The cars we loved.
Back when GM had way too many brands and cars that were similar, Oldsmobile had a version of the mid-sized “N” body called the Achieva. Like the other N cars (Buick Skylark and Pontiac Gran Am), it came as a coupe or sedan. The coupe version was attractive and resembled a Chevy Cavalier thanks to its thin “C” pillar. Despite being nice to look at, an Achieva could easily get lost in traffic, as it was the most restrained of the N car trio. It was handsome, but not striking or in-your-face as the Gran Am tended to be.
Like its sister cars, it was offered with a range of four engines. Depending on which one you choose, the Achieva could be anywhere from a mild-mannered econo coupe to a performance GT. The most popular engine choice was the old standby 3.3-liter V6. With 160 hp, it offered an agreeable compromise between efficiency and performance. The other three options were all based on a 2.3-liter four cylinder design.
The base engine’s 115 hp offered no frills motivation for the S trim level. The two DOHC versions offered increased performance. Sadly DOHC designs were still new to GM, even by the early 90’s, so they were loud and buzzy initially. GM’s previous flirtation with the technology produced the wild and rough Quad 4 as seen in the Calais.
The second generation Quad 4 was smoother, but still noisy at higher speeds where it had to be to squeeze any performance out of it. For an engine that loved high revs, its potential was limited by a three speed transmission. The top Sport Coupe (SC) trim featured a 175 hp version of the 2.3 mated to a standard 5 speed manual r better performance.
In this configuration the Achieva performed at its best. Weight was under 3,000lb which made 8 second 0 to 60 times possible while still returning a solid 30 mpg on the highway. While the Achieva was not winning too many comparison tests with the 626, Camry or Accord, it was a solid highway cruiser with a comfortable and well laid out interior. In fact, for a GM car of the period, the Achieva had one of the better interiors with a sculpted dash that was driver oriented.
The Achieva had a short-lived sporting nature about, missing from most of its Japanese rivals when equipped with the W41 performance package (in the top of the line SCX model). While no 442, a SCX with W41 was fun to drive. Car and Driver magazine called a 1992 model “grippy and balanced, although noisy”.
The W44 advantage over the Accord and Camry coupe was lost when it was removed from the options list in 1994 in an attempt to simplify the choices. While most Achieva buyers may not have missed the sport tuned suspension and 16” alloy wheels on low profile tires, it did put a dent in any sporting aspirations of the Achieva. The product planners must have conceded that Pontiac and its Gran Am cornered the market for performance on the N platform.
Oldsmobile made continuous mechanical improvements to the Achieva, yet its external appearance remained mostly unchanged. The Quad 4 was dropped and in its place came a new “Twin Cam” 2.4-liter engine. It also replaced the old-fashioned 115 hp engine of the base S model. Despite the changes, the Achieva got lost in the shuffle among GM’s many (similar) competing products. The fact that the Achieva was a transitional mix of old and new technology made it a sitting duck as Oldsmobile would have to wait some time before it could roll out its more modern line up that started with the Aurora.
The most popular versions of the Achieva still had a V6, now at 3.1-liters by 1996. 1996 was also the year that Oldsmobile dropped the three speed automatic transmission for a more modern four speed unit. Many of the ongoing refinements came at the expense of customization as options lists became more simplified with time. The Achieva was moving closer to its goal of being an import alternative, but buyers were looking elsewhere.
What started out as a sporty alternative to the sedan slowly settled into being a comfortable GT style car, but with none of the sporting feel of say a Pontaic or Mazda. Just as the Achevia had begun to focus it’s line up on being average, its sales tailed off.
Oldsmobile buyers were not impressed with reve happy DOHC arrangements just yet. The GM sourced engines were still not as smooth as those in the typical Honda or Toyota. In addition most drivers perferred the low end torque of the V6, which did not need to be reved to high speeds to see any performance. The old Quad Four’s reputation as being rough may have sabotaged its image as being high tech.
Matters were made worse with Oldsmobile’s insistence on using old-school tech like rear twist beam axles when the imports were moving to fully independent suspensions. Being mated to a three speed automatic transmission did not help either. While three speeds could earn you bragging rights in 1967, it was an odd choice for a car designed to be an alternative to rides as diverse as the Accord and the BMW 318i.
In the end the Acheiva made very little impact in Oldsmobile’s cause to be the GM’s near luxury import fighter. The Grand Am did the same job with much more flash and the Buick Skylark had more luxury and refinement. When the Achieva was replaced by the Alero in 1999, Oldsmobile’s new compact coupe did little to change matters.