Buick LeSabre keeps its formula moving forward

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

With change all around us, it is reassuring to find familiar things with which to identify. It’s nice, occasionally, in our fast-paced world to have some constants, some things that have always been there, things from the past that have survived into the present.

In the world of automobiles, one of those things is the Buick LeSabre. It has been around in sedan form for years, the embodiment of the old-style comfortable, large, soft-riding car that we knew as teens and that our parents knew as family-raising adults.

The LeSabre has the distinction of being America’s best-selling full-sized car for nearly a decade, and to General Motors’ credit it has continually upgraded the sedan inside and out without sacrificing its general shape or without disturbing its friendly dashboard layout and switchgear arrangement.
The owner of a LeSabre can relax in his cushy environment as the auto world is turned upside down with new, revolutionary styling and space-age gadgets that seem at first blush impossible to comprehend.

Buick has brought the LeSabre up to modern standards with the latest safety features, a full array of power equipment, horsepower and torque upgrades, some transmission advancements and communications improvements. In fact it is nothing like that Buick that we knew as kids, it is so much better.

Yet the Buick is still familiar to the man or woman who has owned a series of Buicks through the years.

The LeSabre continues to do best what it has always done best - carry up to six passengers on soft, living-room-like seats while soaking up road imperfections and offering a pleasing amount of power.

It’s comfortable. It’s stylish. It can haul four retired adults to dinner and a show without a fuss. It’s one of General Motors’ most dependable cars. It has ranked near the top of the J.D. Power and Associates customer survey for several years.

That’s why Buick continues to sell well over 100,000 copies a year. Although sales have been slightly off in 2003, Buick is still on a pace to sell 130,000 LaSabres before year’s end.
Our test car was a 2004 Buick LeSabre Limited. And Buick fans will probably be happy to note that the 2004 edition is virtually unchanged from the 2003 model.
This marks the fifth model year of the current iteration, which was introduced in 2000. The rounded styling theme, with attractive curves and a high trunk, has worn well and looks as modern today as it did upon its introduction five years ago.

The familiar Buick oval waterfall grille is securely in place and you can bet when Buick next redesigns the LeSabre it will look much like the current edition.

There are only two models to pick from ‹ the Custom and the Limited - and a package option called the Celebration Edition, which is carried over from 2003.
Another selling point of the LeSabre is its attractive starting price of $26,470. Without adding options, the Custom includes such desirable features as antilock brakes, power windows, mirrors and doorlocks, keyless entry, power driver’s seat, air conditioning and a stereo with CD player.

The Limited enters luxury territory taking the price up to $32,245 adding such things as side-impact airbags, traction control, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, leather-trimmed seats, upgraded stereo and the OnStar communications system.

Our test sedan included the Celebration package for $1,950. For that additional cash outlay, we gained 16-inch chrome-platted wheels, embroidered leather-trimmed seats, driver’s memory package, StabiliTrak (GM’s electronic vehicle stability control system) and heads-up windshield speedometer display.

Inside the LeSabre is where GM has made the most changes over the years, many on the positive side of the ledger.

Back in the mid-90s, the LeSabre was criticized for its lack of storage space, absence of rear-seat cupholders, inferior interior lighting, a hard-to-reach radio and confusing look-alike switchgear.

Buick engineers have listened to the customer and remedied most of those criticisms. The stereo and climate controls are general easy to use. Virtually all the switchgear buttons are lighted for night use. Storage bins have been added to the dashboard. Cupholders are big and useable and back seat passengers have them as well.

Redundant steering wheel controls are very usable, and include cruise control. Cruise on the steering wheel is more convenient than on a stalk, as found in older model LeSabres.

What haven’t changed are the soft seats; nor the softer ride. Big, middle-aged and elderly bodies will sink into the chairs much like they would their favorite living room recliner.

Personally we have a problem with too soft seats as they tend to create back and neck problems on long trips. The available lumbar control helps to alleviate some of the problem, however. But firmer, form-fitting seats found in many cars these days offer more back support and are much preferred, in our opinion. But then we’re not a typical LeSabre buyer.

Back-seat passengers are also treated to soft comfort. And they can enjoy adequate leg and hip room, although not best in class. But when you figure the LeSabre is seven inches shorter than its upscale sibling, the Park Avenue, interior volume is excellent.

Trunk space at 18 cubic feet is smile-inducing, particularly when it comes time to load your foursome’s golf equipment. Four standard-sized bags will fit. Not many upscale sedans can match that feat.

All LeSabres are powered by General Motors’ venerable 3.8-liter V6 push-rod engine, which has been around longer than your college-age son. It still gets the job done in surprisingly good fashion both from a performance and an economic standpoint. More horsepower and torque have been built into the engine over the years and for 2004, the
V6 generates 205 horses and 230 pound-feet of torque.

The engine, perhaps a little more “raspy” sounding than some of its more modern competitors, pulls the car with the front wheels in excellent fashion.
A smooth-shifting 4-speed automatic delivers the power. And the kicker here is that the V6 delivers 20 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 on the highway on 87-octane gas.

Driving the LeSabre is a comfortable experience with highly-boosted power steering, nice for slow speeds. Road feel is adequate, and it’s easy to keep the Buick pointed in the right direction without much course correction needed on highway travel.

While the ride is as compliant as the old days, the new LeSabre is more stable in the turns and doesn’t display the nosedive of yore when hitting the brakes hard. A standard self-leveling suspension keeps the rocking and rolling in check.

One more note of interest to would-be buyers; the LeSabre has earned the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s “best pick,” in the large family class of cars. The National Highway Transportation Safety Association has rated the LeSabre with a perfect five stars for frontal impacts and four stars for side impacts.
Our test car, which included a moonroof and the XM satellite radio system, carried a bottom line of $34,865.

If you are looking for a comfortable family sedan that won’t break the bank, then the LeSabre should be on your short list. It is one of the most reliable, comfortable and safest new sedans offered.