CARMEL, CA — General Motors Corp.'s Oldsmobile Div.'s lighter, shorter 2001 Aurora — arriving at dealerships next March — offers V-6 power for the first time.

Introduced in 1994 as a '95 model, the Olds flagship until now has offered only a 4L version of the Northstar DOHC V-8, which continues as the optional upgrade engine for the all-new '01 Aurora.

Both engines operate on regular fuel. The 3.5L Twin Cam V-6, first developed for the Olds Intrigue, was a WEVTU “10 Best Engines” winner for 1999. It produces 215 hp at 5,500 rpm and generates 230 lb.-ft. (312 Nm) of torque at 4,400 rpm. The 4L V-8 continues with 250 hp at 5,600 rpm and 260 lb.-ft. (352 Nm) of torque at 4,400 rpm.

Estimated fuel economy for the V-6 is 19/28 city/highway mpg (12.4/8.4L/100 km) and 17/25 mpg (13.8/9.4L/100 km) for the V-8.

Olds engineers shaved 6.1 ins. (15.5 cm) from the overall length of the previous version, reducing the length to 199.3 ins. (506 cm), and shortened the wheelbase by 1.6 ins. (4 cm) to 112.2 ins. (285 cm) to provide a tauter, performance look. These changes — combined with more extensive use of aluminum — slashed 165 lbs. (75 kg) from the V-8 model and 285 lbs. (129 kg) for the V-6 version versus the V-8 equipped '99 car (there is no 2000 model-year Aurora).

Because it's 120 lbs. (54 kg) lighter, V-6 performance comes close to that of the V-8, Olds engineers say.

Olds General Manager Karen Francis forecasts first-year sales at around 45,000, double that of the '99. She estimates that the V-6/V-8 ratio will start out at 50/50, eventually moving to 70% in favor of the V-6. Olds hasn't announced prices, but sources say the V-6 will come in between $30,000 and $31,000, and the V-8 in the $34,000 to $35,000 range.

Aurora Brand Manager John Gatt says the new entry's chief competitors likely will be the new Lincoln LS midsize entry luxury car, the BMW AG 5 Series, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. Acura TL and the Toyota Motor Corp. Lexus ES300. He says it will enter a market that has grown 34% since 1975, will reach 500,000 units this year and is targeted to grow 20% by 2005.

Although it retains many of the prior version's exterior styling cues, the '01 Aurora has no recognizable grille, using underhood scoops to cool the engine. Large individual taillamps and a pseudo deck lid replace the old Aurora's rather uninspiring horizontal lighting arrangement.

Built-in fog lamps are featured front and rear.

Answering critics, Olds engineers reduced the bulky A-pillars to provide much improved frontal visibility.

The interior also boasts upgraded materials and bright metal surrounding the instrument clusters.

Engineers focused on improving the steering, ride, handling and noise levels in revamping Aurora, starting with the latest version of General Motors Corp.'s stiff G-body architecture. Traction control (standard on the V-8, optional on the V-6) combined with what Olds calls its new “Precision Control System (PCS),” offers stability control during a variety of adverse driving conditions by braking individual wheels to influence under-or oversteer characteristics.

Steering is crisper thanks to a combination of higher spring rates and smaller-diameter stabilizer bars up front and Aurora's patented “Magnasteer” speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion system using and electronically controlled magnetic field to increase or decrease steering effort.

2001 Oldsmobile Aurora V-6

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Engine: 3.5L (3,473 cc) DOHC V-6; aluminum block/aluminum heads
Power (SAE net): 215 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 230 lb.-ft. (312 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.3:1
Bore × Stroke (mm): 89.5 × 92
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 112.2 ins. (285 cm)
Overall length: 199.3 ins. (506 cm)
Overall width: 72.9 ins. (185 cm)
Overall height: 56.7 ins. (144 cm)
Curb weight: 3,686 lbs. (1,672 kg)
Market competition: BMW 5 Series Lexus ES300 Lincoln LS