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Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023

ROAD TEST–Oldsmobile Silhouette: Just What the Children Ordered

Where was the Oldsmobile Silhouette when I really needed it?

The Silhouette Premier Edition is the first minivan to offer a factory-installed video system that can keep youngsters occupied with videotapes, games and a multitude of audio formats.

But this feature is about 10 years too late , our children are now in college.

Parents of young children know the travails of motor travel. Kids get bored and restless. They squirm and fidget. They bother their parents and fight with their siblings. My son was the master of annoying questions such as, “Are we there yet?” and, “Can we stop at McDonalds?”

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The Silhouette Premier Edition is a minivan that competes on the high end of that market with the Chrysler Town & Country. It is loaded with all the bells and whistles one can imagine in this type of vehicle, but what sets it apart is its audio/video capabilities. The van has a ceiling-mounted liquid crystal video display monitor located right between the driver and front-passenger seats and visible from the second and third seat rows. You can have up to four passengers involved with the onboard entertainment package.

The system also includes a remote control and four headphone jacks with individual volume controls, so mom or dad can have a little peace and quiet in front. Rear passengers also can independently choose music from compact discs, audiocassettes or the radio. Now 10-year-old Johnny can have his video games, while his 15-year-old sister can sulk in the corner and listen to a Smashing Pumpkins CD through headphones. The frosting on the muffin is that both kids can use headphones to quell the din.

High Demand

The Silhouette Premier with the video system has far outstripped company expectations. Oldsmobile projected that only 10 percent of its vans would be so equipped, but actual sales now indicate that about one in three vans purchased is a Premier model. Overall, Silhouette sales are up by about 10 percent on an annual basis.

The price of the rolling entertainment center won’t appeal to the family on a tight budget. Our van topped $32,000, which puts it in the lower end of the luxury car market.

As stated earlier, the Premier Edition is loaded with equipment and is the top model of three in the Silhouette line. For safety’s sake, our test vehicle included side-impact air bags, an integrated security system, and traction control.

Luxury equipment included full leather appointments, an auxiliary rear air conditioner, an overhead console with storage and a digital information readout of temperature and driver information. Standard equipment in the Premier model also includes the stiffer touring suspension and special tires, automatic leveling and air inflation kit.

Not For Mountain Driving

Despite the touring suspension, it is hard to recommend the Silhouette for families that have mountain travel in mind. I found on moderately challenging, well-maintained mountain roads the Silhouette’s steering was vague and unresponsive. It was difficult to set a line through a curve and follow it through without a lot of steering-wheel correction as you moved around the ellipse.

On mountain roads, if the automatic transmission is kept in the “Drive” position, it tends to upshift and downshift with annoying frequency. I found it better to manually shift through the gears rather than to depend on the computerized control of the transmission.

Behind the wheel of the Silhouette, I had no problem in keeping my speed down to the posted limit on switchback curves because there was no way I was tempted to exceed the 25 miles per hour posted limit.

Maybe you’re saying all minivans handle like banana boats. Not so. The advent of the Honda Odyssey has proven that minivans can tackle relatively demanding mountain and country roads with relative ease.

On the other hand, drivers who use a van primarily for suburban and freeway travel might be satisfied with the Olds Silhouette’s performance. With 210-pound feet of torque, the van’s acceleration is acceptable, but I’d not choose the Silhouette , or any other minivan , for serious towing duties.

A Good Ride

The Olds’ ride quality is certainly competitive. And the car cruises without excessive road or mechanical noise. The seats are relatively comfortable and supportive, and the instrument panel is laid out in a logical manner.

Cargo space versatility means a lot to minivan owners. The van has two wide rear sliding doors that greatly facilitate exit and entry for multiple passengers. The Silhouette offers a variety of seat and cargo options. Second and third row seats can be removed, creating enough room for a full-size sheet of plywood, or a very large carton.

Oldsmobile Silhouette Premiere Edition

Price as tested: $32,280 estimated


Type: 3.4L V-6

Horsepower: 185 @ 5,200 rpm

Torque: 210 ft. lbs. @ 4,000 rpm

Fuel economy, automatic transmission:

City – 19 mpg

Highway – 26 mpg

Curb Weight: 3,948 lbs.


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