The formula is simple: Do everything well, even if nothing spectacular.
That's why Buick celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2003, and does so with a full-size LeSabre Celebration Edition rather than a cake.
You might expect that '03 would have been a great year to bring out a new LeSabre or Park Avenue. Or maybe a Regal if not a Century.
Of course, a new Century might not have been all that fitting because it's scheduled to go away soon as a separate model and become an option package on the next-generation Regal for '05.
Oh well, at least Century made the first century.
But we digress.
Word is that when Bob Lutz arrived and took over advance product development at General Motors, one of his first tasks was to survey vehicles planned by each division.
When Lutz visited the Buick studios to see future products approved by Ron Zarrella, former head of GM's North American automotive operations, he ordered the designers chained to their computers and locked in their cubicles until their imaginations were resuscitated.
Lutz' philosophy is that a vehicle's design must have enough emotion to entice a human being to become indebted for 24 to 48 months to satisfy his or her passion.
Before Lutz arrived, Buick's advance products stirred emotion, but, it has been said, the emotion was melancholy. So future products, such as the next-generation LeSabre and Regal, were pushed back a year while others, such as the open-top Bengal tribute to Buick ad spokesman/golfer Tiger Woods, were shelved.
So rather than an all-new vehicle to commemorate 100 years in the business for '03, you'll have to settle for a LeSabre with body-colored lower fascias/rocker-panel moldings and chrome-plated aluminum wheels.
Doesn't get the heart palpitating, but it could be worse. Just ask Oldsmobile.
But we digress again.
Reportedly Buick's game plan calls for the next-generation LeSabre/Regal due out for the '05 model year, with Regal up early, LeSabre later in the year. And a final decision has to be made on the LaCrosse concept replacing the Park Avenue after '05. With Olds going out of business, Buick reportedly will inherit the Silhouette minivan for '06--with a new name.
Still to be determined is whether Buick will add a new sedan/sport-utility crossover originally dubbed Centurion. The concept, renamed Centieme, French for 100, will be on this year's auto-show circuit to test public reaction to an all-wheel-drive machine with three rows of seats. First thing showgoers should do is petition GM to hire someone sober to pick new names.
To give Buick a token new product until reinforcements arrive, a V-8 powered Rainier midsize sport-ute companion to the Rendezvous will bow as an '04 model next fall. It's built off the midsize Chevy TrailBlazer, not the extended length EXT version with three r ows of seats.
We tested the '03 LeSabre Celebration Edition. Styling is Buick conservative. Two-tone seats and chrome plated wheels do little to liven up the look.
But LeSabre is function over flash.
To sum up, it is big, roomy, comfortable and quiet, just like it has been year after year after year.
Front- and rear-seat room is cavernous, as is the trunk, which will hold not only the golf clubs, but perhaps even the electric cart as well.
Smooth ride and precise handling, too. Smooth ride isn't surprising, because you'd expect--no, demand--that in a premium sedan. The precise handling is a pleasant benefit, considering LeSabre is not just a premium sedan, but a really big, full-size premium sedan that you'd expect to float in corners and turns. It stands its ground.
Of course, the addition of StabiliTrak helps. That's the Cadillac stability-control system that keeps you pointed in the right direction and revents lateral wandering to avoid slip, slide or skid regardless of road surface.
LeSabre is a full-size sedan able to climb inclines, merge swiftly into traffic and pass gray hairs slumbering in the center lane, yet it delivers 20 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway, a rating some vehicles half its size would love to carry on their window sticker.
The 3.8-liter, 205-horsepower V-6 teamed with 4-speed automatic delivers ample power, though some would argue that a supercharged V-6 would be even more desirable. You have to move up to the Park Avenue to get one.
The Celebration package also adds a lot of fluff items, such as two-tone leather-trimmed seats, memory seats and mirrors, 16-inch chrome-plated wheels, redundant turn signals in the sideview mirrors, and head-up display to flash such information as vehicle speed in a screen along the bottom of the windshield in front of the driver.
Don't know how well those redundant turn signals do in warning motorists behind that you are about to turn, but from the driver's seat, they look like beacons that quickly catch your attention.
The head-up display allows drivers to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Though a benefit for old and young drivers alike, Buick said another goal for HUD is to add even more information because it then can eliminate gauges from the instrument panel.
An extra-cost item on the Celebration is XM satellite radio that offers 100 channels. In keeping with the character of the car being driven, we set the dial to tunes from the '50s, though you can move up through the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s or lock into rap, an easy sing-along because nearly all the words are only four letters.
The LeSabre Limited sedan starts at $30,650. Add $1,885 for the Celebration package.
Standard equipment includes dual-stage front air bags and dual side bags, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, power windows/mirrors/locks/seats, traction control, OnStar, automatic leveling suspension, rear window defogger, remote keyless entry, moisture-sensing wipers, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD changer and heated seats.
Only item added was the XM radio at $325, plus freight at $710.
LeSabre has a reputation as one of GM's most bulletproof cars. Change the oil, and it runs forever. Only time you bring it back to the dealership is to trade it in on a new one. You'll just have to wait a couple more years until that's possible.