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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.
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.