A better-built Buick
Friday, January 2, 2004
Celebration model LeSabre offers large car comfort at a reasonable price
The old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," certainly applies to the current edition of the Buick LeSabre. For years it has been the best-selling full-size car on the road, and one test drive will show you why. I recently picked up a LeSabre Celebration Edition from VanMatre Buick and headed across the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge for a test drive.
To celebrate Buick's 75th birthday a new Celebration Edition model with a blacked-out grille, integrated turn-signal indicators on the outside rearview mirrors, special interior trim and 16-inch chrome-plated wheels was introduced in 2003. About 15,000 units will be built for 2004, out of LeSabre's normal production run of more than 100,000 per year. Since its introduction in 1959, more than 6 million Buick LeSabres have been sold. The LeSabre's main competition is Mercury Grand Marquis, Ford Crown Victoria, Toyota Avalon and Chrysler Concorde.
The LeSabre has graceful, flowing lines. Edges are rounded, like an aircraft, rather than angular. The traditional oval Buick grill has a tasteful chrome bezel, and the wheels, the Buick emblem, the headlights and a fender badge are the only chrome you see in a three-quarter frontal view. The tasteful design is aimed squarely at the LeSabre's target audience: adults -- particularly women over 50 years of age.
Inside, more flowing lines grace the elegant instrument panel, the doors and seats. Everything is beautifully integrated and well thought out. I liked the front passenger's dual climate control and seat heater switches that are mounted on the doors near the power window switches, which, incidentally, have the express down feature for the driver and passenger windows. The Celebration Edition features two-tone leather seats with embroidered logos, embroidered floor mats and Black Cherry wood grain on the instrument panel and doors. The steering wheel holds buttons for the cruise control, climate control and the sound system. The seats are nicely bolstered and are power adjustable in all directions. The rear seating area has air conditioning vents, a center armrest, and behind that, a small door for access to the huge trunk.
Extra attention has been paid to safety issues, as Buick owners are family-centered people who want peace of mind on the road. LeSabre received high marks in crashworthiness from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association gave the LeSabre a perfect five stars for frontal impacts and four stars for side impacts. There are dual-stage front and side impact airbags; shoulder harnesses that are attached to the seats, rather than the B-pillars; self-aligning head restraints that rotate forward to help reduce neck injury; and StabiliTrak, which helps the driver maintain control through a corner in slippery conditions by gently applying the brakes on one or more wheels. To help you keep your eyes on the road the Celebration Edition features a head-up display that projects a digital readout of the speedometer, turn signals, high beam and check gauges on the lower part of the windshield right in front of the driver. You also get electrochromic (auto dimming) outside rearview mirrors that are also heated and contain turn signal indicators, which help signal your intentions to drivers alongside or in your blind spot; anti-lock brakes; a theft-deterrent system and OnStar lockout protection.
Under the hood is Buick's time-tested 3.8-liter V-6 engine producing 205 horsepower and driving the front wheels via a four-speed-automatic transmission.
Out on the road
The Buick LeSabre Celebration Edition makes long distance travel a very pleasant experience. For one thing, it is equipped with an auto-leveling air suspension ride system at the rear, and coil spring suspension up front. Buicks of yesteryear had a pillowy, floating sensation on the highway, but not today's versions.
My Buick had a well-controlled ride, precise steering and subdued wind noise. You couldn't hear the engine running unless you floored the accelerator, which brought about an immediate downshift and impressive acceleration for passing. The power is well matched for the car -- I appreciated how the engine could pull the vehicle up most hills without having to shift out of overdrive. It has an idle so silky I couldn't tell if it was running unless I checked the engine instruments. The LeSabre earned an EPA mileage rating of 20-mpg city and 29-mpg highway ... impressive for a vehicle this size! Braking is excellent. The brake pedal is easy to modulate in city traffic, and at highway speed a quick stab hauls the big Buick down to a stop without fuss, thanks to the anti-lock braking.
My test drive with the LeSabre ended too soon, and I regretted returning it to the dealer. It would have been the perfect vehicle to haul my family on our annual winter migration to warmer climes. As my wife commented when she took it for a test drive, "It's a totally nonthreatening, woman's type car. You don't have to be a techno-head to be able to figure out how to unlock the doors."
A luxury Buick like this one carries a sticker price of $34,465, but GM is in a generous mood and offering up to $4,500 in various rebates and incentives, which brings this full-size car down to the price of many midsize vehicles. That is something to celebrate!
Steve Robertson of Robertson's Creative Photography is a car enthusiast and former staff writer/photographer for the Southeast Missourian.