New Car/Review

Buick

The 2000 Buick Le Sabre Limited, A great way to enter the new Millennium

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide

by Larry Weitzman

Buick Full Line Video footage (10:07)

The Le Sabre nameplate has been around for over 40 years. It was first introduced in 1959 along with the Invicta, and Electra. Only the Le Sabre has survived. In that year it was powered by a 364 cubic inch V-8 (6.0L) that was offered in two versions, 250 gross hp and 300 gross hp. But do not let those high numbers fool you. Prior to 1959, Buick used the names of Special, Century, Super and Roadmaster. Special continued in 1961 when that moniker was attached to the Buick small car and the first production V-6 used in the United States. Buick went on to become the industry leader in V-6 production.

The 2000 Le Sabre is a brand new car, with very little shared with its brethren. The styling is evolutionary as the new Le Sabre looks like an improved design of the prior car. But there are subtle styling nuances and significant changes. The windshield has a new, softer rounded look as does the back light. The profile has a longer, sleeker more curvaceous look. Overall, its stylish without being outrageous. Classy, with understated elegance.

But looks can be deceiving. This new Le Sabre is actually shorter by about an inch, taller by about an inch and narrower by the same amount over the previous generation. The new body is 200.0 inches long by 73.5 inches wide and it rides on a very long 112.2 inch wheelbase (up by 1.4 inches over the last model). Is it just a coincidence that the 2000 Le Sabre is exactly 200.0 inches long?

The body structure has improved bending rigidity, up 27 percent and significantly improved torsional rigidity, up 62 percent. This equates to an even quieter ride with markedly improved handling.

Inside is also all new. The panel has a new look as does the rest of the interior. The new design has a large speedo directly in front of the driver with a good size tach to the left and temp and fuel gauges sharing an equal size hole to the right. In the center of the panel is the superb sounding CD/Stereo with the simple to use electronic AC controls below. A separate passenger temp control is located on the right door armrest. This is one of the best Buick panels and although somewhat similar to the Regal, it is more spacious and less confining. The leather steering wheel contains controls for the radio and cruise.

To the left of the tach are the buttons that control the driver information and trip computer with readout in the tach hole. The entire dash is covered in a soft dense material as are the door panels and parts of the lower dash. On the safety side of the equation, besides having driver and passenger airbags, the Le Sabre comes standard with side impact air bags.

But one of the best part of the Le Sabre's quality are the seats. I'll say it again, Buick knows how to design and construct seats. Not only are they great looking and done in rich, thick leather (a bargain option at $735), they simply cradle you in softness. These are great seats. They are big, supportive and do a surprisingly good job at holding you in place during spirited driving. Buick calls them "catcher mitt" seating. They are designed to absorb energy and pocket the pelvic area and lower back to prevent injury. I call them sublime and a great place to listen to the 49er's.

They can be adjusted in umpteen different ways and the lumbar control system would make any chiropractor happy. Even my wife remarked about their incredible comfort. I still think Buick ought to eliminate the non functioning center console. It just doesn't fit with the car. The split 55/45 bench setup is just as comfortable with more flexibility and it's better looking.

In the rear seating area you will be greeted with more of the same. This is a true five passenger car (six with the front bench which I recommend) with leg and hip room approaching limo proportions. The rear seats are big and offer great support for the long haul.

Next is the huge trunk. Buick says it's 18 cubic feet. I climbed in just to check it and then laid out sideways. I could camp in this trunk, maybe even set up housekeeping. I kept looking for the shower stall. It comes with a pass through for skis or other long skinny things.

Under the hood you will find Buick's venerable, OHV 3.8L V-6, a carry over from they prior model. It's mated to GM's seamless four speed automatic. In it's current form it produces 205 net hp at 5,200 rpm and 230 lbs-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. This is a great motor that is torquey, compact, economical, quiet and bulletproof. Balance shafts make it quiet and unobtrusive with only a hint of throaty growl being evident under hard acceleration to give away its performance capabilities. When Buick first developed this engine, it put out only 110 hp or about half of what it produces now. It is simply amazing how this engine design developed into one of the best V-6 powerplants in the world.

And it does perform. 0-60 averaged a snappy 8.4 seconds. Passing performance was also very quick with 50-70 mph acceleration dashes averaging 5.5 seconds. Up hill will do little to slow up this Buick with 50-70 mph bursts being completed in just 7.2 seconds. This Buick is stealthy quick. What the numbers do not show is the strong part throttle responsiveness of the Le Sabre. It was hard to stay out of the go pedal. Part throttle acceleration in second gear from 40 to 60 was very satisfying. If you think the 1959 300 hp Le Sabre was fast, then this new Le Sabre is a rocket ship capable of escape velocities. 0-60 times for the '59 were in the area of 10 seconds flat and one passing performance number I was able to find was 40-60 in 5.4 seconds (the 2000 would do 40-60 in about 5 seconds flat).

But the best part of the drive train is its fuel stinginess. Even though the EPA rates the Le Sabre at 19/30 mpg city/highway, I found at a steady 70 with the engine only turning 2,050 rpm, the computer constantly put numbers up in the low 30's. At 65 mph it fluctuated between 32-35 mpg. I averaged about 23 mpg during my test period with about 30% on the freeway. With some restraint I would expect about 24-26 mpg in El Dorado County. That is simply amazing for a 3,590 pound vehicle with this kind of performance and comfort. In contrast, the '59 Le Sabre probably could muster about 10-12 mpg around town and maybe 17-20 mpg on the road, on premium fuel of course.

Stopping is accomplished by four wheel discs with the front binders being ventilated. Antilock is standard. Pedal feel is strong and powerful. The system works in conjunction with optional full range traction control (available separately for $175 or with an option package) which operates at any speed by sensing drive wheel slippage and then reducing power to that wheel and if necessary, braking. It would perform well in the winter conditions of El Dorado County. The stopping power of a '59 Le Sabre, by comparison, would be the equivalent of trying to stop the Queen Mary at 30 knots by dragging your foot.

Even more surprising is the New Le Sabre's road competence. My test vehicle had the optional Gran Touring suspension which includes bigger brakes (11.9 inches versus 10.9 inches), larger 16 inch polished alloy wheels shod with touring tires (meaty 225/60's), slightly stiffer spring rates, revised shock valving, variable ratio power steering, higher final drive ratio to compensate for the bigger tires (3.05 versus the standard 2.86), revised bushing improvements, and antiroll bars front and rear. Also thrown in with the package is a, leather steering wheel with remote controls for the sound system and cruise. This package can be purchased for a paultry $185 and maybe the best option value in the automobile industry.

This package has no discernable effect on the ride quality (it rides so good, it even eliminates bott dots, those pesky bumpy things in lane dividers) but it sharpens the handling to the point of being sporty and accurate. Ponderosa's washboard surface had no deleterious effect on its occupants, the Le Sabre quelling any discomfort and noise. The body remained tight and secure.

The independent rear suspension kept the rear in planted when encountering sharp, bumpy 90 degree corners at speed. Green Valley and Latrobe Road when driven at the speed limit required little effort to hold its line. There was some body roll, but it was minimal. I was never able to get the Le Sabre to the point of understeer, it always felt benign. The steering was accurate with a feel that I come to expect in more sporting sedans. Transitions in the "esses" will put a smile on any driver's face and high speed sweepers were a piece of cake. No doubt the new body rigidity and trick suspension has a lot to do with the Le Sabre's noticeably improved feel and confidence. This Le Sabre is not only a pleasure but it is fun to drive. Buick has done its homework in designing this new offering.

On the highway this car shines. Quiet is an understatement. The engine is neither felt nor heard. The ride while well controlled, offers an uncanny smoothness and a pin-drop, quiet cabin. The Gran Sport suspension option eliminates tar strips, expansion joints and float. It is serenity on the highway. Beethoven would be a good choice for the CD, although lately Natalie Imbruglia sounds pretty good.

Pricing is another strong point. My test vehicle stickered for $26,695 plus six options. All except one were important. The Prestige option package adds traction control, trick radio with CD and cassette, moisture sensing wipers, universal transmitter and more. It adds $715 to the price. Leather seats adds $735 (a bargain). Heated seats and mirrors were $260 (a must). The Gran Touring package is the best deal in motoring at $185. Memory seats were $145 and the non operating center console was $70 (save the $70 and go out and have a great dinner. You'll be glad you did. The total with $615 in destination was $29,420.

However, the base model lists for $22,890. Standard equipment includes power windows, 4 wheel discs with antilock, keyless remote and more. Add the prestige package for $2,298 and the Gran Touring option for $185 and you've got a pretty slick ride for just over 25 big ones. That's a lot of car for the money. You can add leather for only $695 more.

Thompson's Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Jeep has a great selection of the new Le Sabre's for inspection and testing. If you have never given Buick a thought, you will be surprised that you do not have to be a doctor to drive one. Have doctors always known something about Buicks the rest of us haven't? My dad wasn't a doctor and I grew up with four Buicks, but my dad's excuse was that he was a genius (at least I thought so).

SPECIFICATIONS 

Price                              $22,890 to about $30,000
Engine
3.8L, OHV V-6                      205 hp @ 5,200 rpm
                                   230 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission                       4 speed electronically controlled automatic

Configuration                      Transverse mounted front engine, front wheel drive

Dimensions
Wheelbase                          112.2  inches
Length                             200.0  inches
Width                              73.5   inches
Height                             57.0   inches
Weight                             3,590  pounds
Track (front/rear)     62.3   inches/62.3 inches
Fuel Capacity                     17.5   gallons
Trunk  Capacity                18.0   cubic feet

PERFORMANCE
0-60 8.4   seconds
50-70 5.5   seconds
50-70 uphill 7.2   seconds

Top speed                     0-60 8.4   seconds
50-70 5.5   seconds
50-70 uphill 7.2   seconds
Top speed                         
Electronically limited to 107 mph, speeds approaching 125 mph would be possible, but 107 mph will be 
slowed to 0 with about 30 days at the gray bar hotel to think about it, or take a nice drive to Montana

Fuel Economy            
EPA 19/30 mpg city/highway. 
My estimate is about 24-26 in El Dorado County and 30-34 on the highway at legal speeds.  My 66 VW 
couldn't even dream about numbers like that.

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