2003 Buick LeSabre Limited Celebration Edition
2003 Buick LeSabre Limited Celebration Edition. Click image to enlarge

by Richard Russell

There must be something to this. So I decided to check it out. After a couple of weeks and several hundred kilometres of driving a 2003 LeSabre, four features came readily to mind – quality, space, fuel mileage and value.

The quality is evident not only in terms of fit, finish, materials, rigid construction and the other normal measures, but statistically. The 2002 Buick LeSabre was ranked Best Full-Size car in initial quality by J D Power. Once again consumers voted as this survey is conducted among tens of thousands of owners and widely respected for its accuracy and thoroughness. There are few changes to the 2003 three version we tested, beyond adding more standard equipment to the base trim level.

2003 Buick LeSabre
2003 Buick LeSabre. Click image to enlarge

The inside of the LeSabre is massive by today’s standards. The front seat seemingly spans two time zones with the huge center armrest stowed in the upright position. The centre passenger will have to put his or her feet on the passenger side of the center tunnel but they will find more shoulder room than in anything this side of a limousine. Same for the centre rear passenger, although they have a little more choice as to where to put their feet. Not only is there stretch-out room for six thanks to an old-fashioned bench seat, the trunk will accommodate their detritus as well.

This is a big car, a very big car with an old overhead valve engine design. Despite having no high tech mechanicals or other tricks up its sleeve, the LeSabre is rated by Transport Canada as capable of delivering an astounding 38 miles per gallon on the highway and an even more-impressive 24 in the city. For the metric set, that’s 7.4 and 12 litres per 100 kilometres respectively although car shoppers who think metric are not high on the LeSabre intender list, this car tends to appeal to the more mature among us.

2003 Buick LeSabre Custom Sedan
2003 Buick LeSabre Custom Sedan

2003 Buick LeSabre Limited Sedan
2003 Buick LeSabre Limited Sedan
Click image to enlarge

Here’s the charm. This is a whole lot of car with the proven ability to last forever. It has way more room, yet costs less to run than most intermediate cars. And it also has all the luxury features of cars costing tens of thousands more. At $33,720, the LeSabre Custom has room for six and an impressive standard equipment list. The range-topping Limited version adds a number of features such as moisture sensing wipers, dual zone climate control, power passenger seat, upgraded sound system, side impact air bags, heated seats and mirrors, leather seating and trim, and still comes in under $40,000.

The bad news is that for people who enjoy driving, those who look for an excuse to find a twisty back road and go for a tire-shredding thrash, the LeSabre is about as exciting as watching grass grow. The steering is numb, the suspension and seats both too soft and the whole vehicle much too compliant for any enthusiastic motoring. The good news – in addition to the aforementioned quality, size, mileage and value is the LeSabre is a supremely comfortable car in which to cover long distances. That was and remains its original design and development goal. General Motors builds this car in huge quantities, to a standard most automakers can only envy. Massive numbers of consumers buy them, drive them for long distances, own them for long periods and then trade them in for another. One of the great buys on a used car lot is a LeSabre because it was likely traded merely to get a new one and has lots of life left. It’s hard to argue with a car that consistently outsells the competition, tops the quality ratings and has the largest number of repeat buyers in its class.

The LeSabre is based on the same W-body platform and shares many of its underbody components with the Pontiac Bonneville. The architecture was all new and significantly stronger in 2000 allowing it to exceed all applicable safety standards of the time – and since. Part of the credit for its amazing fuel mileage goes to the clever design of this chassis, which is several hundred pounds lighter than any sedan near this size without sacrificing strength or safety.

2003 Buick LeSabre Limited Celebration Edition
2003 Buick LeSabre Limited Celebration Edition
Click image to enlarge

The greasy bits include the venerable 3.8 litre V6 coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels. This engine was originally developed by and for Buick and has since gone on the fame and fortune (of the profit type) within the GM family thanks to its remarkable ability to sip fuel. With plenty of low end torque the engineers are able to specify a tall rear axle ratio to keep engine revs in the fuel sipping range at highway speeds, allowing the torque converter to maximize punch in the city – also at low revs. It thrives on regular fuel.

The suspension is via the ubiquitous struts at each corner – MacPherson design in front and Chapman in the rear. Braking is by disks at each wheel controlled by the latest generation ABS system. The standard wheel/tire combination is 15 inches in diameter and a healthy 215-mm cross-section.

For enthusiasts or snobs this may not be your cup of tea. But for the majority of consumers, emotion and driving dynamics play no role in the vehicle selection process. Those who want or need a big car would be well advised to put this atop their shopping list. It may not be your cup of tea, but if it were – you’d be hard pressed to find more bang for your buck.

Technical Data: 2003 Buick LeSabre Limited

Base price $39,165
Price as tested $40,315
Type 4-door, 6-passenger full-size sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.8 litre V6, OHV
Horsepower 205 @ 5200 rpm
Torque 230 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Curb weight 1629 kg (3591 lb.)
Wheelbase 2850 mm (112.2 in.)
Length 5080 mm (200.0 in.)
Width 1867 mm (73.5 in.)
Height 1448 mm (57.0 in.)
Trunk space 510 litres (18.0 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 12.0 l/100 km (24 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.4 l/100 km (38 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km

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