Chevy Impala and Buick LeSabre Coddle and Cuddle
Comfy Family Movers
by Jim Bray
People who want a roomy and comfortable car to get them from Point A
to Point B with little fuss and conscious thought may find themselves
quite comfortable with entries in General Motors' line.
The General has a good assortment of such vehicles, and I recently
had the opportunity to try out two of them: the mid-size
Chevrolet Impala and full size Buick LeSabre. Both qualify as roomy
and very comfortable, and both will take one from A
to B and back again without undue fuss and/or attention
though neither will get a car nuts adrenaline going.
Not that these cars were designed to be the dream vehicles of those with motor
oil in their veins. GM has built up a clientele for these cars over the years
and is obviously trying not to rock the boat.
Both cars are front engine/front wheel drive models, with the Impala being
the lower end of the two. Not that it's particularly low end. This
largish car, while rather dumpy-looking on the outside and with a rear end
that (in light colored versions of the car, at least) almost looks almost like
an open wound, feels like a comfortable old suit and demands little in return
other than gas and regular maintenance. And there are plenty of them on the
road, so there must be a good number of people who find them an attractive
The cockpit of my test unit Impala LS sedan was plush without beating you
over the head with it. It came with leather seats, including power buckets
with bun warmers up front, and just about all the convenience and
comfort features you could want. For example, there's dual zone air conditioning
(which, believe me, helps prevent fights when there are two or more people
in the car), power windows with lockout, cruise control, an unfortunately bass-heavy
AM/FM/CD/Cassette stereo with the nifty automatic volume control feature
that saves you from excessive knob-twiddling when your hands should stay on
Well, your hands can actually stay on the wheel anyway, because there are
audio and cruise controls on the comfortable steering wheel as well. You get
more instrumentation than you really need (there's a tachometer, for instance,
though the car's an automatic) and it's well laid out. A little Driver Information
Center perches unobtrusively in the panel below the tach, and there's another
on the ceiling that comes with a universal garage door opener and can display
stuff like the outside temperate and your compass heading.
One dumb thing is the size of the sun visors: they only go about three quarters
of the way toward the outside of the windshield, which means the sun can shine
right into your eyes at certain angles angles that always seemed to
show up to illustrate the pervasiveness of Murphys Law. On the other
hand, the overall greenhouse is pretty good, with plenty of glass and very
The car feels quite big inside, though not bloated. Fit and finish is fine,
and sos the control layout for the most part, though some of the controls
were placed a little too far from this driver. The rear view mirror also contains
the OnStar controls - unfortunately; theyre handy, but I once set off
the emergency alarm when adjusting the mirror
much to my embarrassment.
The windshield wipers are of the variable intermittent type, there's the really
handy automatic headlight setting that I really like about GM vehicles; you
also get lots of places to put stuff (including a real ash tray and auxiliary
power supply) and a nicely-sized sunroof that slides outside the roof
like the sunroofs on some sporty two doors.
The leather seats warm up quickly when the two-setting heater's on (though
the control is mounted on the seat cushion, where you have to feel for it)
and though the leather's pretty slippery I doubt most owners of this type of
car will drive in such a manner as to pine for side bolstering.
The back seat splits and folds and, when not split and folded, is comfortable
for three though we missed the flat floor of such cars as the Honda
The Impala isn't quite the antelope of its namesake, but it has plenty of
get up and go for everyday stuff like merging into traffic and zipping across
a couple of lanes to make a quick left turn. Power in my tester came from the
optional 3.8 liter Series II SFI V6 getting to the tires via a four speed automatic
that upshifts smoothly, though it seemed to take forever for it to react if
I dared downshift it manually on hills. Power is rated at 200 horses @5200
rpm with 225 lb.-ft or torque @4000.
Near each corner of the Impala, not surprisingly, is a wheel, in this case
attractive sixteen inch 5-blade aluminum ones dressed up in P225/60R series
rubber. Each wheel is fitted with a disc brake and the whole shebang has both
antilock and traction control. This is good stuff, and undoubtedly helps keep
the Impala from importing a wallowing feel.
It does nod a tad too agreeably over frost heaves and the like, however, and
I felt it could be nimbler, though to be fair I didn't have a chance to try
it on some of my favorite twisty bits. Overall, it feels like a largish four
door family sedan, which is exactly what it is.
I wish it were more graceful-looking, more like Oldsmobiles handsome
Intrigue. The sharp-looking wheels, tires and rear spoiler look out of place
on the decidedly vanilla body, though once you're inside the cabin you don't
notice this of course.
The Impala also has the usual safety features including airbags (a driver's
side airbag is a new option for 2003) and child seat tether anchors.
In all, a well dressed, pleasant and inoffensive car.
If you want to Super Size that, try the Buick LeSabre Limited.
It takes the Impala and turns it up one setting in just about every way. It's
a large, luxurious four door sedan that's bigger and more plush than the Impala,
and nearly as much fun to drive.
My tester came with a split bench front seat clad in leather with two-temperature
bun warmers. The center of the bench seatback folds down to double as a large
console, which is the best way to keep it when you aren't putting three people
up front. That console is deep and features a flip out cupholder and a cavernous
area with a coin holder and slots for compact discs. It's nigh impossible to
get CD's into it safely when you're driving, however, so make sure you park
before messing with your discs.
LeSabre ups the luxury ante over the Impala, too, with such touches as two
person driver's seat memory and moisture-sensing variable intermittent windshield
wipers. The seat memory is a really nice feature; it remembers your (and one
other person's) favored seat and mirror position, as well as sliding the seat
backward to make getting into and out of the LeSabre easier. Unfortunately,
it also affects the stereo, which is annoying: rather than merely picking up
where you left off the last time you drove, it switches back to whatever setting
the stereo was on when you memorized the seat positions. Not a big deal, but
I'd have preferred it if the memory had developed Alzheimer's when it came
to the stereo.
audio quality is good, though as with the Impala and some other GM vehicles
I've driven in recent months it's a tad bass-heavy. Still, this is easy to
adjust and the controls are pretty intuitive.
I had problems figuring out the moisture-sensing wipers; in fact, I never
did figure them out to my satisfaction. While the automatic headlights work
really well, the wipers seemed to wipe only when the moisture on the windshield
had already dried (making big, dirty smears on the windshield) and regardless
of the intermittent setting I chose it always seemed to be too fast or too
Too bad; it's a great idea.
Not so great are the gimmicky red signal light arrows on the outside mirrors,
which seem like a feature looking for a reason to be (and which will undoubtedly
be a real pain if you ever need to repair them). A better idea is the heads
up display that projects a digital speedometer, turn signal indicator and other
data onto the windshield in front of the driver's eyes - though the image appears
to hang in space in front of the car.
This is a nifty idea taken from jet fighters and means you can monitor the
functions without taking your eyes off the road. In practice, however, I found
the novelty wore off after about five minutes, after which I found it intrusive
and turned it off.
You also get GM's OnStar service, with rear view mirror-mounted controls.
LeSabre comes with good safety features including four wheel antilock disc
brakes and a STABILITRAK vehicle dynamic control system that integrates the
chassis, brake and traction control with the power train control module. I
got to try out both during an awful snowstorm and they work well, helping to
make the car much more responsive on slick roads, though its weight works against
it when the going gets dicey - thanks to that darn First Law of Motion that
Newton hung on us.
The LeSabre feels much larger than the Impala, though a look at the specs
shows it isn't much larger at all (in fact, in some dimensions
front head and legroom, for example - it's actually smaller) yet you
really feel the inertia when cornering and braking.
Perhaps this much larger feel comes from its soft suspension; there's even
less road feel than in the Impala. Oh, it isn't that driving the LeSabre is
a chore; far from it; it's comfortable and pleasant but, as with the Impala,
it isn't going to quicken the pulse of the enthusiast. Instead, it's a cozy
and cushy place to spend time behind the wheel (or as a passenger, too, thanks
to its copious creature comforts including dual zone HVAC).
One feature the LeSabre didn't have is a sunroof (though it's available),
which I would have missed had the weather cooperated.
It also comes with all the stuff you can get on the Impala, including steering
wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, garage door opener and stuff like
that. It's definitely a well-equipped car.
The four speed automatic transmission also works as advertised, as does the
engine, which is the same 3.8 liter V6 as in the Impala LS. Unfortunately,
since the LeSabre is heavier than the Impala, it isn't as quick, though there's
adequate poop to accelerate onto freeways and the like when you
GM has given the LeSabre good guts. Besides the specs mentioned, you also
get power asssisted rack and pinion steering, a nice set of 16 inch aluminum
wheels wearing a good set of P225/60R16 all season Firestones, and independent
suspension front and rear.
The Impala is priced at about $23,800 US/$30,100 Cdn for the base model and
approximately $26,700 US/$39,000 Cdn as tested. The LeSabre starts at about
$31,500 US/$39,200 Cdn and is about $33,400 US/$42,300 Cdn as tested.
Impala Manufacturer's Info
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by The
TechnoFILE Syndicate. Copyright Jim Bray.