1992. It was such a strange time for the world. America’s greatest adversary was no more, Jeffrey Dahmer went to jail (and Ryan Murphy made a ton of money 30 years later because of it), and we elected a saxophone as president. It was also a strange time for cars – especially American cars.
American conventional thinking about what made a car good (big boats with soft suspension and just-as-comfy seats) was giving way to sleeker, sportier and more refined vehicles. It left companies like General Motors playing catchup, so when it came time to redesign the Buick Skylark, The General came up with this: I give you the 1992 Buick Skylark Gran Sport.
I mean… just look at it. Even MotorWeek called the front end of the Skylark “alarming” in their video caption. Buick was maybe hoping that the car’s “modern wedge shape” would appeal to younger buyers. Can you guess what didn’t happen? That’s right. It did not appeal to younger buyers.
1992's sportier, more popular contemporaries hailed from foreign lands, like W124 Mercedes E-Class, E36 BMW 3-Series, Audi 80 and Saab 9-3. Although, the U.S. did present the Ford Taurus SHO that did fairly well. Compare those beauties to the Skylark and it comes off as a bit of a joke—far removed from a comparable technical and exterior perspective. The edgiest part of this car was the notched front-end, which really didn’t help to make it remotely appealing.
Things do not get much better on the inside either. Most sporty cars of the era, especially the European counterparts, were clad in leather, cause, sport. However, because this is the ‘90s and Buick, the supposedly sporty car was fitted with the classic huge pillow-cushion seats (reportedly not as firm, nor as comfy as they looked) and an aggressively red plastic dashboard. At least it came with a center-mounted shifter. That makes for one check for sporty? If I’m being honest it looks a little bit like someone drew the E36’s dashboard from memory.
Even in the ‘90s, the cars the Skylark competed with had some of the latest and most cutting-edge tech in the automotive industry. Think about BMW’s “board computer” (which is sort of like a proto-iDrive system) that gave the driver all sorts of information on various vehicle metrics. By comparison, the Skylark is laughable with a simple CD player that even MotorWeek called “the picture of simplicity” and three rotary dials to control your heat and air conditioning. Though, I guess it was fair, as the average age of a Skylark buyer in 1992 was probably well past the age of 80.
Motivating the base Skylark in an eight-valve four-popper with enough power to outpace someone with a cane. There wasn’t much kick to it. However, the Gran Sport got Buick’s 3.3-liter V6 making a meager 160 horsepower mated up to a three-speed automatic. That was good enough to reach 60 mph in 10 whole seconds! Meanwhile, all of its competitors were available with funky inline six-cylinder engines, high revving four cylinders, or turbochargers. Whatever they came with, it was always a better option than this anemic 3.3-liter V6.
The Skylark Gran Sport also offered adjustable suspension, which was a bigger to-do at the time, with “soft,” “auto,” and “sport” suspension settings. Buick probably thought they had a really nifty suspension system here, but if I had to guess the impact those buttons had on the actual suspension feel was minimal. MotorWeek indicated that their drivers could feel some differences between those settings, but not enough of a difference — not even close to the differentiations in suspension and drive settings on cars produced today.
Buick may have done well in the ‘80s with its GNX, but that same execution didn’t come through into the next decade. Try as they may, they tried to again, appeal to a younger market and be “cool” and competitive with its overseas competition. But, as it is Buick, it clearly fell short. It’s why most of cars of this era—the E36, the W124, Audi 80 and SHO—have lived on in the enthusiast community, while just about every 1992 Skylark built has returned back to the earth. But hey, at least it had adjustable suspension.