By Jeremy Cato
General Motors Corp. came within a whisker of getting all the quality issues just exactly right when the Buick LeSabre was completely restyled and reengineered for the 2000 model year.
But don’t believe me; look at the evidence. Since 2000, there has been only one Transport Canada safety recall on the LeSabre. And the handful of noteworthy service bulletins (see Buyer’s Alerts) indicates there have been few non-safety issues for owners to worry about.
Compare that to the Toyota Avalon, a recognized quality leader in near-luxury sedans. Since 2000, there has been just one Avalon safety recall, too. And the list of significant service issues is similarly short.
What this means is this: If you’re looking for a nearly new large sedan with a lot of bells and whistles and excellent head restraints, the LeSabre is a good buy.
Again, look at the numbers: according to the Canadian Red Book, a three-year-old LeSabre is fetching about 56 per cent of its original value. Thus for somewhere in the low-$20,000s, you should be able to find a well-equipped LeSabre out there – perhaps one coming off lease. Talk to your dealer.
In the meantime, some background. Because it’s important to differentiate the 2000 car from the 1999 model. For 2000, the re-made LeSabre arrived bigger, roomier, more comfortable and more pleasant to drive than the model it replaced.
And that arrival was none too soon. Aside from a bit of freshening in the mid-1990s, the LeSabre hadn’t been restyled and reengineered since 1991. A nine-year lifecycle is two lifetimes in a car business where most high-profile imports are re-invented as quickly as every three years.
In any case, 2000-and-newer LeSabre’s offer very good, very stable ride quality, albeit with a bit of nose dive when you brake hard and some body roll if you whisk into corners too quickly. Overall, though, this is a pretty solid car. You could do worse on an 800-kilometre trek, or on a trip to the mall or the office.
Highlights of the 2000 re-do include:
- Side mirrors at least 50 per cent larger and placed more effectively than the 1999 car
- Large, easy-to-read instruments and controls.
- Seats that are well-padded and offer good support under the thigh. Not a lot of side bolstering, mind you.
- A cabin filled with pockets and cargo holds, and cupholders, too.
- A big trunk with a back-seat pass-thru ready-made for golf clubs and carts.
On the safety front, the LeSabre for 2000 was given both front and seat-mounted side air bags, anti-lock braking and optional traction control. The air bags were given a stored gas/solid propellant as an inflator, rather than the red-hot sodium-azide inflator common in most air bags in cars of this age. Crash test numbers are good. Note standard theft and battery rundown protection.
But the most interesting safety feature the LeSabre offers is a whiplash protection system that in a rear impact absorbs energy and “pockets” front seat passengers while the head restraints rotate to cushion heads that are flopping backwards. It’s quite a simple mechanical device, but it works pretty well.
As for styling, back in the fall of 1999, then-chief designer Bill Porter described the LeSabre’s 2000 looks as the difference “between a smile and a frown.”
“We gave it a little shot of steroids, to make it a more muscular design,” said Porter, noting the proportions and balance of the new car are much improved over the model it replaces. Read less chrome and a curvier body.
And under the hood? Since model year 2000, all LeSabres – Custom and Limited — have come with GM’s venerable 3800 Series II V6 engine. In the LeSabre it puts out 205 horsepower, which is more than enough oomph. This is a very reliable engine, with low emissions and decent fuel economy.
The LeSabre is a pretty good value when you consider features for price. Factor in a history of reliability and you’ve got a pretty decent used car here.