Home » Mobile Isolation Chambers: 2000 Buick LeSabre vs 2002 Toyota Avalon

Mobile Isolation Chambers: 2000 Buick LeSabre vs 2002 Toyota Avalon

Sbsd 8 9 2023
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Good morning! Today’s Shitbox Showdown is all about comfort. Not luxury, just good old-fashioned comfort: cushy seats, a quiet engine, and a smooth ride. To that end, we’re looking at a “Japanese Buick,” and a “Buick Buick.” But first, let’s see how yesterday’s new arrivals did:

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Close call, but the Chevy wins. For my money, I think the Soul is the more practical choice, but I agree that the Cruze is probably the better buy here, considering the mileage difference. It’s probably the nicer car as well.

Speaking of nice cars: My commute home from my day job yesterday sucked. Traffic was awful, there were more trucks than usual, and I got stuck behind some jackass in a Ram diesel for a couple of miles who insisted on rolling coal every time he inched forward. I was immeasurably thankful, then, to have my nice comfy Chrysler, with its strong air conditioning and killer sound system. In situations like that, the best thing you can do is just calm down, settle in, turn on some nice calming music (which isn’t always what you would think it is; yesterday it was Anthrax) and go with the flow.

So I started thinking: What would I be shopping for if I didn’t have my dad’s old car? What would eat up the miles sufficiently quickly on the way to work in the morning, when traffic is flowing freely, but help me tolerate the crappy stop-and-go on the way home? I found these two, remarkably close in age, price, specification, and mileage, but from two very different sources. Let’s see which one is the better deal.

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2000 Buick LeSabre Limited – $2,495

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Tacoma, WA

Odometer reading: 201,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

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If there is a poster child for cushy American sedans, it’s the Buick LeSabre. It’s not fancy or overloaded with technology like a Cadillac or Lincoln, and anyone who’s ever driven one of any generation knows it’s no performance car. It has one mission, and at that, it excels: comfortable, roomy, no-nonsense transportation for as many as six people and their luggage.

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This is a first-year model of the final generation of LeSabre, and by this time, GM had the formula down pat. Make it smooth, make it easy to operate, make it a nice place to be, and keep it mechanically simple. The LeSabre’s only available powertrain was the beloved 3800 Series II V6, paired with the basically competent and largely tolerated 4T65-E automatic transmission. You wouldn’t want anything else in this car, really; more power would just make it wallow around faster, and a manual gearbox would just be silly.

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This Buick is offered for sale by a dealer in Tacoma, Washington, though it looks like half of the photos were taken from somewhere in the vicinity of Olympia. Scooch closer or zoom in next time, will ya? It’s likely from an auction, one of those cars that is too old for a “nice” dealership to sell, but still has some life left in it. It’s just a tick over 200,000 miles already, but as long as a few key repairs have been made, it should be good to go. Of course, it almost certainly doesn’t come with any sort of service history, so it might be prudent to just plan on devoting the first weekend to a little wrenching.

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No one is going to call it a handsome car, but it’s pleasingly inoffensive and innocuous. At least the paint is shiny and the interior isn’t ripped up, which is saying a lot for this price range.

2002 Toyota Avalon XLS – $2,400

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter dual overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Lake Stevens, WA

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Odometer reading: 201,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does

Toyota’s Avalon is so Buick-like that I’d be amazed if Toyota didn’t benchmark the LeSabre during its development. It’s a little smaller, and it has a more sophisticated dual overhead cam engine, but the broad strokes are the same: a long, wide, front-wheel-drive sedan, tuned for a smooth ride, and stuffed full of comfort and convenience features without being laden down by technological wizardry. The first-generation Avalon even offered a bench seat and a column-mounted gearshift.

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This second-generation Avalon was built in Kentucky, alongside the similar but smaller Camry. It’s powered by the same three-liter V6, 1MZ-FE in Toyota-speak, and like the Buick, it only came with an automatic. Again, this is no performance car, despite the existence of a TRD Avalon in a later generation, and a stickshift would be out-of-place.

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This Avalon is said to run well, which is to be expected (but never assumed) of a Toyota, even one with 200,000 miles on it. This engine does use a timing belt, and it’s a doozy to replace, so it’s worth asking how long ago it was done. Otherwise, as long as there are no obvious red flags on a test drive, this should be a solid, reliable car.

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The rest of it looks good, but not perfect. Both front door handles appear to have been replaced, and never painted to match; a can of spray touch-up paint an a sunny afternoon could take care of that. (Take them off the car; don’t just mask around them.) Also, I have a feeling the seller has a dog; something appears to have taken a bite out of the armrest. Otherwise it looks reasonably straight and clean, the sort of car you aren’t embarrassed to be seen in, but aren’t afraid to leave parked somewhere for the evening either.

Everyone talks about “luxury cars,” but I think it’s more important to just have a comfortable car. There’s nothing luxurious about a nice sofa or a perfectly-fitting pair of jeans, but they are exceptionally comfortable. And so it is with these two. Their whole mission is to give you a place to take a load off while you soak up the miles. The only question left is, which one does it better?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
9 months ago

Buick owner here; this one’s easy.

Bassracerx
Bassracerx
10 months ago

I am one of the rare people who has owned both a Lesabre and an Avalon. 1997 model year for both. and the Toyota was the best experience out of the two. everything the Buick did well the Avalon did better. The one thing about the buick was it had a tighter turning circle and a quicker steering ratio. but on the road the toyota was more comfortable the ac never stopped working, and although the buick had more torque and a larger engine the gearing on the transmission was so long. Like 55+ mph to second gear. and it took forever for the buick to shift and it would always shift hard. the toyota had smaller gearing and it loved to rev and shifts were always smooth. only reason i got rid of it was i had a longer commute with a new job and the suspension needed rebuilt all over the car and instead of spending $2500 on fixing up the avalon i moved on to another car and sold it to a family member for $1500 as her work was only 3 miles from her house and just needed something to get her back and forth and it was a perfect beater car for her while she saved for a down payment on something else.

Scott
Scott
10 months ago

I like the Avalon. Why are these cheap, $2-3K cars never in LA? 🙁

I’ve got a few grand burning a hole in my pocket (thanks mostly to not being able to get a Maverick for MSRP during the couple years I tried) and just sold my TDI, so I’m itching for a third car again.

That first-gen Kia Soul with the two liter engine and manual transmission in Minnesota, or even this Avalon in Seattle… I’d like to test drive both of them.

Hike
Hike
10 months ago

An 03 Avalon hand-me-down was my first car. It’s sneaky fast because of how quiet it is and one of the most comfortable cats I’ve driven. The only reliability issue we ever had was when the idle air controller died the morning we were selling it.

As an aside, the interior of this generation Avalon was so far ahead of it’s time. It’s easy to imagine a couple modern screens replacing the gauge cluster and the info screen in the top middle and fitting right in.

Dinklesmith
Dinklesmith
10 months ago

A LeSabre got me through college. I don’t get why people hate that it’s associated with old people. Old people are cool as hell (as long as they aren’t talking politics)

Ariel E Jones
Ariel E Jones
10 months ago

This really is one of the closest Showdowns I’ve seen. Especially as the prices are nearly identical. If there was a tie button, I’d hit it. Maybe that’s how the results will come out.

PS. Call me crazy, but I actually thought the entire mid to late nineties Buick lineup was nice looking. From the Century, Park Avenue, LeSabre, Riviera, I thought the styling the adopted of smooth flowing lines, was elegant and handsome. There, I said it.

Chris D
Chris D
10 months ago
Reply to  Ariel E Jones

My parents bought one of these Buicks. It was competent, beige-ish brown inside and out, and fine for them as they were nearing eighty years old. However, both back seat belts had the unfortunate GM cheap-out defect of tightening up whenever you moved, but refusing to loosen up at all unless you unbuckled them and let them go all the way back into the retractor. Just that little detail would be enough to deter anyone from buying a GM vehicle.

I vote for the Japanese version. Five years from now, it will be the one still cruising down the road instead of filling the crushing machine.

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
10 months ago

My wife currently dailies a 2006 Buick Lacrosse with a 3800 series II. It’s a comfortable cruiser, although I estimated the mileage at more like 23-25 mpg. The 3800 is simple enough that even I can perform some of the work on this engine.

Mthew_M
Mthew_M
10 months ago
Reply to  Here4thecars

That’s actually going to be a Series III, with the most notable change being the huge improvement from a plastic intake manifold back to the metal. Just mind those coolant crossover pipes, change the transmission fluid & filter every administration or so, and you should be good to go for a long, long time.

DDayJ
DDayJ
10 months ago

Either would be fine. For me, I’ve owned two 3800 powered cars, so I know what I’m getting into with the Buick. I had a Bonneville SSE of the late 90s generation when I was in college and drove across the country several times. It was comfy, quick, reliable, got good gas mileage on the highway, was easy to work on, and could fit 3 kegs in the trunk. What else could you ask for in college?

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
10 months ago

The 3800 is solid, but those Avalons go on forever.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
10 months ago

Buick for me. I had a previous gen 1999 with that exact powertrain. I’d happily drive another. Sure there were some wrinkles with the 2000’s. But 23 years should have been enough time to have them ironed out.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
10 months ago

Front buckets, toyota reliability smaller, and no dealer crap purchase from the owner Avalon for the win. But even Buick is possible.

VanGuy
VanGuy
10 months ago

A close relative had an ’05 LeSabre for a while. I loved how quickly it shifted, and it also had the most satisfying turn signal stalk of any car I’ve ever driven, with a pronounced thunk.

But it did need a new transmission at one point, and it was also weirdly uncomfortable for us to drive. Like there was no “just right” position for the seat.

Offhand I’d pick the Avalon and hope for the best, but I don’t think you can go terribly wrong with either.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
10 months ago

1MZ timing belt isn’t that bad… did it in an afternoon on a Camry. And it has a reasonably long change interval… 90k miles, I think. And from what I’ve heard, will actually go much longer than that.

JDE
JDE
10 months ago

IT is usually the best choice to go with simple and reliable, which the Lesabre is in spades, but at 200K the automatic might be close to needing love and the Dealership connection pushes me to the Toyota. It is more complicated, but he heart of it is still fairly reliable. the Avalon was my Grandfathers favorite car over a 60 year time span, so that speaks volumes as well.

Still I would probably winter beat either one of these.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 months ago
Reply to  JDE

I guess they’re winter beater prices (for 2023) but they’re too nice for that IMO.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
10 months ago

Nice Prices! Wait, wrong site.

Both appear to be nice cars and good values. I went Toyota because I’ve always found the second-generation Avalon rather handsome (versus the LeSabre, which is fine, but lumpy), it’s being offered by a private seller, and really, when the picture’s changing every moment, and your destination, you don’t know it, there’s only one choice. (Yes, Mark, I caught it too.)

First stop would be at the nearest Ewe Pullet with an Avalon in the yard, for a new console lid.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
10 months ago

The Avalon is the perfect getaway car: totally anonymous, nearly invisible.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
10 months ago

I see what you did there with the Avalon/Ferry, so honestly who could ask for More Than This (?)

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Speaking of which, “Only” slaps pretty hard, and I’d love to hear Worship Music blaring out of the Buick.

Ricki
Ricki
10 months ago

While I admittedly know very little about Toyota V6s, I know that that 3800 is dead simple and will have parts available until the sun swallows the Earth. Hard to go wrong there. And the interior looks nice enough for its age, especially considering someone already did the needful and swapped a modern-ish headunit in.

I’d consider the Avalon, but since so much is neck-and-neck here, I’m basically picking the devil I know. (My mom had a 1998 Bonneville with the same drivetrain, too.)

90sBuicksAreUnderrated
90sBuicksAreUnderrated
10 months ago

Going with the Buick all day long, love the ones from this era. My first car (the shared “kids” car amongst my siblings and I) was a 2000 Buick Century. That thing was a comfortable workhorse and lived a long, reliable life. I currently have a garaged 1997 Supercharged Buick Riviera in my fleet, and I absolutely love that car. The comfort, refinement, power, reliability. The LeSabre of this era isn’t much to look at but they were well built comfortable cruisers. My Grandparents (and subsequently, cousins) had one of these and it served them without fail for years.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
10 months ago

I would normally always go for aging Toyota over aging GM, but I like this particular Buick more. It looks like it has been better cared for and should have a lot of life in it. My wife used to have a Park Avenue of the same year. It was exactly as advertised: Spacious, comfy, reliable, and reasonably fuel efficient for such a large sedan. Just check the tailpipe for any sights or smells that warn of burning coolant before you fork over the cash. The 3800 V6 is a stout engine, but head gaskets are a known weak spot.

Last edited 10 months ago by IRegertNothing, Esq.
Mike B
Mike B
10 months ago

Buford for sure. I briefly considered the Avalon, but it lost me at “timing belt”.

200K on a 3.8L is nothing, we’ve had numerous 3.8L cars in the family, and they’ve all been great. I remember doing burnouts in my mom’s 3.8L Pontiac TranSport when I first got my license.

Yea later my grandpa gave me his ’98 Old 88, that car had a front bench and made both of these look like sport sedans, but that car was SO smooth, and got close to 30mpg, which is pretty damn good for a big car with a big V6.

A friend had a Regal, so I know those Buick seats are beyond comfy, and bonus score of a fairly modern (hopefully Bluetooth) head unit.

BOSdriver
BOSdriver
10 months ago

Drove a ’98 “sword” for many years before and during college. Loved the car, even if it was big for Boston streets. Made sitting in traffic commuting during co-ops comfortable and many weekend road trips enjoyable. Moved on to a slightly sportier ’00 Grand Prix GT coupe after that. Drove many of the 3800 engine cars from Olds 88, LeSabre, Bonneville, Grand Prix etc, engines were powerful, lasted a long time and were pretty good on fuel for the power at the time.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
10 months ago

Both of these cars are at their peak once they drop below 5 grand. But new? I wouldn’t give them the time of day. Cheap cars are funny in that way. Most people who bought these new don’t really care about driving or cars. They probably see driving as a chore. They’ll never push their cars to the limit, nor do they understand why a person would want to. They consider the singular deciding factor to distinguish cars that are good from the rest to be reliability. As such, they take the maintenance of their already reliable appliance very seriously. To a person looking for cheap transportation that won’t leave them stranded, these are nothing short of gems.

Aron9000
Aron9000
10 months ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

Rusty, my mom bought a 2000 Avalon, brand new. A bit young for this car at age 45 but it fit her needs. Still had us kids to tote around, we did 5000 miles of road trips a year as kids going to visit family, vacations, college visits, funerals, weddings, etc.

That Avalon absolutely garbled up the miles with the room and comfort of a Town Car but in a much more efficient, better handling, way better built, easier to park package.

And at least to my mom’s eye the Avalon didnt look like an “old persons car” Which remember around 2000 the senior citizen specials were the ugly blob cars like the Town Car, Chrysler LHS, any Buick, Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Cadillac Deville, all of them were rather blobby while the Avalon looked more like a creased suit with its more angular straight lines

Aron9000
Aron9000
10 months ago
Reply to  Aron9000

At least what Im saying that mom’s 2000 Avalon was a right brain purchase. Dad was still daily driving that 1985 Toyota pickup, 200,000 miles on it. The tan paint still looked great, ZERO RUST, cold ac, never even once left him on the side of the road. You build a damn good car or truck, you get a lifetime customer. That 1985 pickup was their 1st new Toyota, now they have bought 7 new toyotas to this current day.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
10 months ago

When my parents were shopping for what is likely the last car they’ll ever buy, they bought an Avalon similar to this one.

Sweet fancy Moses, is that thing cushy. And it has a working tape deck! And reclining REAR seats! They are in their late 70’s and love it.

Still votes for the Buick.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
10 months ago

Both are fine, but I went with Avalon simply because I haven’t owned one of those before, unlike the Buick. I will say that I have my doubts about the Avalon seats coming anywhere close to the level of comfort of the Buick’s.

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