1999 Oldsmobile Silhouette Reviews and Ratings

Wagon GS 4D

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1999 Oldsmobile Silhouette
Phil Berg

The Oldsmobile Silhouette is outfitted well with thoughtful interior touches that make trips with kids go easier. It's actually fun to hustle down a challenging road.
The Oldsmobile Silhouette is available in four models: GS, GL, GLS and Premiere Edition.

Shortest is the $25,370 GS, which is 187.4 inches long. The other three models come with extended bodies that stretch to 201.4 inches long. The GL retails for $24,990. With the $28,020 GLS comes a plethora of standard items.

The Silhouette Premiere Edition, like the one we drove, is priciest of the four models, at $31,580. It comes with a slick new video entertainment system for rear-seat passengers that is not available on the other models. Almost every option you can get on a Silhouette comes standard on the Premiere. The only options are gold trim pieces for $150 and an $85 towing package that upgrades the pulling ability of the minivan from 2000 to 3500 pounds. Northerners will appreciate an engine heater that adds a mere $20.

The extra 14 inches of the three extended models adds considerable cargo area behind the third row of seats. This minivan offers the same dimensions as the Chevrolet Venture and Pontiac Montana.

All Silhouette models get two sliding passenger doors as standard equipment. Curbside doors on the GS, GLS, and Premiere Edition are power-operated. In the base long van, the GL, the motorized door is an option. Interior
The Silhouette is a great vehicle for big families. Extended and multi-generation family units are encouraged to enter the Silhouette, which coddles and comforts its occupants. Each seating position has been attended to with bins and cubbies and cupholders. In the Premiere , there are six rear headphone jacks so Junior and Grandpa won't have to listen to the same tunes.

The Premiere comes with two buckets in the front, two in the middle row, and a split bench in the third row that will hold three adults. Headroom and elbowroom are generous in all seats, yet tall folks' knees tend to ride high in the middle row. The middle buckets in our test minivan would not recline fully unless they were at their forwardmost positions, which discourages adult naptime when the van is moving. The third row seats are perched a bit taller than the middle row, so the view forward is clear. Moms tell us that smaller children mounted at such heights are entertained--and therefore remain quieter--by what they can see out the windows. The short GS and longer GL models come with mounts for three bucket seats in the middle row. There are eight seating spots in this configuration, though you can order a GS with just two buckets in the middle row. You can also get a 60/40 split bench for the middle row of the GS and GL that carry two adults or two little ones in built-in child seats. This bench isn't available in the fancy GLS and Premiere models.

The seats fold and remove easily. Handy little pictograms on the frames underneath the seats instruct you how to unlatch them from the floor. They are the lightest seats in the business, so removing them is worthwhile when you need greater cargo capacity. However, they are heavy enough that an adult or strong adolescent is best entrusted with moving them across the minivan's floor and into your garage.

Our Premiere came with smooth leather seating surfaces, but otherwise looks the same inside as the lower-line Silhouettes or the Chevrolet Venture or Pontiac Montana. The dashboard is neatly arranged, except the CD and VHS videotape players are mounted on the floor, a long reach from the driver. The gauges are easy to read, and other controls are intuitive--once you get used to the door switches in the overhead console. The middle buckets and rear bench seats are surprisingly form-fitting even though they look like simple, flat benches.

Premiere Edition's video entertainment center consists of a 5.6-inch flat-panel color monitor screen that folds down from the ceiling behind the two front-seat occupants. About a foot behind this screen is another ceiling console that houses four separate small panels with knobs and jacks. On the far left panel are two knobs for additional rear seat heating and cooling. On the far right are controls that operate the in-dash stereo through headphones. This way the driver can cruise along in relative silence while the rear-seaters switch stations, or play cassettes or CDs. One panel overhead houses input jacks for Nintendo, Sega Genesis, or Sony Play Station video game machines that play on the flip-down monitor. The remaining panel contains headphone jacks and volume controls for videotapes that are played on the monitor. The tapes are inserted by the driver, but can be controlled by a remote from the rear seats.

This all sounds like complex integration, but the end result is simple: No matter where you sit, you can enjoy your own form of entertainment. All of the systems can be overridden by the boss in the driver's seat, which is helpful for parents issuing time-outs to over-enthusiastic kids.

There's enough cargo space for six suitcases, but you'll have to use the roof rack if you want to cross the country with the six big folks that the comfortable seats invite. Driving Impressions
All Silhouettes come with a 3.4-liter V6 engine and a 4-speed automatic transmission. The V6 makes 185 horsepower. a slight increase over the 1998 model. Anti-lock brakes are standard.

The V6 engine is a powerful workhorse with good throttle response and efficiency. It produces strong low-rpm torque for quick acceleration, even when loaded down. You can feel the engine growl slightly through the steering wheel. Traction control is optional, and is a good idea for easier control in winter driving. Without traction control engaged, you can spin one front wheel during a spirited take-off. With a powerful V6 and front-wheel drive, torque steer is sometimes noticeable--a slight tug on the steering wheel under hard acceleration.

There seems to be less feedback of road vibration through the steering wheel of the Silhouette than you'll find in the Montana or Venture. Perhaps the touring tires of the Premiere are tuned for less harshness. These same tires likely contribute to the Premiere feeling less grippy in corners. Body roll is also more noticeable in the Silhouette than the Montana.

The brake pedal of the Silhouette feels spongy, especially when you compare it to Oldsmobile's more modern sedans, such as the Alero, Intrigue, and Aurora. The anti-lock brake system, however, works well, with steady and unobtrusive feedback when it's engaged on slick surfaces. Summary
The Oldsmobile Silhouette makes all occupants feel they have control over their personal space, with spots for drinks, trinkets, and volume controls for headphones. You could live in here if you had to, and it sometimes seems that way when you're stuck on the 405 in Los Angeles, shuttling distractible youths to after-school Tai Chi lessons.

We've driven minivans with aftermarket video and television setups, and none of them match the sound quality, picture quality, and ease of operation found in the Premiere Edition. The GLS model gets most of the same equipment, but no video system, for $3,560 less. (A firmer suspension with automatic leveling costs $270 on the GLS, but is standard on the Premiere.) That makes the video system an expensive option and the Premiere Edition a rather expensive model.

The Silhouette is fun to drive and it rides and handles better than the previous generation of vehicles from GM.

Model as tested
Silhouette Premiere Edition
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Doraville, Georgia
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Safety equipment (standard)
Dual front airbags, front side airbags, seat belt pretensioners
Safety equipment (optional)
3.4-liter ohv V6
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
(Premiere) Air conditioning, traction control, tilt-steering, automatic transmission, automatic leveling suspension, keyless remote power programmable door locks with theft deterrent system, power mirrors and front windows, power rear vent windows, power driver and passenger seats, rear wiper and washer, leather seating surfaces, fog lights, in-dash cassette and CD player with steering wheel controls, cruise control, intermittent wipers, aluminum wheels, luggage rack, video cassette player and monitor, six headphone jacks with volume controls, tinted rear windows

Engine & Transmission
3.4-liter ohv V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
185 @ 5200
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
7 (8 in GL or GS)
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality Not Available
Overall Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Overall Quality - Design
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Design
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Design
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
Not Available

Overall Dependability Not Available
Powertrain Dependability
Not Available
Body & Interior Dependability
Not Available
Feature & Accessory Dependability
Not Available

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J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

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