The W-Body is not a platform that gets a lot of love from enthusiasts, but it is one that, for better or for worse, has been in constant production since the late 1980s. It has been sold with Buick, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac badges, with inline-four, V6, supercharged six, turbocharged six and V8 engines, and in sedan and coupe body styles.
Although a significant proportion of W-Bodies manufactured were flaccid Luminas and bench-seat, rental fleet Impalas, there have been some bright sparks along the way.
If you’re all about that boost, how about the ultra-rare (1990-91 only) Grand Prix McLaren Turbo and STE Turbo? The 6000 STE gets a lot of adulation to this day for being a competitive domestic sport sedan offering, but the Grand Prix had more modern styling and a turbocharged V6. It was still a four-speed automatic or nothing, though. At least with the Grand Prix you got a funky Sable-esque light bar! These early Grand Prixs also came with amazing bucket seats too.
If turbos aren’t your thing, why not try one of the later 3.4 DOHC V6-equipped Ws? With an impressive-for-the-early-1990s 210hp, these were about as quick as a Taurus SHO and you could even get a 5-speed manual. These engines weren’t bulletproof, but you could get them in the wild-looking Lumina Z34, as well as the Grand Prix GTP and STE and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
Those early Cutlass Supremes sure were smooth-looking, before the ugly cladding was added. You could get the Quad 4, the first domestic DOHC four-cylinder since the Cosworth Vega, from 1990 until 91 in both the Cutlass and the Grand Prix. Oh, sure, they were noisy and ate headgaskets, but they revved hard and put out as much power as a lot of V6s even though they were naturally-aspirated.
Would you describe your family as ‘supercharged’? If the answer is yes, maybe a second generation W-body Buick Regal GS is in order. They looked a lot like your grandpa’s Century, but they packed a supercharged version of the trusty 3.8 V6 with 240hp and an impressive 280 ft-lbs. If the Regal was too much of a Q-ship for you, you could get the same engine in the wide-track second-generation Pontiac Grand Prix.
Maybe you’re like Tim Allen and you think everything needs MORE POWER. Well, GM stuffed a 5.3 small-block V8 in the 2006 Impala and Monte Carlo SS, 2005 Grand Prix GXP and 2008 Buick LaCrosse Super. They didn’t make any noteworthy suspension modifications for Chevy, so unless you like the sensation of excessive torque steer as you slide across flat, unsupportive seats, maybe you should look at the Pontiac and Buick.
303 horsepower and 320 ft-lbs is an eye-watering amount of power for a front-wheel-drive car, but reviews of the time were impressed by the dialled-down torque steer and competent handling of the Grand Prix GXP; the use of larger tires in front played a part in that. The GXP was also the first W-Body in over a decade to have anything close to a manual transmission, with a 4-speed automatic with TapShift paddles. 0-60 was under 6 seconds, and the V8 engine didn’t make the car as nose-heavy as you’d suspect. Still, these V8 W-Bodies had transmissions made of glass so… Uhh, get an extended warranty.
Finally, you could get that kind of horsepower from a smooth, modern V6 mated to a modern, six-speed automatic transmission in the 2012-present Chevrolet Impala “Limited”, as seen in your local rental fleet. Sure, nowadays these Impalas are very much outclassed by the new, Epsilon platform Impala and Malibu, but they are cheap and fast and the bugs have most certainly been ironed out by now.
Which W-Body would you pick?