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Cory Wolfe

USA vs The World

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I was bored and came across this MT comparison from the mid '90s. Found it to be an interesting read and brings back some memories of the the good ole' days. Too bad Flybrian isn't around.

BMW 530I vs. Mazda Millenia S vs. Oldsmobile Aurora - USA vs The World

Near Nirvana For The Near Rich

By Jeff Karr

9601_MTRP_06_I_WRAP-UP-C.jpg112_9606_01_ihlong_term_update1995_.jpg1995bmw5series925-E.jpg

The Oldsmobile Aurora is the best car to roll out of General Motors in recent history. It's a natural then for a face-off pitting the USA vs. the World in what we refer to (somewhat awkwardly) as the near-luxury, semi-sports-sedan segment. This is the second international battle the Aurora has fought in the pages of Motor Trend. Back in September, we lined it up against the Mercedes-Benz C280 and Lexus GS 300-a pair it hacked off at the knees with a combination of solid performance and remarkable value.

With this segment of the marketplace so crowded these days, however, the Aurora has to better more than just those two cars to make a name for itself. The Japanese and Germans are far from out of tricks. In this matchup, we've pitted the Aurora against Mazda's up-level Millenia S and BMW's 530i. The Millenia S stakes out the same high-value, low-dollar turf as the Aurora; the BMW has a sophisticated DOHC V-8 engine like the Oldsmobile, but costs about $11,000 more.

The Car That Will Save Oldsmobile is built on an all-new platform shared with the Buick Riviera. Structural rigidity was a key target during the platform's development. Power comes from a sophisticated new V-8, spun off of Cadillac's Northstar series. It has less displacement, less power, but better fuel economy than its Cadillac relatives, and retains the same low maintenance requirements and limp-home capabilities. Power is fed to the front wheels, with the help of a defeatable traction-control system. At its peak, the smooth 4.0-liter V-8 develops 250 horsepower-35 horses more than the BMW, and 40 more than the Mazda. And it holds an even larger torque advantage.

But with a wheelbase more than 5 inches longer than its foreign competition, and a significantly higher curb weight, the Aurora is a mid-pack sprinter in this group. Even with the $395 Autobahn Package including shorter overall gearing (and V-rated Michelin MXV-4 tires), the big motor in this comparison is not the quickest. Its low-8-second charge to 60 mph is fast enough for most purposes, but it's well off the Mazda's remarkable 7.6-second best.

The Olds' added size, however, pays significant comfort and utility dividends. The Aurora has a 102.3-cubic-foot interior volume, which is big enough to classify it as a mid-size car. The Mazda tapes out at 94 cubic feet, and the BMW has 91.3, so they're both classified as compacts. Most critical interior dimensions fall in favor of the Aurora. It has a couple of inches more shoulder room than the others, and a significant edge in rear legroom. A 6-foot-2-inch male is a press fit in the back seat of the BMW and snug in the Mazda; in the Aurora, that same rider has additional legroom for comfort in the long haul. With its relatively high beltline and resultant smaller window area, the Aurora lacks the open, airy feel of the Mazda and, to some extent, the BMW.

The Aurora's size and weight, along with suspension tuned with the emphasis on ride rather than handling, also knocks the edge off of the car's sporting character. The Olds can get the job done, sure enough, and it makes wholly competitive handling and braking numbers; it just doesn't feel as good as it works. Vague steering with a mildly unnatural rise in effort off-center makes the car just a little uneasy on fast mountain roads. Sharp bumps are more unsettling to the chassis than you'd expect, particularly given the car's good ride and isolation in lower-energy situations.

BMW's 530i sits at the other end of the size spectrum and has the opposite nature on mountain roads. Typical of BMW sedans, it's perfectly at ease in the turns, with a natural, linear relationship between steering and suspension. The hard test numbers reveal that the Bimmer ultimately performs no better than the Olds, but by the seat of the pants, it feels as if it does. And while few of us own a slalom course or skidpad, we each have a seat of the pants. With its pleasantly predictable rear-drive chassis, outstanding steering and brakes, and tightly controlled suspension action, the 530i responds well to aggressive driving. The front-drive Millenia and Aurora are less enthusiastic about such practices.

A unique powerplant moves the 530i down the road: At 3.0 liters, it's the smallest V-8 currently for sale in America. And it's a trick little piece, complete with dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. It's not just a small-bore version of BMW's 4.0-liter V-8, however. Oh no, BMW did it up right with reduced bore and stroke. A peak horsepower rating of 215 horses arrives at 5800 rpm, with torque cresting at 214 pound-feet at 4500 rpm. That power is fed through a five-speed automatic transmission-a ratio for every occasion. With relatively modest power production in low- and mid-rpm ranges, this sophisticated transmission does a fine job of keeping the little engine percolating. Smooth and subdued at cruise speed, the V-8 snaps right to attention with a sharp stab of the throttle. And it has a great sound at high rpm: a heavily muted V-8 wail that sounds just like a Top Fuel dragster-somewhere in the next county.

If the 530i has a weakness, it's contained within the interior. Rear-seat room is snugly adequate and nothing more. BMW engineers still don't approve of drinking and driving-even Slurpees-so no cupholders are provided. Although handsome and well built, the interior lacks the comforting warmth of those of the Oldsmobile or Mazda. And we couldn't get the BMW's automatic climate-control system to consistently deliver the temperature we wanted without a lot of fiddling and recurrent adjustment.

The Millenia has no similar niggling annoyances. In the best Japanese tradition, everything in its cabin works simply and sensibly. Designed with Lexus in its cross hairs, the Millenia reflects attention to detail never before seen in a Mazda. Fit, finish, and quiet are superlative. While not as commodious overall as the Aurora, the Millenia has the greatest headroom of our threesome, and enough additional rear-seat legroom to make it noticeably less cramped than the BMW.

Chassis tuning addresses the needs of sports and touring equally. Ride motions are well managed, and like the BMW, the Mazda deals with sharper bumps with more grace than the Oldsmobile. Ultimate handling limits are virtually the same as the other cars', but in terms of subjective feel, the Millenia is closer to the sporting 530i than it is to the touring-oriented Aurora.

Power for the S-model Millenia comes from an unlikely source: a supercharged 2.3-liter V-6 that uses Miller cycle technology to squeeze a lot of thrust and economy out of a small powerplant. The number to remember here is 210-that's how much horsepower and torque the Millenia S engine generates. Aided by the Mazda's light curb weight, this is sufficient to outrun the V-8 competition from Olds and BMW. The powerband is broad and accommodating, and except for a faint supercharger whine under power, the Mazda V-6 sounds quietly conventional. It even delivers markedly better fuel mileage than the V-8s.

So where does all this leave us? The BMW 530i is a treat to drive and clearly the most entertaining companion for a run through the mountains. But its lofty as-tested price means that you have to place a high value on its sporting attributes and be willing to overlook its less commodious interior. We don't, and we're not. The Aurora leaves us consistently impressed with its performance, styling, room, and quality. But we're just a little more impressed with the Mazda Millenia S's strong-running engine and total refinement. It's an agonizingly close decision, but in this international matchup, the nod goes to the scrappy contender from Japan.

HOW THEY STACK UP

......................................0-60 mph, Quarter mile, Lateral Slalom, Braking,

......................................sec sec/mph accel., g mph 60-0 mph, ft

BMW 530i.........................8.9....16.7/88.3.....0.82.....63.0.....122

Mazda Millenia S...............7.6....15.8/90.0.....0.80.....62.9.....128

Oldsmobile Aurora.............8.2....16.3/87.1.....0.81.....63.6.....122

BMW 530i-

-Front engine/rear drive

-3.0-liter V-8 DOHC

-5-speed automatic

-215 hp @ 5800 rpm

-214 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm

-108.7-in. wheelbase

-3693-lb curb weight

-16/25 city/hwy.EPA fuel economy

-$42,750 base price

-$46,040 price as tested

Mazda Millenia S-

-Front engine/front drive

-2.3-liter V-6 DOHC supercharged

-4-speed automatic

-210 hp @ 5300 rpm

-210 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm

-108.3-in. wheelbase

-3391-lb curb weight

-20/28 city/hwy.EPA fuel economy

-$31,995 base price

-$33,935 price as tested

Oldsmobile Aurora-

-Front engine/front drive

-4.0-liter V-8 DOHC

-4-speed automatic

-250 hp @ 5600 rpm

-260 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm

-113.8-in. wheelbase

-3967-lb curb weight

-16/25 city/hwy.EPA fuel economy

-$31,370 base price

-$34,829 price as tested

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Would have loved to see how the much sportier-handling 2001-2002 V6 would have held up to equivalent competition.

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I still want an Aurora someday. I've always had a soft spot for them.

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I still want an Aurora someday. I've always had a soft spot for them.

I love mine to death, man. This was supposed to be a "beater car" for me in LA my senior year at USC, and I was going to get a brand new car as a graduation present since I maintained my scholarship all four years...but I didn't want to get rid of it. And since my ideal pick would be a CTS coupe (depending on pricing, of course), plus the economy being where it was last May, my father and I agreed to defer the trade-in until I graduated from USC grad school in 2010...but barring some major required financial investment or serious reliability problems arising...I'm thinking of just paying my father the trade-in value at that time and storing it for whenever. It just drives so damn well! I've driven a CTS sedan in LA before, and while it also handled really well--as well as having more features, and of course my favorite GM badge on the hood--the RWD wasn't so much better that I was itching for an upgrade. Plus, Princess Aurora is turning 10 this November, and I'd feel just awful getting rid of her so soon afterward--barring said unforseen repairs or anything.

I've always liked the Aurora design, but I have a marked preference for the athletic silhouette of the 2nd-gen, the increased performance, weight reductions, weight balance of the V6 model, fuel economy of the V6, and greater interior room despite reduced exterior proportions compared to the 1st-gen.

The other nice aspect of the 2nd-gen I greatly appreciate is the Magnasteer system; it's customizable to three settings: Factory, Heavier, and Lighter. I had mine adjusted to the Heavier setting because I noticed a bit of float and on-center vagueness around 80+mph on the freeway (in LA, this is common), and now it's perfectly to my liking.

If you ever have the opportunity to own one, I say go for it. Don't pay more than 8-9k for one, though--not even if it's in near-perfect condition. And make sure the service documentation is all available. Common issues are window regulators failing (never happened to me...due to nylon GM used and the abnormally large window panes in the Aurora/extra weight of glass compared to other GM models), electrical issues (hit or miss...I've never had electrical problems, but some cars have loose connections and seem to be infested with gremlins), a seized, clogged Secondary Air system (emmissions component...flawed design, newer blower motors do not have the same design flaw), and then the one expensive issue, the transmission solenoid sensor. Tranny labor is expensive. This one I had, and it wasn't too big of a deal. I took my time before I had it repaired, and while it wasn't cheap, the deferred maintenance didn't have any adverse impact on the transmission, and I will probably have many years out of the new sensor. Oh, and interior backlighting can go out--GM hadn't used LEDs yet, and the GM repair is a new instrument cluster/radio/climate control unit, but a small bulb you can get at radio shack and some minor soldering skills get the job done much better. With LED technology progressing as quickly as it is, I wouldn't be surprised if it would be possible to retrofit the interior lighting with tiny LEDs with built-in resistors in the next year/year and a half, tops.

Edited by Croc
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Annnnnd there you have it, another fantastic American

built/designed GM sport sedan, a great product overall,

only to have that one horrific Achilles's heel... FWD. :yuck:

How much cooler, more fun to drive & better matched

against the BMW it would have been had it, and it's big

sister the STS, been RWD?

BMW's 530i sits at the other end of the size spectrum and has the opposite nature on mountain roads. Typical of BMW sedans, it's perfectly at ease in the turns, with a natural, linear relationship between steering and suspension. The hard test numbers reveal that the Bimmer ultimately performs no better than the Olds, but by the seat of the pants, it feels as if it does. And while few of us own a slalom course or skidpad, we each have a seat of the pants. With its pleasantly predictable rear-drive chassis, outstanding steering and brakes, and tightly controlled suspension action, the 530i responds well to aggressive driving. The front-drive Millenia and Aurora are less enthusiastic about such practices.

FWD = fail. (esp as a sports sedan)

As far as Cupholders & rear leg room in the BWM... it's a German

built driver's car, not a Toyota Avalon or Plymouth Acclaim. The

5-series is meant for driving on the Autobahn, Germans don't care

about dumb $hit like that because they don't sip "tall Starbucks

mocha-frapuchino-lattes" while texting on their Blackberry Storm,

they ACTUALLY pay attention to the road, which is why they can

get away with driving 80-12 mph on the highway legally & safely.

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OMG just shut up Sixty! I'm not going to warn you again. Next one is getting deleted.

BV, great find! I really enjoyed this article. Thank you for posting it.

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May have been true in the past, but I would have to believe BMW

today builds far more for Americans than Germans,

most of whom know BMWs there as rental cars.

So... how many cupholders do BMWs have in 2009?

-- -- -- -- --

RE: FWD ... I'm no fan of FWD, having only owned RWD (or 4WD) over 20 vehicles,

but you have to admit the numbers don't quite support your contention :

.................................Lateral....Slalom

.................................g............mph

BMW 530i...................0.82.........63.0

Oldsmobile Aurora......0.81.........63.6

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The Aurora definitely wins in the styling department. It'd be my pick for that reason alone.

Edited by §carlet §wordfish
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BV, great find! I really enjoyed this article. Thank you for posting it.

No problem.

Hey where'd you find that? Maybe theres one on the Rivi too.

I was googling for random pictures and one brought me that article on Motor Trend's website. If you search, you can probably find more articles. I saw there was also a long term test of both the Millenia and the Aurora.

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I guess the moral of the story is rock > Mazda, > Oldsmobile > BMW :lol:

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I've driven a CTS sedan in LA before, and while it also handled really well--as well as having more features, and of course my favorite GM badge on the hood--the RWD wasn't so much better that I was itching for an upgrade.

Hey Sixty8! By acting rudely, I'm going to have to be tacky and quote myself. Did you miss this part of my post? I know this will rock your world, but my 2001 Aurora outhandles and outperforms my family's RWD 1980 Sedan de Ville! :mind-blowing: CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!

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I guess the moral of the story is rock > Mazda, > Oldsmobile > BMW :lol:

I tried to find that thread "Ultimate Sadness" and was unsuccessful. It's funny because I was the instigator of that thread.

How do we find that thread?

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Would have loved to see how the much sportier-handling 2001-2002 V6 would have held up to equivalent competition.

Also interesting.....a base 3.6L CTS blows away that generation V8 Aurora (6.4sec to 60mph according to C&D.)

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-- -- -- -- --

RE: FWD ... I'm no fan of FWD, having only owned RWD (or 4WD) over 20 vehicles,

but you have to admit the numbers don't quite support your contention :

.................................Lateral....Slalom

.................................g............mph

BMW 530i...................0.82.........63.0

Oldsmobile Aurora......0.81.........63.6

Alot of it has to do with feel.....what is simply more fun to drive aggressively. FWD cars typically excel, relatively-speaking, in the slalom, numbers-wise. A FWD car's tendancy to understeer aggressively can make it easier to thread through the slalom cones versus a RWD car that might be overly tail-happy.

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:lol:

530...I think I may have seen 1 e34 530 in my life...The 4.0 is much superior in performance, not that it is relevant to this discussion...

I may be partial to the BMW (I think it is a great looking car which those pics do no justice...I know how good it can look with even some subtle enhancements, and I think I prefer the narrow grill version opposed to the wide grill.) That aurora is a good looking car though.

I'm with Sixty8 on this discussion...call me racist, but I just cannot stand driving a fwd car. :P

There are times though when I wish I had a cupholder in my car...newer BMW's have seemed to solve the issue, but my car fails...this is a front cupholder out of an e39 bmw 5-series...

93fa_1_1658_1.JPG

Same thing in the rear...cheap, fragile plastic that doesn't support any drink, causing it to fall over in any turn...or it just breaks.

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I'm with Sixty8 on this discussion...call me racist, but I just cannot stand driving a fwd car. :P

And that's fine... but you don't condemn people who actually enjoy a FWD car.

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Hey Sixty8! By acting rudely, I'm going to have to be tacky and quote myself. Did you miss this part of my post? I know this will rock your world, but my 2001 Aurora outhandles and outperforms my family's RWD 1980 Sedan de Ville! :mind-blowing: CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!

Okay. A+ for the wonderful comparison.

I hear some guy in Florida has a 23 foot sailboat

that can out-maneuver the Titanic & it has a

tighter turning radius to boot. :mellow:

I hope you were being equally serious.

cause otherwise we can compare performance

numbers for the 2001 C5 Z06 as compared to

any FWD car made in 1980, including a 1980

VolksWagen Rabbit with a GE jet engine from a

747 strapped to roof.

Alot of it has to do with feel.....what is simply more fun to drive aggressively. FWD cars typically excel, relatively-speaking, in the slalom, numbers-wise. A FWD car's tendancy to understeer aggressively can make it easier to thread through the slalom cones versus a RWD car that might be overly tail-happy.

Yeah, I'll mostly agree with that. The thing is, Nowhere in my

commute do I drive through a skid-pad or a slalom... EVER.

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OMG just shut up Sixty! I'm not going to warn you again. Next one is getting deleted.

Great policy. Can't win an argument...? There's always censorship.

Maybe you should look into a government job.

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Yeah, I'll mostly agree with that. The thing is, Nowhere in my

commute do I drive through a skid-pad or a slalom... EVER.

No where in your commute do you require powerslides either.

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No where in your commute do you require powerslides either.

I take a few on-ramps/off-ramps. :wink:

Plus when I'm driving to UPS at 2:00, 3:00 or 4:00am

the roads are empty enough to do J-turns & steer

around most any corner with the throttle.

The other morning I was going about 75 down a wide,

open & empty back road where it alternates between

35 & 45.... a cop waiting in an empty parking lot saw

me fly by in the Suburban and did not eve bother to

pull me over, guess he had bigger phish to phry.

It was Lowell, so he was prob. a Narc, or he might

have been waiting for a drag-race at 100+ between

a couple of Faster-Furious-er Hon-DUHs.

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I love how any thread can turn into a FWD vs. RWD argument... Anyways...

I guess the moral of the story is rock > Mazda, > Oldsmobile > BMW

Pretty much. :P

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