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Buick goes for performance. T-Type cars geared to attract a younger buyer

In its drive to lower the average age of Buick buyers, now about 50, the General Motors Buick division is relying heavily on motorsports, shifting its on-track technology to the street. The T-Type cars, a tautly tuned mix of luxury and performance, are part of that process. They are intended to produce the kind of sharply defined image that Buick is trying to project as it moves down the road to the 1990s. And in large measure they seem to have been successful: Engine and suspension performance in the T-Type cars go far beyond traditional Buick offerings and the historic aura of the Buick name itself.

One of the best of the T's, the Buick Riviera, all new for 1986, is equipped with a robust 3.8-liter, V-6 engine with sequential fuel injection. The Riviera is nearly two feet shorter than last year's version, yet the interior room is almost the same.

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The car is not dull, that's for sure.

Beyond the power and drivability of the car, the Buick Riviera is the only GM car equipped with the corporation's Graphic Control Center (GCC), a futuristic touch for obtaining almost any kind of car and engine information you might want on a trip. No other automaker offers the motorist so much information at the touch of a button.

If anything demonstrates the complexity and sophistication of a modern automobile, it's the GCC.

The only problem with this feature is that it can be distracting and take a driver's attention off the road. The car manual, in fact, suggests that you become ``thoroughly familiar with the Graphic Control Center before entering traffic.''

But for a massive menu of data, the GCC is a barrel of fun. And it brings this surfeit of information all together in a compact manner and in one place.

The GCC employs a 3-by-5-inch video screen and provides six major categories of data, which clearly define the manifold systems that make up today's car.

You can adjust the climate control, tune the radio, call up all kinds of information on the engine, access and update the trip computer information, and tap in on all diagnostic systems in the car.

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Power for the GCC displays is initiated when the driver's door handle is touched. When the door is closed, the displays are brought up. The touch-sensitive switches around the periphery of the screen define a specific function, such as climate control, radio, diagnostic, gauges, and trip monitor. A sixth, or summary, screen combines the basic controls for the radio as well as climate control. Another batch of touch-sensitive switches, located on the screen itself, perform auxiliary functions in each mode.

When in the diagnostic mode, you can even call for a demonstration of the distress messages which are activated when the GCC system detects a malfunction in the car. The GCC issues a ``beep beep'' when you press a peripheral switch, and a single ``beep'' when you touch a switch on the screen itself.

The Buick Riviera T-Type, 2-door coupe lists for $21,577. With such items as a rear-window defogger at $145 (why isn't it standard fare on a car of this caliber?), a graphic equalizer for the sound system at $342, and lighted mirrors for both driver and front-seat passenger at $58 apiece (again, why not include them in the base price?), the test car checks out at $22,601.

That, of course, is only a working price. The final cost is the result of your interaction with the dealership sales manager and the value of your turn-in car, if any.

There are lots of nice touches in the Riviera, including multiple adjustments for both front seats. Headrests are adjusted up and down electrically. Controls on the door adjust the seat position up and down as well as forward and backward. There should be no seat position that cannot be achieved with the press of a few buttons or rocker switches.

Yet the Buick Riviera is not without fault. The emergency brake on the test car didn't work. Also, access to the rear is poor and you don't have much forward vision from the rear seats because of the front-seat headrests. Even so, there is plenty of headroom both in front and back. The tires are Goodyear Eagle GTs.

If you can't locate the glovebox, look for a button on the dash panel. When you push it, the glovebox opens. Closed, it goes back into hiding. The size of the receptacle is not bad, given the trend to mini gloveboxes these days.

Engine layout seems logical for the uninitiated, with the oil dipstick right up front while the transmission dipstick is in the back. Thre's no hassle in keeping an eye on the fluid levels of the car.

The Riviera is a fun car to drive -- and the gas mileage isn't so bad. On a 250-mile trip, including half of it on a limited-access expressway, I averaged in the mid-20s on fuel economy, an excellent figure. At any rate, with today's gasoline prices, fuel economy is far less of an issue than it was, say, a year or two ago.

To sum up, the Riviera is worth a look if it fits your taste and the size of your pocketbook.

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