Buick’s all-new LaCrosse was created to specifically target the Lexus ES350, launching with a bold new look and an even bolder marketing campaign, designed to get consumers comparing the two cars. At first glance, almost everything about the two vehicles is similar, except of course for the chiseled features of the Buick. With the competitors laid before us, we’ve decided to take the “Buick Challenge” and see for ourselves. Besides, GM is now building some impressive new machines, launching perfectly as the company has emerged from bankruptcy and the recession dwindles. And with all the buzz about Buicks over in China, can one billion people really be wrong?
|1. The Lexus ES350 is powered by a 272-hp 3.5L V6, while the Buick LaCrosse CXS gets a 280-hp 3.6L V6.
2. For 2011 Buick will also offer a 182-hp 4-cylinder for the LaCrosse, with 30-mpg highway and priced from $26,995.
3. The ES starts at $35,175, while a V6-powered LaCrosse CXS is priced from $33,015
If this were a design comparison and not an automotive one, it would have been no contest. From every and all angles the new LaCrosse is a dozen times more attractive than the dreadfully dull Lexus. Similar in their overall shape, the Buick is bigger and bolder, with a larger and more upright front grille. In many ways, the LaCrosse is a more attractive caricature of the ES350.
Even the wheels are larger, with standard 17-inchers equal to the Lexus, but with 18s on higher trim levels (like our CXS tester) and 19s optional. Heck, even the design of the wheels is more expressive on the Buick. And in true GM-fashion, the LaCrosse also gets lots more chrome, which really stood out on our Red Jewel test car. Plus, the large chrome dual exhaust finishers make a serious statement.
Other areas where the Buick excels include rear seat room, interior design, both standard and optional equipment and a slight edge in horsepower (as well as offering an additional lower-budget V6 model for the remainder of 2010 and even an optional 4-cylinder fuel economy model for 2011).
Up front, the cockpits of both models are roughly similar in size, but in the rear passenger compartment the Buick offers more space. With an overall size that is 6-inches longer, 1.5-inches wider and roughly 2-inches taller, it’s no surprise that inside the LaCrosse has an extra inch of headroom, 4.5-inches more rear seat leg room and an inch more hip room. What surprised us was that the Lexus offered the larger trunk with 14.7 cubic feet, compared to 12.8 cu.-ft. in the LaCrosse.
The cabin itself, while not as well executed, certainly has more design to it, with the Lexus interior as bland as the exterior. The LaCrosse has an impressive center stack with stitching on the dash and plenty of unique details. We did, however, find there to be an excessive number of buttons, which, along with the switchgear, weren’t nearly of as high a quality as the Lexus. Particularly bargain basement is the plastic sliding cover on the center console.
In terms of amenities, the Buick appears to win by a significant margin at first, due to the psychological impact of all those buttons, but after closer examination, it’s a close call with both vehicles offering some different luxury items.
Our LaCrosse CXS, equipped with the Navigation package, came with the usual power amenities and matched the ES with power heated and vented front seats with a memory function. CXS with Nav models also come with rear ultrasonic parking assist, a back-up camera, a power rear sunshade, illuminated door sill plates, remote start and a heated steering wheel. We also really appreciated the heads-up display.
As for the ES350, when similarly equipped with the Navigation package, it gets a higher grade semi aniline leather, power rear sunshade, a backup camera and adaptive front lighting with HID headlights. The Buick can also have HIDs for an extra $695.
One stand-out optional item the Lexus offers is dynamic radar cruise control with a pre-collision system.
Both vehicles offer impressive audio systems with the LaCrosse featuring a 384-watt Harmon/Kardon audio system, while the Nav package on the Lexus also adds in a 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
In terms of safety, it’s a bit of a toss-up with both models getting traction and stability control, while the Buick features OnStar but just six-airbags and the Lexus gets eight airbags (including driver and passenger knee airbags), plus optional rear side airbags.
On paper, the Buick seems to have the advantage (however slight) in the horsepower comparo, with 280-hp from a 3.6-liter V6, compared to 272-hp from a 3.5-liter V6 in the Lexus. Both get six-speed automatic transmissions and both companies claim a 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds. Those numbers might not be entirely accurate, however, as we find it hard to believe even different gearing can make up for the fact that at roughly 4,000 lbs, the Buick is 400 lbs more than the Lexus.
In terms of fuel economy, despite advancements by General Motors with its new models, the big V6 in the LaCrosse still doesn’t deliver quite as impressive numbers as the ES, with a rating of 17/27 mpg (city/highway), compared to 19/27 mpg in the Lexus. One important note, however, is that Lexus requires premium fuel, while Buick recommends regular.
But superior fuel economy is hardly the reason we chose our winner.
As a whole, the Lexus is by far the more premium vehicle. Yes the interior is dull, as is the exterior, but the cabin is still better executed with higher-grade materials and workmanship. With more style to the interior of the Buick, a flashy promo photo can make it appear more luxurious, but the reality is less flattering.
While less flashy, at least the Lexus’ interior is more user friendly than the Buick with far less clutter on the dash. The higher-grade leather also makes a significant difference in the feel.
From behind the wheel, the luxury driving experience is a hands-down victory for Lexus. Surprisingly (or perhaps not considering Buick’s history), the LaCrosse is close in the softness of the ride, but the ES manages to achieve a slightly more cloud-like feel while also being a bit more dynamic – although neither car comes anywhere close to that term. We have to credit the more agile feel of the ES350 to its significantly lower curb weight.
The larger overall dimensions of the Buick may help it deliver a reasonable luxury ride, but also make it cumbersome around town. While hardly the tippy land-yacht Buick of yore, it’s still tremendous in size. Traditional Buick owners aren’t likely to mind as much, but we have to think the automaker is in search of a younger demographic with this car.
Most noticeable in the driving experience between the two models is the excellent feeling of isolation the ES delivers – something even reasonably priced Lexus models offer after years of striving and achieving Mercedes-like standards.
There is a down-side to the Lexus, however, and we’re sure you can guess what it is: the price. While the Buick CXS starts at $33,015 and jumps to $36,995 with navigation and a sunroof (plus things like HID lights), the Lexus begins at $35,175 and rises to $41,005 with the navigation package – which also includes a long list of premium options. And those top end prices for each model are a fair comparison with roughly the same level of equipment found on each.
In keeping with GM’s marketing of the LaCrosse, we took the “Buick Challenge,” but found the LaCrosse wanting. The Lexus ES simply out-shines its competitor in those areas where it really counts for a luxury sedan, namely, interior quality and the driving experience. Yes, the ES350 costs a premium, and yes, we wish it also came with a heads-up display and a heated steering wheel, not to mention some actual style.
We’re also compelled to mention here that the Buick is also available in AWD, while the Lexus is not. Plus, a new 182-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder can also be had in the LaCrosse for 2011. While lacking in refinement and power, it does deliver better fuel economy and a starting price that is far, far lower than the Lexus.
Losing this comparison isn’t all bad news for Buick. In doing so, the brand gains credibility as it seeks to convince buyers that it's offering products that can stand grille-to-grille with the best in the business. But as improved a Buick as the LaCrosse is, it’s no Lexus – not even an ES.
|Lexus ES350||Buick LaCrosse|
|Fit and finish||9\10||6\10|
|Rear Seat Room||4\5||5\5|
|* Objective data collected by AutoGuide. Subjective data based on collected results from AutoGuide/Verticalscope staff.|