Buick LeSabre Goes Over The Hill In No Time Flat
The sedan may be known as an old person's vehicle, but this car enthusiast finds it a powerful ride.
Los Angeles Times
December 03, 2003
How do you stuff a 6-foot-2 teenager in the back of a Honda Accord? You buy a Buick LeSabre.
Interior space is just one reason I own a LeSabre and endure the barbs and stares of my friends who drive Accords, BMWs, Camrys and Volvos and who think I am contemplating early retirement.
It's too bad that Buick has such a dowdy reputation, because it really doesn't deserve to be scorned. But then I stopped caring about phony images when I was in my 20s.
You might think I drive a Buick out of some misplaced conservative "Buy American" patriotism or liberal enthusiasm for the United Auto Workers. Maybe you think I grew up in Detroit, earning money for college by working on the assembly line, and now want to pay the city back by owning a General Motors product.
But that's mostly wrong. I am from Detroit, but I worked in a Chrysler assembly plant that turned out Dodge Chargers.
I've owned most of the popular imports through the years, but I always wanted to own a full-size American car. Then one day, I realized not only that I could afford one, but it also would be cheap and easy.
So I bought a used 1999 LeSabre because it had the room, power, fuel economy, reliability and safety that combined for an uncommonly well-designed product. The problem for Buick is that only people 60 years old seem to know this.
When J.D. Power & Associates this year rated the entire Buick line as having the third-best reliability of any make, it didn't surprise me. Only Lexus and Infiniti were rated higher -- and Buick trounced Toyota, Honda, BMW, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and domestic makes.
Consumer Reports this year also rated the Buick Regal as the most reliable family sedan and put most of the Buick line on its recommended list.
I get 27 miles a gallon, about the same as with my last Accord. The Buick engine is an ancient design: an all-cast-iron pushrod V-6 with long-stroke pistons. But the engine is known to often reach 200,000 miles without an overhaul, and it somehow produces the power and fuel economy that beat more modern designs.
Recently I was driving back from a trip to the Sierra on two-lane Highway 395. My hiking partner, who owns a Subaru, was stunned by the LeSabre's passing power: It can speed from 40 mph to 60 mph in the blink of an eye. The engine produces maximum torque across almost its entire horsepower curve, a remarkable capability.
And the transmission has manual selections for every gear. So when I drive through the local mountains, as I do almost every weekend, I can select first, second, third or drive, depending on the grade of the road.
When I hear people say the Buick doesn't handle well, that's a pretty narrow view given that most reviewers put a premium on an aggressive style of driving that few people really have. In any case, it's an irrational criticism because the LeSabre handles curves far better than any sport utility vehicle or pickup.
The LeSabre is rated as one of the safest cars on the road, thanks to its low center of gravity, wide track and large mass. It has big tires that put a lot of rubber on the road, providing plenty of traction.
My car has a great sound system, and as with most GM cars, the Buick's air conditioner cools the car like a meat locker.
Then, there's the matter of the big teenager. Even before my son was 6 feet 2, his knees were poking through the seat back of my Accord. I tried driving a few SUVs, such as a Ford Explorer, and had the same space problem. With my LeSabre seat positioned for maximum front legroom, passengers in the rear still have plenty of space.
And theft? Forget it -- almost nobody steals a LeSabre. So the LeSabre is remarkably cheap to insure, giving me the benefit of the safety record of the retirees who own most Buicks.
No question, it is an old person's car. The average LeSabre buyer is over 60, meaning it's the last car many people will own.
But if you want a real bargain, consider a used LeSabre. Many used LeSabres are treated with extreme care and with hardly any miles on the odometer.
Buicks have been on the road for more than 100 years. The LeSabre is produced in Hamtramck, a city within Detroit that once had the largest Polish population outside Warsaw.
If you cheer for underdogs, you might like Billy Durant, the man who championed the Buick brand and then founded GM. Durant eventually lost everything and later ran a bowling alley in the shadows of the Buick factories that once employed 70,000 workers in Flint, Mich.
Buick pretty much left Flint, though the factory that makes the LeSabre's 3800 engine still is there, said Larry Gustin, Buick public relations manager.
"The LeSabre is the quintessential Buick," Gustin said. Translated from Midwest speak, I think that means: Wouldn't you really rather have a Buick?