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:
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.
Engine/drivetrain: 3.8 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Tacoma, WA
Odometer reading: 201,000 miles
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.
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.
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.
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.
Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter dual overhead cam V6, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Lake Stevens, WA
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.
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.
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.
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?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)