1997 BUICK LESABRE LIMITED
New Car - 1997 Buick LeSabre Limited in Dubuque, Ia
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1997 Buick LeSabre ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Rewarding the loyalists.
The Buick LeSabre is a car with a loyal following. In the grand tradition of full-size American sedans, the LeSabre offers lots of room, plenty of power and a soft, quiet ride. It offers many of the same amenities as prestige luxury sedans, but in a more affordable package: lots of pampering for the price. Which is just what its cadre of loyal drivers want.
The car has changed a little over the years. Modern notions like front-wheel drive, an electronically controlled V6 engine, and traction control have crept into recent redesigns. LeSabre owners, though, have not been clamoring for more major changes. Quite the contrary.
So when Buick designers and engineers, ready to redesign the car for 1997, asked LeSabre owners what they wanted changed, they did not get a long list of demands. Indeed, they were urged not to mess up a good thing, and they listened.
In fact, the most noticeable changes they could point to were the new plastic moldings that keep errant grocery carts from dinging the doors and fenders. New halogen headlights. New end-release seatbelts. Very cautious.
No one is complaining, however. The result of the update is familiar, yet sophisticated, reliable and comfortable transportation. Buick likes to say the LeSabre offers peace of mind, and it does exactly that.
Up front, the LeSabre's luxury car ambitions are clear in the shine of Buick's large chrome waterfall grille. A chrome strip running all the way around the car accents the notion that this is well-to-do family transportation. This is also one of the few cars left that still uses real chrome door handles.
The thunk that comes when you slam those doors, or the car's sizeable trunk, is a reassuring sound. This is a solid car, well assembled, with high quality ratings. One senses it is also a car with few surprises.
The overall shape of the LeSabre is reminiscent of traditional full-size American family cars. The hood is long, with far less slope than more aerodynamic designs. The cabin is squarish with virtually no rake to the rear roof line. A sizeable portion of the car extends forward from the front wheels and back from the rear wheels. There's not much of Chrysler's cab-forward design influence here.
But Buick did achieve a more contemporary appearance with the flush wraparound headlights and trunk-wide rear lights and reflectors.
It comes in two models--the Custom and Limited. Prices start at $22,620, including destination, and our LeSabre Limited tester, which included traction control and the slightly stiffer Gran Touring suspension package, was just under $27,000.
Behind the steering wheel, we noticed LeSabre's cluster of somewhat small instruments beneath an otherwise graceful cowl. The tachometer and speedometer are placed in a long, narrow space between small gauges for engine temperature, oil pressure, and amperage.
In a car designed for mature drivers, we find this unusual. Big, easy-to-read instruments would seem a must. The instrument panel leaves the overall impression that the designers ran out of space for all the things they needed to include. Though the wipers and cruise control switches are conveniently located on the left stalk, the light switches, perched on the front edge of the driver's door, are not.
Higher up on the dash there's a narrow line of warning lights that extends all the way across the front of the car. This arrangment leads to a few anomalies. For example, when we engaged the cruise control a green repeater light blinked on in front of the passenger seat.
Buick product designers swear their thinking on this is drawn from the preferences of current LeSabre owners, who are not enthusiastic about the trend towards bigger displays, housed under rounded cowlings. However, we note that Buick has ignored the owners on this issue in the new Park Avenue, and hope to see the same changes in the next LeSabre redesign.
The cabin design imparts a feel of comfort and reassurance. Many armchairs are not as plush and comfortable as the front seats of the LeSabre. Fold up the center armrest and three adults can be fairly comfortable in either the front or the back; the car really does hold six, as promised. Rear seat space is simply vast.
Considering its price, the basic LeSabre's standard equipment list is average, with air conditioning, power windows and locks, tilt wheel and power driver's side outside mirror.
The LeSabre Limited includes many other comfort and convenience features, such as separate automatic climate controls for the driver and front-seat passenger, dual power mirrors and keyless remote entry.
Almost every conceivable luxury feature is available, including 6-way power seats, radio controls on the steering wheel and a head-up display that projects vehicle speed and other information on the lower part of the windshield so you don't have to look down. The luxury car touches extend to the interior with a strip of woodgrain running all along the doors and dash.
Safety features are up to date as well with dual airbags, standard antilock brakes and daytime running lights. A low-speed traction control system, a $175 option, can keep you going without sliding around on rain or snow-slick roads.
A few details feel like minor lapses in thought and taste. Some small sliding switches on the instrument panel for things like dimming the lights feel less than solid. The mylar chrome switches for the windows and power mirrors on the door blend less than ideally with the otherwise subdued interior.
But in general the LeSabre's fabrics and components impart a very solid, well-appointed character.
Comfortable, dependable, quiet transportation is what the LeSabre is designed to provide. As a result, the car's handling is only adequate, though the ride is plus. The 3.8-liter V6 engine, though, has been widely praised as one of the finest V6's you can buy, as has GM's standard four-speed automatic transmission.
As a result, the 205-horsepower LeSabre accelerates quickly enough to satisfy most family sedan buyers. You aren't the last away from every stoplight and overtaking a semi on a two-lane road is not an act of courage. The shifting is nearly unnoticeable. The gas mileage for a car of this size is extraordinary--19 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway.
You can spend a lot more without getting this kind of powertrain performance.
The LeSabre delivers a soft, quiet, comfortable ride that insulates its passengers from the tumult around them. On the freeway, the miles can slip by almost unnoticed.
It is far less at home on twisting, secondary roads. Even with the Gran Touring suspension, the body rolled in sharp turns and bounced up and down on uneven pavement.
Still, the LeSabre will get you where you are going as effortlessly as any of its competitors. Which is the essence of the traditional front-drive sedan.
Buick has modestly updated the traditional American family sedan without compromising the things its owners most admire. Its one concession to progress is front-wheel drive. But beyond that, the LeSabre represents two decades of refinement.
Some American cars are trying to attract younger buyers by marrying the traditional full-size concept with better handling, and sleeker, more contemporary styling.
The LeSabre, though, has stayed true to its tradition and has its own loyal following. The faithful are rewarded not only with what they like, but also with good value. LeSabre is more luxurious than many more expensive cars.
Such traditional character is easy to admire.
Options As Tested
Traction control, Gran Touring suspension.
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