Our view: 1998 Buick LeSabre

The Buick LeSabre is not one of autodom’s leading sex objects.

Its styling goes beyond conservatism and achieves yesteryear. The protruding chrome door handles are ’50s fugitives. Ozzie and Harriet would have loved the seats. The dashboard design speaks to us from a fresher grave.

And you know what? None of that anachronistic frumpiness has hurt the LeSabre’s popularity one bit. It continues to be America’s best-selling full-size sedan, a title it has held for the last five years.

The reason for its sales supremacy is that its clientele doesn’t care about the book’s cover. These people buy the car because it is roomy, reliable, comfortable, quiet — and a heck of a value. The LeSabre, which is very well-equipped in base form, starts at $22,465. The test car, a top-of-the-line Limited model loaded to the gunwales, weighed in at $28,386.

One of the first things you notice about the LeSabre is that it has been rigged for silent running. That quietude is accomplished in several ways: The car is solid and rattle-free, and keeps wind and road noise to a minimum.

The LeSabre also affords a very comfortable ride, particularly when fitted with the standard suspension.

The problem with that regular suspension is its excessive softness. It is downright mushy, and that mushiness is not welcome in corners briskly taken.

The car handles much better when equipped, as the test car was, with the Gran Touring Package. This $337 goodie bag includes a firmer suspension, and substitutes 16-inch touring tires for the standard 15-inch all-season radials. This gear leaves the car much more controlled in the corners with very little ride trade-off.

The nice ride and respectable handling achieved with the Gran Touring Package are complemented by good engine performance. Indeed, the LeSabre is not a stoplight dragster, but it is a lot livelier than you might expect a large, comfortable American sedan to be.

The power is courtesy of General Motors’ wonderfully simple and efficient 3.8-liter V-6. Over the years, GM has tweaked and refined this seemingly obsolescent pushrod design to a point where it is very durable, powerful and economical. It is also very inexpensive to build when compared with its four-cam, multivalve counterparts.

The engine used in the LeSabre is the normally aspirated, 205-horsepower version. The 3.8 is available in other Buicks with a supercharger, which boosts the horsepower harvest to 240.

The good motivation this engine imparts to the LeSabre is matched by its fuel economy. The LeSabre test car had EPA mileage ratings of 19 city and 30 highway. Imagine that: 30 miles per gallon from a true six-passenger sedan. By comparison, the Mercedes-Benz C280, a much smaller, midsize car, has EPAs of 21 and 27.

In fairness, the LeSabre’s good mileage doesn’t derive entirely from its engine’s economical nature. The car is also surprisingly light for its size. The Limited model I tested has a curb weight of 3, 465 pounds, which is only 149 pounds more than the Mercedes.

While it ain’t heavy, the LeSabre sure is big inside. It has an interior volume of 125.5 cubic feet. That compares with 107.7 in a Chrysler Concorde, 88 in the C280, and 101.5 in the Ford Taurus.

The spacious cabin is matched by a gargantuan, 17-cubic-foot trunk. Upholstery is standard in this cavernous space. Wall hangings, walk-in closets and a fire escape are extra. One thing I found wanting on the LeSabre Limited was four-wheel disc brakes. I understand this vehicle isn’t intended for spirited driving, but you would expect a car this well-equipped to have discs at all four corners.

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