real station wagons. Those glorified hatchbacks that people call station wagons nowadays just don't meet the needs of somebody who wants a real
wagon. Salespeople wanted to "see me" in an SUV, but I don't like the abysmal gas mileage of those behemoths, nor their tendency to capsize on brisk turns. I wanted a station wagon!
The only affordable "real" wagons available were the Oldsmobile Ciera SL wagon
and the Ford Taurus. I would have purchased the latter if I had been shopping during the previous model year, but in 1996 (I think) they altered the appearance of the Taurus to make all of the edges rounded. Aesthetically it was hideous, and it appeared to markedly reduce the actual interior size of the car. My decision to get the Olds was made for me.
Overall, I am very happy with the 1996 Oldsmobile Ciera SL wagon.
It is, in fact, exactly what I need and want in a car. My particular vehicle has automatic transmission, 6 cylinder engine (with reported gas mileage of 20/29mpg, although I never tried to verify that), AM/FM/cassette, a/c, ABS, driver side airbag, power mirrors/windows/door locks/driver seat, cruise control, 3rd seat, roof luggage rack, tilt steering wheel, and floor mats. The MSRP for this package was a very accessible $17,385.
I find that the car is a pleasure to drive. The steering, braking, and acceleration are excellent. Even thought the car weighs over 3,000 pounds, it can (and has) stopped on a dime in all sorts of unfavorable road conditions. It makes tight turns with ease, and the pick-up is terrific. It drives like a smaller, handier car.
I've taken this car on long trips, and it is untiringly comfortable. I'm glad that I got the 6-way adjustable power seat. I find that I'm always changing the settings one way or another to suit my whims for the day, and it makes driving much more pleasant.
So what don't I like about the car? Well, it's not that well-made. Within the first few weeks that I had it, the weatherstripping fell off the driver-side door and needed to be re-glued. The car arrived with one of the sets of vent-deflectors missing, and that had to be ordered. Within 3 months of purchase, the cruise and rear defrost quit working due to a faulty contact. All of these things were fixed without charge under warrantee, but it's a pain in the neck to have to address problems in a new car.
Two years after purchase, the tailgate glass exploded. Literally. It was a mild day, the rear defroster was not turned on. I was driving along a smooth road at a moderate speed, and BANG! The glass simply burst into a million tiny pebbles. As I own a wagon specifically to accommodate pets, I was NOT happy about this! Fortunately no pets (or children) were in the car at the time. The dealer offered no apology and didn't seem to think that this was an unusual occurrence.
I find that autumn leaves and moisture get under the weatherstripping that surrounds the tailgate glass. Although I clean this out frequently, I fear that it will lead to the weatherstripping decaying altogether and the car becoming leaky. This never happened in my other station wagon, and I think it is a reflection of poor craftsmanship.
All that being said, I haven't had any significant problems with this car. It runs well, even if it isn't glued together as securely as it should be.
As for Oldsmobile itself, they have not impressed me. The particular dealer that I purchased my car from is not especially pleasant to deal with. They keep you waiting unnecessarily, and they return the car to you in filthy condition (black fingerprints not only on the steering wheel but on the fabric seats). I get the feeling from them that they go through the motions, but customer service does not appear to be a great priority.
Although they are no longer manufactured (1996 was the last model year) I certainly recommend that somebody looking for a station wagon consider purchasing a used 1996 Oldsmobile Ciera SL wagon.
My car is now 4 1/2 years old and has 75,000 miles on it, and I still like it. If they made these cars today, I would buy another.
UPDATE: October 7, 2000
Groan. At just under 78,000 miles, I incurred my first major repair expenses with this car. The ABS light was steadily on, blinking, and off intermittently. It needed to have a wheel speed sensor replaced. I'm disappointed that the anti-lock brake system is not more durable than this.
Also, an irritating whining noise on acceleration turned out to be a bearing in the alternator which also needed to be replaced. Sigh, $900 later I'm not a happy camper. Hopefully these are the only major expenses I'll have for a while. I'm still happy with this car, but I want it to last for a while and not start costing me for repairs.