What happens when luxury meets technology?
Buick had this exact thought in the 80’s. Cadillac had just unveiled their Allante in 1987 – a Pininfarina bodied, FWD luxury “sports convertible.” Just one year after in 1988, Buick responded with their offering – the Reatta. The Reatta is based on the same chassis as the Riviera, much like the Allante. It offers GM’s 3800 series FWD V6 engine in tandem with a 4 speed automatic. No other powertrain options were offered for the Reatta. So what is it like? I borrowed one from my buddies over at CarUnder10K in Dayton, TN for a few days to find out.
Ok, already starting off with a controversial topic. Over the years, the Reatta has been called things like “UFO” or “Space Ship” due to its looks. It definitely is a strange looking car. You WILL get looks in this thing everywhere you go. Buick offered the Reatta in either a coupe (as reviewed) or convertible. Personally, I like the styling, especially the coupe body style. Perhaps I’m biased, as I think most cars with pop up headlights are “cool.” In the end, the car definitely has head turning design, which makes it fun to just drive around.
This is where Buick focused a good amount of time on when designing the Reatta. I want you all to keep in mind, this car is from over 30 years ago, 1988. The Reatta came with a touch screen display borrowed from the previous years Riviera. This center screen controlled things like your climate control & radio. It also displayed things like your RPM’s, oil pressure & battery voltage. But most annoyingly, it also contains something called the “diagnostic center” which beeps at you any time something is acting up. In the case of my tester car, it had a glitch causing the ABS to randomly trigger the diagnostic center, which beeps *alarmingly* loudly to let you know what is going on.
Touch screen aside, the interior is a very nice place to be. As the car is only a 2-seater, there is a good amount of room behind the seats. I used this space to carry some camera equipment around, with room to spare. Leg room is exceptional, especially for the passenger. The dash does not extend too far out into the cabin, making for EVEN more legroom. There are buttons for absolutely everything. The glovebox, trunk & fuel door all have a dedicated button for operation. The seats are electronically adjustable as well. Not just forward and back, but up and down, tilting front to back and even features thigh extensions – all electronically controlled.
One of the strangest buttons I found was labeled “fuel.” Once pressed, this zooms in on the fuel gauge, showing you EXACTLY how much fuel you had left. For those of you that want to ensure you get every mile out of your tank, this car might be right for you. Lastly, I want to talk about overall materials in the interior. Most all buttons are standard plastic except for those found in the center or on the doors. Those buttons have a metal finish to them, and to my surprise, nearly everything still worked as intended. Definitely a great thing to have for a car this old.
Ok, folks, this is where the fun stops – literally. The Buick Reatta is NOT a fun car to drive. At all. It is definitely fun to be seen in, but not one to drive. GM’s 3800 V6, while not a total slouch is still no track star when paired with this 4 speed automatic. 0-60 times come in around 9-10 seconds and thanks to a very cushy suspension, it rolls into every corner. Definitely not a sports coupe by today’s standards. With that said, once you get out onto the highway, the car is quiet and incredibly comfortable. The car floats like an old Buick should over bumps and small hills. Should you need to pass someone, it is capable, but don’t expect to go flying around anyone. If anything, I’d say this car discourages road rage with the way it drives. I definitely felt in a better mood when driving this car around than I did with my daily driver.
Should you buy this car? That depends on if you want something that looks cool to drive but definitely isn’t. I’d put this car in the same category as a Plymouth Prowler – amazing to look at, not so much to drive. The touchscreen is a super cool trick, although, you will need a 1988-90 model to get it as it was discontinued by Buick for the 91 model year. These can be had in rough shape for about $3,000-$4,500 where a nicer example like the one I drove around will set you back around $7,000-$9,000. Some Reatta’s have been kept in garages over the years with no miles as a collectors item, those tend to bring $10,000-$12,000, but they are few and far between. Personally, I see the Buick Reatta as a future collectors item, their values should go up over the next decade. If you are considering one, now is definitely the time to buy.
And hey, maybe someone will throw a set of BBS’s on it and some air suspension one day – I think it would look dope. Thanks to Koleton Yoshida for the edit.
Text & Photos by Ben Battles