Pros: "European" styling, relatively inexpensive
Cons: where's the power ? soft handling, tacky controls
I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out which car-buying segment Oldsmobile is trying to woo with this car. The entry-level Bimmer/Audi/Benz-buying crowd, looking for style & substance, American style ? Or perhaps the younger Golf/Protege/Impreza group just starting a family ? maybe the Taurus moms looking for a more stylish ride... or luring back those faithful Americans who went to Accord or Camry..
Whatever the answer, wherever you try to put it, this car just doesn't measure up. That's the problem: it's a nice enough ride, and looks good, too - but any niche you try to stick it into, there's always a better alternative.
I rented an Alero for a weekend, and was able to drive it in several conditions: wet, dry, through the city, and extensively on highway & back-country winding roads through Upstate New York.
The first thing you notice is that it's good-looking. Perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise, but have you seen what else American car manufacturers are putting out today ? The lines are clean, the finish was tight, paint looked great - in short, it looks like GM finally learned something from their Japanese and European counterparts.
The interior was a study in contradictions, though. The dashboard is well laid out, gauges are placed nicely and are easy to see, and the seats were comfortable (while I'm 5'11", taller people may find it a little tight).
I'm flabbergasted, though, by how GM continues to use those awful knobs & controls. They're tacky, look bad, and don't give the impression of long-lasting quality. We'll see how it works out, but these lose big-time when compared to any European sedan or Honda/Toyota.
The major problems with this car, though, are the engine and suspension/handling. Two pretty big problem areas, no ?
First the engine: The one I drove had the V6 (only available in the higher-end GL2 and GLS models), but whatever were they thinking with the 4-cylinder. You're talking about a generation of car-buyers who have grown up with ever more powerful small car options - try a Golf for example - and it's hard to see how these buyers will want to graduate to a larger "sport-sedan" that is so weak.
Even the V6, though, is under-powered. It only makes 170 bhp, making it weaker than even some of the 4s available on competing models, and far less attractive than any competing sedans, let alone those trying to forge a "sport" reputation. Trust me, you'll get passed. a lot.
But maybe you're okay with the relatively low power, if the car handles itself, right ? Strike two: the ride was soft, and the card tends to drift before you want it to - like driving a much larger car. Again I have to think that the next generation of buyers has been weaned on a diet of Golfs, Proteges, Ford Focuses, etc - all of which handle very well. Even the notoriously soft Accord and Camry handle better than this.
It does come with some available niceties - even on the lower models - like theft-deterrent, CD-player, good daytime running lamps, cruise control, etc.
This is a nice-looking package, and not overly expensive. Someone looking to get into a "sporty" looking car, but who doesn't need the driveability to go with it may be a good fit here.
Outside of that, it just doesn't measure up to the competition - whatever bucket you throw it in..