Buicks are largely about tradition. And to uphold that tradition, Buicks have been, well, large. Large interiors, large engines, large amounts of lavish trim, softly suspended on a Saurian wheelbase, effortlessly pointed toward the far horizon.
The first LeSabre, which debuted in 1959, broke from Buick's traditionally massive style. It was long, low, and sleek; boldly sculptured but sparely trimmed, capped by a tight little greenhouse like the canopy on a fighter plane. But it brought all those other Buick virtues with it into a new era.
How appropriate then, that the current LeSabre upholds those same traditions in a far more challenging time. The days of 126-inch wheelbases and 6.0-liter V8's are surely gone forever. But the full-size comfort they provided, and the full-size values they conveyed, live on in LeSabre for 2002.
Buick LeSabre was totally redesigned for 2000, and acquired a longer list of standard and optional equipment for 2001. The equipment list expands again for 2002, but otherwise LeSabre remains unchanged.
From some angles LeSabre offers styling cues that would not look out of place on a Jaguar. Yet it retains a strong Buick identity, with nicely rounded edges and plenty of attractive curves. In profile, particularly, it features a nice curvy upturn along the rear doors, leading to a high trunk. It's a nice classic touch, fitting LeSabre's position as a premium sedan.
Up front rides a distinctive Buick grille that sits well forward, where it's almost part of the bumper (a look Buick pioneered in the 1940s). The headlights are well integrated into the sweep of the fenders.
Safety is important to LeSabre's image. Dual front airbags are a given, but LeSabre has side-impact airbags for the front seats, too. Anti-lock brakes are standard.
The front seat belts are mounted to the seat frame, so they move with the seat for greater comfort. The seats boast a relatively new design that the engineers like to call a "catcher's mitt." The seat back is much stiffer than usual; in an accident it holds the occupant in place while the headrest moves forward to lessen whiplash. It is especially effective in common low-speed, rear-end accidents, according to Buick.
The current LeSabre provides all the room, comfort, and practicality demanded of a full-size car today, with modern fuel efficiency and advanced safety features that have earned it a double five-star rating in U.S. government crash tests.
The LeSabre's dashboard looks fresh and modern, undulating across the width of the car in gentle, organic curves. A canopy over the instruments extends from the passenger side to the driver's door panel. This design gives the interior an open feeling and nicely integrates the door trim into the dashboard. A wide strip of faux wood trim extends along the door panels and across the center of the dash.
Round analog gauges are easy to read. At a touch of a button, the speedometer switches to kilometers per hour, which obviates the need for a second set of small kph numbers on the dial. The driver information center on the Limited features a digital readout that can display oil temperature, fuel consumption, tire pressure and other data.
A front bench seat is standard on the LeSabre, split 45/55 so the driver's side can be adjusted separately from the passenger seat. A bench seat does not usually provide as much support as a bucket seat, and the LeSabre's is no exception. Cover it in leather and you may find yourself sliding around on winding roads.
Our LeSabre Limited was equipped with the optional ($70) 45/45 separate seats and a center console with two large cupholders that spring out at the touch of a button. A large flat writing surface also flips out. It could prove useful for people who like to keep a notepad handy while on the road. But it sits at an awkward angle, and we found it difficult to use.
Wide doors allow easy access to the front and rear seats. Rear-seat passengers will find plenty of room. The current LeSabre is wider than pre-2000 models, but it still gets a bit tight with three adults in back. The rear-center armrest opens into the trunk to provide space for skis and other long objects.
The LeSabre is nothing like the big Buicks of the past. Historically, Buicks were fast in a straight line, but were softly sprung for a cushiony, isolated ride, and did not excel in roadholding.
The Buick LeSabre is no BMW, but the old floating sensation is gone. When you stab the brakes, the nose doesn't dive for the pavement. Standard self-leveling rear suspension keeps the ride consistent regardless of the number of passengers aboard. Our LeSabre Limited was equipped with the Gran Touring suspension. We did not try a base-suspension LeSabre, but we expect that it would offer reasonably good handling as well.
The LeSabre's 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6 is one of GM's best engines. It provides good performance, even against the LeSabre's substantial weight. Likewise, the electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission provides smooth shifting between gears. The brakes do a good job of stopping the LeSabre. ABS on all four wheels assures stops without drama.
LeSabre packs plenty of sound insulation for a quiet ride. Although not officially billed as a luxury car, it provides a more luxurious environment than most luxury cars of just a few years ago.
Limited buyers can choose a $730 Driver Confidence Package. In addition to self-sealing tires and a head-up instrument display, this package includes StabiliTrak, an electronic vehicle-stability system that Buick introduced in mid-2000. StabiliTrak helps keep the car on the correct line through a corner in slippery conditions by gently applying the brakes on one or more wheels. It cannot overcome the laws of physics, but it does add a margin of safety by partially correcting driver errors. The head-up display projects speed and other information onto the windshield in front of the driver's eyes.
Buick prides itself as a maker of premium American cars, and it has upheld that tradition with the 2002 LeSabre. For not much more than the price of a mid-size, LeSabre delivers nominal six-passenger capacity and many luxury conveniences. Its ride is as comfortable as you'd expect, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how nicely the LeSabre performs.
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