SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide
The year 2000 comes early for Buick with the introduction of the next generation of the Le Sabre. The Le Sabre is Buick's core model, and has been the best-selling full-sized sedan in the country for the past seven years. There can be considerable pressure for conservatism with that sort of success. Fortunately, Buick has resisted that pressure. Although it is a traditionally full-sized American five or six-passenger sedan like its predecessor, the 2000 Buick Le Sabre is an all-new car, and is much closer to the premium Park Avenue.
The 2000 Buick Le Sabre is built from the same platform "architecture" as the Buick Park Avenue and Riviera. It is stronger and more rigid than the old Le Sabre platform for a more solid feeling, quieter ride, and improved handling. A longer wheelbase adds stability on the road and room inside.
Two models of the new Le Sabre are offered, both powered by the familiar 3800 Series II V6 engine. The Custom is very well- equipped. The Limited adds comfort and convenience features including dual-zone automatic climate control with air filtration, a driver information center, power seats, a high-grade audio system, alloy wheels, and remote keyless entry. Plenty of options are available to bring a Le Sabre up to near-luxury levels, but at a very reasonable price, as I discovered with this week's test car.
In my driveway is a fully-equipped 2000 Le Sabre Limited. It's as smooth, quiet, roomy, and comfortable as expected. Thanks to the Gran Touring suspension and the venerable 3800 engine, it handles surprisingly well and moves quickly, with little thirst for gas. Buick is trying to attract younger buyers, and this Le Sabre should help. It has as much interior space as many medium-sized SUVs, and is far more comfortable.
APPEARANCE: At first glance, the new Le Sabre is recognizably a Buick, and easily mistaken for a Park Avenue. It is only slightly smaller than the Park, and has a very similar silhouette with a long, arched passenger cabin and high rear fenders. But the Le Sabre is less formal, with an oval chromed waterfall grille similar to that of the Century, and more rounded contours than those of the Park Avenue. The roof treatment is unusual when viewed from the front, high at the rain channels near the edges and then curved normally towards the center. Discreet chrome trim around the side windows, headlights, and full-width taillight applique provides definition. The Limited has a shoulder pinstripe and multi-spoke alloy wheels.
COMFORT: The new Le Sabre's interior is contemporary, elegant, and functional. Soft-touch surfaces on the doors and instrument panel enhance safety, as do the "Catcher's Mitt" front seats. Although a six- passenger seating configuration is standard, with cloth-covered front and rear contoured bench seats, my test car has the optional five- passenger interior, with power-adjustable, leather-upholstered front bucket seats and a useful multi-compartmented center console. True to the name, each front seat grips its occupant's posterior like a baseball in a glove - and will adjust to "catch" the passenger during a rear- impact collision. The instrument panel is hooded to reduce glare and improve instrument visibility. It does that, and important controls are well-placed. The steering-column-mounted shift lever keeps the floor clear. Both the climate control and audio systems are easy to use and work well. The rear seat has plenty of room for three real people, and adjustable air vents in the rear of the front console add to their comfort. The large trunk has easy, low-liftover access and a ski pass-through.
SAFETY: The 2000 Le Sabre's chassis uses safety-cage construction with front and rear crush zones. It has dual frontal depowered airbags and front side airbags. Energy-absorbing interior surfaces, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, daytime running lights, and high-retention front seats with self-aligning head restraints are some of the other safety features of the new Le Sabre.
ROADABILITY: My test Le Sabre has the "Gran Touring" suspension package, a highly-recommended option. It includes firmer suspension tuning, 16-inch alloy wheels with lower-profile touring tires, magnetic variable-ratio steering, and a lower axle ratio for improved response. Don't be put off by "firmer suspension tuning" - it's not at all a harsh "sports" suspension. The Gran Touring-equipped Le Sabre has a feel much like a contemporary European luxury car, with good suspension compliance for comfort, and good control. The overly-soft, poorly- controlled suspension of past American sedans is ancient history.
PERFORMANCE: The hood is new, but the engine underneath is familiar. It's the trusty Buick-developed 3800 Series II V6, in unsupercharged 205-horsepower form. It is a fine powerplant for the car, with fast throttle response at any speed, plenty of useable power, and little appetite for regular gasoline. According to the driver information center, around-town mileage is around 15 mpg (in mostly- stopped traffic), with 28 to 30 highway miles for each gallon. That translates to a highway cruising range of over 450 miles.
CONCLUSIONS: America's favorite full-sized sedan has just gotten better.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 26,695 Price As Tested $ 29,420 Engine Type 12-valve pushrod overhead valve 90-degree V6 Engine Size 3.8 liters / 231 cu. in. Horsepower 205 @ 5200 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 230 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 112.2 in. / 200.0 in. Curb Weight 3,591 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.5 Fuel Capacity 17.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P225/60 TR16 Firestone Affinity Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent semi-trailing arm with coil springs and electronic level control Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 30 / 21 0 to 60 mph 8.2 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Prestige option package - includes: auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo with steering wheel controls, moisture-sensing wipers, traction control, universal transmitter, power front seats $ 715 Taupe leather seating surfaces (includes 55/45 split front seat with storage armrest deleted below) $ 735 Heated front seats and outside mirror $ 260 Gran Touring package - includes: 3.05 axle ratio, Gran Touring suspension, blackwall P225/60R16 touring tires and aluminum wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, magnetic variable-assist power steering $ 185 Five-person seating - front bucket seats and convenience console $ 70 Memory seating and outside mirrors with power lumbar controls for driver $ 145 Destination charge $ 615