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Expert Reviews 2 of 6
By Richard Truett
May 30, 1996
The 1997 Buick LeSabre is the best car in a small and shrinking class. As demand continues to shrink, full-size cars are disappearing from automakers' lineups. Earlier this year Chrysler dropped the New Yorker, and at the end of the '96 model run,
Chevrolet will bid farewell to the Caprice and Impala SS and Buick will phase out the Roadmaster. That leaves the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis and Chrysler LHS as the only competitors to Buick's LeSabre and several other GM offerings.
In a week I logged nearly 1,000 smooth, quiet and trouble-free miles in Buick's '97 LeSabre. I used it around town, then chauffeured my parents and sister on a 700-mile road trip from Orlando to Miami and back. I know of no other full-size sedan
that has a better reputation for quality. According to the most recent edition of Consumer Reports, the LeSabre has a nearly flawless reliability and repair record. And I know of no other full-size sedan that can deliver as much as 32 mpg on the
highway. At nearly $28,000, LeSabre is not inexpensive, but in light of LeSabre's ample equipment, reliability, performance, fuel economy and comfort, it does offer decent value. The slightly restyled '97 version, which is powered by General
Motors' marvelous 3.8-liter V-6, should help ensure that the latest version of the LeSabre stays ahead of the pack. PERFORMANCE, HANDLING The heart of any car is its engine, and the LeSabre's engine is a real sweetheart. I'm convinced there are
not many vehicles you can buy that have a better one. Named as one of the 10 best engines earlier this year by Ward's Automotive Reports, the LeSabre's 205-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 delivers silky-smooth performance. It has the power of a V-8, but it
sips fuel like a four-cylinder. What's really amazing is that Buick engineers have been able to extract such a high level of smoothness, performance and economy without using four valves per cylinder; LeSabre's 3.8-liter uses only two. Four-valve
or ''multivalve'' engines are more complex (that is, they have more moving parts) but they generally run smoother and more efficiently than regular engines. That's because the added valves enable fuel and exhaust to flow through the engine more
efficiently. In other words, the engine ''breathes'' better with four-valves per cylinder. Yet somehow, Buick's mechanics were able to fine-tune the 3.8 to perform as if it had the extra valves. There's another good thing about Buick's V-6: It
doesn't require a tuneup until it reaches 100,000 miles. In city driving, the LeSabre's brisk acceleration at low speeds and its smooth-shifting transmission make it easy to cope with heavy traffic. On the road, LeSabre breezes down the highway
effortlessly. On the trip to Miami, I set cruise control at 70 mph once I got on Florida's Turnpike. With the air conditioner running and four adults on board, the LeSabre returned 32 mp
g on the least expensive grade of gas. Our test car came with the optional ($337) Gran Touring suspension package, an excellent value. It adds 16-inch tires, alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a variable speed magnetic-hydraulic
steering system. These things do not make the LeSabre a sports sedan, but they do sharpen the car's handling. Near Miami, someone in a Cadillac suddenly swerved into my lane. I barely avoided the collision as I stepped on the brake pedal hard and
turned the wheel quickly. The LeSabre responded beautifully. With anti-lock brakes, you don't have to worry about flipping the car if, at high speed, you apply full braking power and turn the wheel at the same time. Turning the steering wheel while
braking hard would cause many cars without ABS to flip. In corners, the LeSabre remains poised, though the body does lean a bit. The steering system feels terrific. The wheel turns exceptionally smoothly, and the car responds instantlya
dpredictably. LeSabre remains very quiet and easy to control over s mall and large bumps. It's a car that you immediately feel comfortable and safe driving. FIT AND FINISH Although our LeSabre upholds Buick's reputation for building premium
high-quality autos, there are some parts of the car that need improvement. Let's start with the instrument panel. Most cars have abandoned squared-off, layered, bulky dash designs in favor of a more fluid-looking European layout. Typically that means
the instrument panel is housed in a stylish, curving one-piece dash. Indeed, even the LeSabre's stablemates - the Oldsmobile LSS and Pontiac Bonneville - have gone to the new design. But the LeSabre still has a bulky three-tiered dash. In fact, it
gives the interior a very dated look. Because of the dash design, the analog instruments are small- too small. The old-fashioned chrome-plated switches for the electric windows, mirrors, power seats and door locks are located on the door panels. They
are not lighted, making it difficult to find the proper switch in the dark. On the plus side, the LeSabre gets high marks for its front and rear leather bench seats, which provide ample support and are very comfortable on long drives. The dual
zone air conditioner may be one of the best in the industry. If you like the interior of your car as cold as a meat locker, the LeSabre's air conditioner will comply. Interior room, visibility and cargo space in the trunk also are excellent. For
1997, Buick stylists gave the LeSabre a more expressive front end. It works. The car conveys a sort of conservative demeanor. The accent lines on the hood, visible to driver and passenger, give the LeSabre a bit of character. More than once I found myself
tracing with my eyes the gently sweeping lines from the windshield to the front of the hood. Despite its somewhat bland dash, the 1997 LeSabre is one of the best cars I have tested this year. Truett's tip: Buick's classy LeSabre delivers
a smooth, quiet and comfortable ride. It's a high-quality automobile that is nicely equipped and a pleasure to drive.