So we picked up a rental car the other day, and it had TWO miles on it. TWO! We were excited--we got to de-flower an entirely new vehicle, going where no one had gone before since leaving the factory floor. The Oldsmobile Alero was going to be ours for three days, and since we'd be taking it on a 500-mile trip down to Southern Utah, we were hoping for a comfortable car that would have the balls to take us over mountain passes, pass other, slower vehicles, and have a generally good time. And, since we're in the market for a new mid-sized car, we'd find out if we liked the Oldsmobile Alero or not for our own permanent use.
First impressions are always key for me, and my first impressions were very good. I like the appearance of the Alero; the lines of the car were downright sexy, and although it was a four-door sedan, it was sportier than our 626 we had at home in the garage. Which isn't hard to do. It looked nice, and as the headlights automatically came on in response to the dimly lit parking structure, I was impressed again. I repeat, it isn't hard to do.
The interior of the Alero was comfortable enough, but not nearly as roomy as the last vehicle we rented/"test drove," the Hyundai XG 350. My wife and I are both 6 feet tall, and felt just a bit cramped for most of the trip. I had back surgery just over a year ago, and although I didn't get the cramping I sometimes do in my lower back in uncomfortable chairs, after the three-hour drive it was starting to get a bit stiff. The dash was a few inches away from our knees, which was fine, but a bit claustrophobic...again, remember that we're both used to the size of a Mazda 626. The back seat would just barely accommodate our son's child safety seat/carrier--we had to put him in the center of the back seat just so the handle/crash bar of his seat could be folded down into the proper position. Again, smaller than the Hyundai, smaller than the 626. I'm glad I didn't have to sit back there. The temperature controls and factory stereo were fine, nothing remarkable, but surely adequate for our needs. The upholstery was cloth, again, nothing fancy, but was very nice looking.
The trunk space was also smaller than expected; we were just taking what we needed for a weekend trip, and even with our tendency to over-pack with a baby boy, we filled the trunk to capacity more quickly than I had anticipated, and had to use the back seat as an overflow. The trunk looks larger from the outside than it actually is--I'm not sure if our regular at-home cargo of stroller-and-croquet-set would have fit in the Alero's trunk. If we had been a full-sized family (well, not a UTAH family...) with parents and two or three kids in the back, there's no way we could have made the trip with our luggage and assorted schmoo.
But beyond comfort, beyond space on a road trip, what we were really looking for was the power. Would this baby have the guts we were looking for to be kings of the road (if just for a weekend)? The answer we got, unfortunately, was NO. The Alero came "equipped" with a four-cylinder engine, and although it was new, and ran smoothly and quietly, we found out rather quickly that it topped out at about 80 MPH, and that was pushing it. Of course, we weren't trying to evade the law with our little baby in the back seat, but when the traffic on I-15 is averaging 75, we were getting passed frequently. Which is fine. Then, taking it over the many mountain passes between Salt Lake City and our destination near Capitol Reef National Park, we found out that it really did lack in the testicular area. The expectation is, traveling in the intermountain west, that your vehicle should be able to make it over these passes at the average speed of traffic, which for us was about 65 or so. The Alero barely managed it. And if it's struggling in it's first 500 miles of life, what will it be like just a year from now? Or five?
There were a lot of things we liked about our Alero. The ride was fairly smooth. We even took it offroad at one point (just a rutted washboard dirt road, nothing crazy on slickrock or anything), and the suspension kept the ride even enough to keep drinks from spilling and CDs from skipping. I don't recommend taking your Alero offroad, but it handled remarkably well. Again, this is it's first 500 miles of life (which we may have shortened substantially with our abuse), so it may just be that new-car good-times feeling that kept us on an even keel. The handling was good, although at times the steering made the car feel larger than it was--that "boaty" feeling you'd get driving say, a 1980 LTD. You're not always in absolute control of the vehicle. The sightlines were good in front of you and to the sides, but the shape of the rear of the car made me feel like I had more of a blind spot directly behind the car than I'm used to--backing up felt like running an obstacle course blindfolded.
On the whole, we enjoyed our time with the Alero, and it would make a fine commuter car, but if you're looking for a car for your family, or for extended travel, I would keep shopping.
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