Pros: Looks good, competent handler, decent stereo, well equipped, inexpensive due to incentives
Cons: somewhat compact interior, wind noise, cheap plastic feel on controls
!!!Update!!! If you are remotely interested in this car now is the time to buy! 0% for 5 years is back or a $3000 rebate is available till Sept. 02!!
Last month I had the pleasure of driving to San Antonio from Dallas, around a 320 mile drive, too many miles for my new car. So what do I do when I don't want to put miles on my car, I rent. I also like to drive around different types of cars, renting is one of the easiest ways to do that. I usually rent whatever I can get the best deal on, this time it was a midsize sedan from enterprise at $23.88 a day. Well thinking I was going to get a Pontiac Grand Am or similar, I wasn't surprised when they handed me the keys to a brand new silver 2002 Olds Alero. As I walked to the car I noticed how nice it looked, the overall appearance is somewhat muscular, and at the same time it looks really sporty. From the rear it reminded me of a Mustang. The headlights and the low slung front end are different than most vehicles, this gives it somewhat of a unique presence. The wheels were the perfect size, proportionate to the rest of the vehicle, and the style is a nice soft-spoked alloy with a Goodyear Eagle tire, if I remember correctly. Well people are looking at me very strangely at the rental lot so I better get in and drive off.
Getting into the car with the keys in my hand I immediately search for the ignition module. Carefully scratching the steering column I realize it's like my girlfriends Aurora, it's on the dash. Whoops, mental note from here on out, ignition is on the dash. The engine starts quickly and effortlessly much like it should I suppose. Quickly shifting in reverse I pull the car out of the lot, show my papers to the attendant and I'm off. I immediately notice that the engine is not a V6, like I was thinking it was going to be. I'm not saying it didn't have plenty of pickup, but there was a definite lack of low end grunt. I thought to myself "well that's good though, might as well save money on gas". Heading home I started getting comfortable with the car, setting the mirror, turning on the radio, getting the seat just right, and getting the climate right. I got all this done at just 2 stop lights, not bad, the controls and such were fairly easy to operate and find. I found the seat to be just a tad firm, but it was nice that is was actually power adjustable with lumbar and lower back support. The car was equipped with just about everything optional I believe, except a sunroof and a spoiler if I were to guess.
When I got home I threw all of our luggage into the trunk, got a soda and some snacks, and then we set off on our road trip. When you sit in a car for 4 to 5 hours with nothing much to look at you get a pretty good idea of what's good and bad about the vehicle. One of the best things about the Alero is it's complacent ride, not too tight, not too floaty. It's a fairly good balance between comfort and sporty. Next thing I noticed is that with 2 people in the car the interior felt noticeably more cramped, not necessarily small, but definitely not overly spacious. At one point during a pit stop I hopped in the back seat, to see how comfortable it was, it seemed more spacious than the front seat. That's a little strange, most cars are just the opposite. For the most part though the Alero is very comfortable the controls are very ergonomic and I could probably live with them if I had to.
The engine in the Alero is a 2.2 liter "Ecotec" engine used throughout the GM line, it replaces the quad 4 2.4 liter engine used in previous years Alero's. I have driven several versions of vehicles with the Quad 4 design and I never really saw a problem with the engine. It always delivered ample horsepower and torque and remained relatively smooth and quiet. The new Ecotec is about as good as they get though I suppose, it's probably a little quieter and smoother, but it also has less power. The engine is mated to a really nicely shifting 4 speed automatic. The combination doesn't mean stellar performance, but with 140 horsepower it's certainly fast enough. Being tenacious about gas mileage I checked it the first time we filled up, 33 miles to the gallon. We'd driven the car 332 miles I thought this was fairly impressive for a car this size. Keep in mind that they also offer a 5 speed manual with this engine, or you can also get a 3.4 liter V6 with 170 horsepower with the auto. If you are looking for more performance the V6 is definitely the way to go.
Driving around San Antonio I noticed that the Alero handles very well, it sticks to the road and the turn in is quick and responsive. The bucket seats do a good job of keeping where you should be and the steering wheel is just the right size. The center armrest is perfect for boosting the elbow through those hairpin corners.
Now it's on to the things I think they could improve, first off the interior materials seemed a little cheap. This is afterall a car that's MSRP is around $20,000 equipped like this. Second, only the exterior appearance and the Oldsmobile name set this car apart from it's competitors. Third, I noticed quite a bit of wind noise while I was on the highway, not totally unbearable, but worse than the last Cavalier I rented. Fourth, even though the Alero has a new engine it's still not up to par considering it's competition (although we did achieve an incredible 36.5 miles to the gallon on the way back home).
Well I'm going to wrap this up stating that the Oldsmobile Alero is an average vehicle in this class. While some vehicles in this class are above average Altima, Camry, Accord, and Jetta. At MSRP the Alero is not worth consideration, but with incentives and a really nice 5 year warranty I will have to recommend it. It's really a good deal if you consider that you can purchase one like I rented at invoice then receive a $2002 rebate. That should bring your price to around $16,000. All in all that's a bargain for all the options you receive. I would tell anyone looking for a comfortable everyday driver with plenty of options that the Alero with incentives is a decent deal and worthy of their time.