During the past couple of weeks, you've probably visited or been visited by a senior relative or two. Betcha they drive a Buick LeSabre.

Of course, that wouldn't be a hard bet to win, since most Buick buyers are somewhere between 62 years old and death. Many are loyal Buick buyers, especially when it comes to full-sized cars and one full-sized car in particular, the Buick LeSabre.

For more than a decade, it has been the best-selling full-sized car in America and it didn't get that way by accident. It does so by catering to traditional American car expectations: a bench seat, column shifter, horizontal dashboard, roomy interior and sizable trunk.

Most are probably sold in the same color as the test vehicle: "Light Bronzemist Metallic."

As you might expect with a conservative car from a conservative company, the changes are incremental. Last year saw the introduction of the "Celebration Edition," a package that continues for 2004.

The package groups embroidered leather seats, blacked-out grille, 16-inch chrome wheels, memory seats/mirrors/climate control/radio presets, outside auto-dimming mirrors, Stabilitrak, heads-up display and a trunk convenience net into a $1,950 option package.

Buick claims the package has been very popular, but it's the car itself that really appeals to many buyers.


Easy. This car is as old-school American as they come.

The front-wheel-drive LeSabre comes in two trim levels, Custom and Limited. It's built from the same platform as the Pontiac Bonneville.

Power is courtesy of GM's ancient, but still virile, 3.8-liter V-6, rated at 205 horsepower and 230 foot-pounds of torque. A smooth-shifting four-speed automatic is the sole transmission.

Power is quite sufficient thanks to engine torque with lots of grunt down low. Getaways are quick, but be careful going into corners. The traditional soft, steady Buick ride means that the LeSabre leans heavily in corners. It also means some nose-dive in hard stops. While you won't scrape the door handles going around corners, you will slow down. (A Gran Touring option will firm up the ride somewhat, but it seems out of place.)

Steering is feather light; brakes are somewhat spongy. It results in a very boring car to drive.

Of course, that means that if you don't feel the bumps you'll never know that they're there.

If the handling sounds like a traditional Buick luxo-barge, keep in mind that some sophisticated electronics reside underneath. Brakes are four-wheel discs with anti-lock. Suspension is fully independent, with an auto-leveling rear suspension. It helps ensure the front end is pointed skyward when you fill the huge 18 cubic foot trunk with luggage. In addition, GM's stability control system, Stabilitrak, is available as an option.

While that's all well and good, the LeSabre's competitors all have better handling. (For the rec ord, that includes the Toyota Avalon, Chrysler Concorde, Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis as competitors.) That said, the Buick has decent grip, better than expected.

Inside, GM has done a mediocre job of fitting the interior.

The dashboard is easy to use, but bland. Fit and finish will not keep the Japanese, European or Korean automakers up at night.

The split front and rear bench seats allegedly each hold three people, but like other seats of this type, only a masochist would sit in the center. Comfort and support is subpar both front and rear, with the rear seat being too low. There's also less rear seat space than you'd expect considering the vehicle's size.

When it comes to features, Buick has it covered.

All LeSabres have power windows and door locks, cruise control, delayed entry and exit lighting, battery rundown protection, lockout prevention, auxiliary power outlet and a theft-deterrent system. Options include a driver's information center, auto-dimming rearview mirror, upgraded audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls, aluminum wheels, traction control, and illuminated vanity mirrors.

It's worth popping for the Limited for its added content.

You can get automatic dual climate control, 10-way power front seats, power lumbar control, heated front seats, AM/FM/Cassette/CD audio system, heated mirrors and side airbags. OnStar and XM Satellite Radio are available on both trim levels.

The test vehicle had a full array of options including a moonroof and XM Satellite Radio. For $9.95 a month, you'll get 100 channels, including music of the '40s, which most Buick customers will appreciate.

While it felt comfortable and competent, the LeSabre didn't seem like a very well-rendered version of a typical Detroit full-sized car, especially one labeled a Buick. But Buick has suffered as other divisions at GM have received more attention and development money.

Still, there's plenty of value here.

Prices start at just $25,745 for a LeSabre Custom, $31,520 for a LeSabre Limited. The test vehicle came in at $34,865. That's about the same as a mid-sized Toyota Camry, which tops out in the $34,000 range. In other words, mid-sized money, for a full-sized Buick.

That's why Buick sells so many LeSabres.

Engine: 3.8-liter V-6

Transmission: 4-speed automatic

Tires: P215/70R15

Wheelbase: 112.2 inches

Length: 200 inches

Width: 73.5 inches

Weight: 3,591 pounds

Cargo volume: 18 cubic ft.

Base price: $31,520

As tested: $34,865

EPA rating: 20 city, 29 highway

Test mileage: 22 mpg

Fuel type: Regular

Built in: Detroit, Mich.