The first thing you notice about this new 2014 Oldsmobile Cutlass S, complete with its six-speed manual, is the lettering. It's huge.
Actually, everything with letters or numbers in this Olds is huge. The 'enter' button on the infotainment panel, the pages displayed on the LCD display, the speedo. The speedo is so big, that if your own car's speedo is broken, just pull up next to someone else driving one of these and match speed with them — you'll be able to read their speedo from inside your car.
It's like this thing is waiting for your macular degeneration.
(Full disclosure: Oldsmobile wanted me to drive their new Cutlass so much that they lent one to Travis and then he let me drive it for a day. Also, there were weird 'H's all over the car. Not sure why.)
In many ways, this Oldsmobile Cutlass is very much like its predecessors. Back in the '70s, the Cutlass was America's best-selling car. Now it's still right up near the top of the chart, just behind the Camry. The car still provides somewhat handsome, if plain looks. It's still an aspirational car, telling your neighbors that you can afford better than the cheaper Chevies.
What's really amazing about the car is how much it shows car design has come in the past four decades or so.
Take, for instance, the engine. Back in the late '70s, your base Cutlass came with a 3.8l V6 that only made 105 horsepower. You could spring for a pair of optional V8s, but even the best would only get you 185 hp out of 6.6 liters. This 2014 model's V6 is smaller at 3.5 liters but it makes 278 horsepower. And while those old '70s engines wheezed, this new V6 practically sings. It's not as classic as, say, an Alfa Romeo engine, but the way this Cutlass pulls all the way to the redline is addictive.
I never thought this would be a car that makes you want to drop gears on the highway just to hear the engine, but it absolutely is.
Make no mistake, it's not a driver's car by any means. This Cutlass isn't the kind of car that you take to storm twisty backroads. It's a car that you sink into on the highway.
Well, it's actually too easy to sink into. I managed to get my very first speeding ticket in this thing, running downhill into a speed trap town, pulled at 81 in a rapidly-decreasing 55 zone.
Part of the problem for your license is the six-speed manual. If you know anything about the three-pedal cars of the '70s (and I do — I own a '73 VW and I've driven a few other youngtimers in my day), this 2014 Olds is an absolute revelation. Years ago, the shifter on this car would've had huge, long throws like a tractor compared to this 2014 shifter. It's quick and the slots are surprisingly close. Watch out or you'll hit fifth when you mean to grab third.
And still the car remains ever stout and ever practical. Jack Baruth over at The Truth About Cars just bought one of these Cutlasses and found it comfortable and spacious enough for him and his kid, which is saying a lot for a two-door. It's not a small car, sure, but the visibility is decent, which helps.
I mean, the car won't shrink around you and feel like a sports car, but it's an Oldsmobile, what do you want?
I should also say that this Cutlass never feels like a deeply stylish car, but everything inside is very well put together. It's a genuinely nice place to be. The molded plastic pieces feel thick and durable, and while it's a little too sensible for me, it feels good knowing you're in something made to last. That's typical Oldsmobile, and something I'm glad hasn't been lost over the years.
The navigation was a pain in this thing, though. The day I had this Olds I was supposed to go to an autojourno go-kart event, but managed to I get myself lost on the way. How lost? I went through not one but two covered bridges, both entirely by chance. Connecticut. In any case, once I realized where I actually needed to go, the nav in the car sent me to the wrong go-karting venue. I ended up wasting a whole afternoon running around the highways and byways of southern CT, which is how I ended up with that ticket.
At least everything else about the infotainment was clear and easy to use, probably helped by the giganto-sized text. Just look at how clear this thing is in the dark.
And the car is still made in America! It's almost unbelievable that Oldsmobile pulls this off while Chrysler and Ford continue to send production overseas or into Mexico.
It's amazing how much the country, and how much the state off automobile design has changed in the decades that the Oldsmobile Cutlass has seen go by. But it's also heartening that the Olds is still keeping up with trends, providing a comfortable, pleasant, well-made Cutlass. The looks are conservative, the interior is roomy, the car never feels floaty, and the engine is a jewel.
If there's ever been a car to show the progress the car world has made in the past four decades, it's this 2014 Olds.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove