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Expert Reviews 1 of 3
By Jim Mateja
March 15, 1992
Used to be that you knew it was time to buy a Buick when your physician put you on a soft-food diet. Buicks were ugly, but they were big. Styling was immaterial, because most owners wore bifocals, anyway. Besides, most owners didn`t care what the
car looked like as long as it weighed 6,000 pounds and offered them lots of protection when they accidentally bumped into other cars in the lots on senior citizens` outings. There were two reasons Buick catered to the same crowd as AARP: The cars
were so expensive you had to save for 65 years to afford one, and, equally important, the car division was run by general managers who were but a step from Medicare themselves. The young guys ran Chevrolet and Pontiac, the geriatrics ran Oldsmobile and
Buick. A Buick still is expensive. You might not have to save 65 years to afford one, but the average Joe or Jane on the street would have to allow 60 months to pay for one. The high cost still keeps a Buick out of the hands of the middle class,
which is in keeping with GM`s philosophy of starting blue-collar workers out in a Chevy and letting them move up to a Buick when they earn enough to sport a white collar. Buick now is run by a gentleman named Ed Mertz, whose claim to fame is that
he was only 49 when he became the division`s general manager and turned 55 only last week-barely the age of puberty in the traditional Buick sense. What Mertz has meant to Buick is measurable in terms of increased sales and, more importantly,
increased quality. Perhaps GM management erred in naming the relatively young Mertz to run Buick in 1986 because he was a graduate of Norte Dame, and therefore a Golden Domer. Someone must have thought that referred to his age, not his school, and let the
youth slip into the prestigious spot by mistake. Whatever, Buick never has had it so good, and neither have consumers, since Mertz took over. We`ve had the opportunity to test drivea pair of Buicks, the LeSabre and the Park Avenue Ultra,
the division`s biggest and most expensive offerings. These are very good cars. Oddly enough, however, though the Ultra-as the name implies-is the top- of-the-line model, we favor the LeSabre. Perhaps the main reason is that the LeSabre starts at
$20,775 and the Ultra at $28,780, roughly an $8,000 spread. If the Ultra offered $8,000 more car or the LeSabre $8,000 less car, then there would be no contest. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two cars is that the LeSabre comes with the
3.8-liter, 170-horsepower V-6 engine teamed with 4-speed automatic, and the Ultra comes with the same 3.8-liter V-6 engine and 4-speed automatic, but it has a supercharger to boost h.p. to 205. The 3.8 is one of our favorite GM engines in terms
of performance. With downsizing and lopping pounds and inches from the big GM cars, the 3.8-liter V-6 was able to handle the task of what had become the full-size car.
Some owners still would like to see a 600-h.p. V-8 under the hood, but unless 25- cent-a-gallon gas returns, they`ll have to accept a 170-h.p. V-6. Suffice it to say a V-6 will move 3,000 pounds as well as the V-8 used to move 6,000. Buick helped
pioneer turbocharging at GM. Turbos slowly have given way to superchargers. Both systems are designed to drive a turbine that forces an extra fuel/air dose into the combustion chambers. The turbocharger employs exhaust gases to drive that turbine, and
the supercharger is belt-driven, meaning no wait for the exhaust gases. With a turbocharger, you experience lag time while the exhaust gases go to work. The supercharger kicks in as soon as you hit the pedal and gives you an immediate shot of
energy, so you can enjoy the power bursts of a V-8. The supercharger lets you slip away from the light with more authority because once it kicks in, it`s as if the afterburner was lit. You have the ability to kick the pedal and gl
ide out quickly into the passing lane, overtake the slowpoke and give the slower traveler a glimpse of your taillights as you move down the roadway looking for another target to overtake. It means the engine won`t sputter or cough midway up the hill
because you have power in reserve when needed. An added benefit is that the LeSabre without supercharger is rated at 18 miles per gallon city/28 m.p.g. highway, and the Ultra with the supercharger is rated at 17/27, only 1 m.p.g. less in city and
highway driving. Power is one thing, a suspension system that can handle it another. The LeSabre and Ultra pass muster on the ability to coddle the occupants without pampering them. Softly sprung suspensions bordering on mushy had been the
trademark of Buick luxury cars. After 30 or 40 years behind the wheel, Buick owners were tired of being jostled and wanted to be caressed. Engineers catered to them. Springs and shocks were made of Jell-O. Today, the LeSabre and Ultra sport
dynaride suspension as standard, a combination of the right up-and-down play to keep occupants from jarring their teeth (not necessarily store-bought anymore), with the right side-to-side control to provide almost Pontiac Grand Prix-like grip of the
pavement in corners and turns. Safety, after all, means keeping control of the vehicle, and one way to do that is to have the final say in which direction the vehicle travels when you move the steering wheel. To the above-average suspension, the
LeSabre and Ultra we drove added gran touring suspension with automatic level control and 16-inch wheels, rather than the standard 15-inch, for even more road-holding capability. The only problem we experienced in both cars is that they came with
leather seats. Leather, as we`ve long said, is cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer and more slippery in making side-to-side maneuvers at any time. LeSabre started at $20,775. Standard equipmentincluded a driver-side air bag, power brakes
with anti-lock, power steering, power windows with driver- side express down, electric rear-window defogger, tilt steering, intermittent wipers, pass-key theft deterrent (meaning the key is coded so it works only in the ignition), 15-inch steel-belted
radials, deluxe wheel covers, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with digital clock, front and rear reading lights, dual body-color mirrors with left remote/right manual, clearcoat paint and trip odometer. Our test car came with a prestige option
package running $2,611 and including power seats, power door locks, remote keyless entry (press the key fob to lock/unlock the doors), cruise control, dual driver/front seat passenger air-conditioning controls, power antenna, upgraded radio with AM stereo
and cassette, dual power mirrors, lighted visor vanity mirrors, bodyside striping, door edge guards, remote trunk release, cornering lamps, locking wire wheel covers, whitewall tires
and convenience net in the trunk. Leather seats added $500, the gran touring suspension and aluminum wheels and leather-trimmed steering wheel (an odd package to say the least) added $484, a compact disc player added $264, and tachometer and
gauge package $138. With a $555 freight charge, the sticker read $25,327. The Ultra base price is $28,780. It had the same standard equipment as the LeSabre plus cruise control, upgraded electronic air-conditioning controls, power seats, automatic
level control, solar tinted glass, electric fuel filler and trunk release doors, upgraded radio with cassette, dual remote mirrors, lighted vanity mirrors and power door locks. The test car same with a luxury option package running $1,229 that
included power trunk pull-down, automatic power door locks, remote keyless entry, concert sound speakers, illuminated entry, twilight sentinel, cornering lamps, oil level monitors, power antenna, low-fluid and door-ajar reminders,
automatic day/night inside mirror, whitewall tires, door edge guards, four- note horn and convenience net in the trunk. An upgraded radio with AM stereo and disc player ran $394, the gran touring suspension with 16-inch blackwall tires and
leather-wrapped steering wheel ran $86. With a $600 freight charge, the sticker totaled $31,089. One final note to the folks at Buick about two changes we`d like to see: Get the headlight switch off the door and back on the dash where it belongs,
and please let the stylists design a front end that doesn`t have to use the `81 Century grille. Thank you. >> 1992 Buick LeSabre Wheelbase: 110.8 inches Length: 200 inches Engine: 3.8 liter, 170 h.p. V-6. Trhway. Base price: $20,775.
Strong point: No longer a car just for the geriatrics. Excellent performance, room and comfort. Above average suspension system. No need to spend $8,000 more on a Park Avenue Ultra. Weak point: Styling, though not deadly, isn`t much better than dull.
Place the headlight button back on the dash where it belongs and get it off the door. For $25,000 no passenger side air bag? >>