Graded: Compact Oldsmobiles

Welcome to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

Oldsmobile is not a manufacturer high on the list for many when discussing performance compact cars. But it should be. Despite the brand’s reputation for making big boats for the elderly population, it has been in innovator in the small car realm.

Oldsmobile was turbocharging compacts in the early 1960s. It had naturally aspirated four-cylinders pushing close to 200 hp in the early 1990s. And of course, it made a car near and dear to my heart, the Alero.

To celebrate what the marque accomplished, I have gathered nine compact Oldsmobile’s and affixed letter grades to how good (or bad) they were.  

1962 Oldsmobile F-85 Jetfire Hardtop Coupe

Autolobotomy Grade: B+

This was an unusual car for its time. While most American coupes were opting for big V6 or V8 engines, the F-85 used a small all-aluminum 3.5-liter V8. What is more, the Jetfire model came equipped with a turbocharger – an unheard-of feature for a production car at the time. Although power was still rather meager, it did help improve the performance of the car.

1976 Oldsmobile Omega SX Coupe

AutoLobotomy Grade: B

Although the Omega SX Coupe did feature a 5.7-liter V8 and sporty appearance, it was more show than go with just 170 hp on tap and less-than-inspiring handling. It is still better than some small Oldsmobile’s that would follow it though.

1979 Oldsmobile Starfire Firenza

AutoLobotomy Grade: C

The Starfire Firenza came at a time when cars were focusing more on economy than performance. Despite the Fiernza’s upgraded mechanics and appearance, this car didn’t really excite the driver or do anything that swiftly. I’m also not crazy about the styling.

1981 Oldsmobile SportOmega

AutoLobotomy Grade: C-

For one year only there was the SportOmega. An over-the-top appearance package made this car look much wilder than it really was. Not much was mechanically different from the regular Omega, but the flash did give a lot more personality.

1985 Oldsmobile Firenza GT

AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

Oldsmobile’s version of the ubiquitous J-Body platform was named the Firenza. Those looking for a bit of style and performance could opt for the GT model which in 1985 featured a V6 engine and manual transmission.

1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais 442 W41
AutoLobotomy Grade: A+

This is it. This is the best compact car Oldsmobile ever produced. It was way ahead of its time, featuring a 190 hp naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine back in 1991. Nothing in the compact class really came close to it’s power, while the styling of the 442 is on point.

1992 Oldsmobile Achieva SCX W41

AutoLobotomy Grade: A

The replacement for the Cutlass Calais 442, the Achieva SCX had all the performance of its predecessor, but with less attractive styling. Still, it proved to be a very competent performer and found success in SCCA racing. Plus, the SCX coupes did do away with the rear wheel skirts.


1999 Oldsmobile Alero Coupe

AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about these cars. Is this rating inflated? Yes. Deal with it.

*Bonus* Oldsmobile Alero OSV

AutoLobotomy Grade: A

What could have been. The OSV concept showed off Oldsmobile’s idea of a high performance Alero. Central to this concept was an aggressive body kit and supercharged V6 engine. If the brand had lived long enough to allow a second generation of the Alero, maybe I could have had a coupe with the Pontiac G6’s 3.9-liter V6 and six-speed manual transmission.  

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