Buick survived GM’s 2009 brush with death, Pontiac didn’t. A flock of enthusiasts and industry pundits squawked about the feather-ruffling decision, especially since the rear-wheel-drive G8 died with the Ottawa chieftain. But for the General’s accountants it was all a numbers game; Buick added up, Poncho not so much. This difficult decision appears to be paying off, though. The company has been able to focus more resources on fewer brands and as a result Buick showrooms have never been stronger. LaCrosse is one of the Tri-Shield’s greatest efforts.
|1. Lower-trim LaCrosse models are powered by a 2.4L four-cylinder engine augmented with Buick’s eAssist mile-hybrid system making 25 mpg city and 36 highway.
2. The car’s optional engine is a smooth and powerful 3.6L V6 making 303 hp.
3. With front-wheel drive standard, all-wheel drive is available at extra cost.
4. Starting at $31,660 the V6 models go for $35,285 and up.
QUIET TUNED, COMFORT FOCUSED
Like the late Rodney Dangerfield, cushy cars get no respect. Comfort cruisers including the Toyota Avalon and departed Lincoln Town Car appeal to decidedly “seasoned” customers, but speak positively about one these sedans around a gearhead and jokes about wrap-around sunglasses and podiatrist appointments are inevitable.
Enthusiast ragazines have led people to believe if a vehicle can’t top .90 G’s on the skidpad or burn through the quarter mile 12 seconds it’s hardly worth driving.
Sure, a Lotus Elise is more fun than should be legally allowed, able to slice through traffic like a Benihana chef carving chicken breast, but no one wants to get pummeled like a speed bag by the stiff suspension, pounded by seats less forgiving than depleted uranium and suffer in a cabin so loud OSHA would mandate hearing protection – especially in rush-hour congestion after 16 hours at the office. Thankfully this is why there are comfortable cars like the LaCrosse.
Introduced for 2010 this full-figured four-door is just like Buicks of yore, spacious and soothing. It offers ample interior room and a lounge-worthy back seat. Despite its generous dimensions the car is classified by the EPA as a midsize, falling a few cubic feet short of the large-car category. In any event the LaCrosse is a substantial vehicle with pronounced child- bearing hips. If she wore clothes, they’d come from Lane Bryant.
Now in its fourth model year, the LaCrosse is aging gracefully. Just like when it was introduced, the design remains striking and its cabin posh. The dashboard dramatically sweeps across the interior, its simulated wood trim illuminated by a greenish-blue glow at night. The center stack is dominated by a large multimedia display and a symmetrical smattering of buttons and knobs controlling everything from navigation commands to the steering-wheel heater found on our top-of-the-line Touring model.
Touch-based user interfaces have taken a pounding in many recent car reviews but it really doesn’t matter if the controls are dials or digital. Reduced functionality is the only meaningful way to limit driver distractions. In the LaCrosse it can be difficult to pinpoint the function you want amid the numerous look-alike switches, but practice makes perfect and owners should learn the button arrangement in a few weeks.
The instrument cluster is both simple and stylish, a rare combination these days. The space between the tachometer and speedometer is home to a small color screen. A twist-switch on the turn-signal stalk allows drivers to change the information displayed, from navigation commands, to fuel economy, to trip-functions.
SCHOONER OR SPEED BOAT?
Past Buicks have derisively been called “land yachts” because of their ponderous handling and nautical reflexes. Does the LaCrosse fall into this trap? No, surprisingly. It has a controlled ride and it sticks to the road better than you’d expect.
Fleetness is another unforeseen virtue of this Buick. The car provided to AutoGuide for testing was powered by GM’s ubiquitous 3.6-liter V6 engine that sees duty in everything from the Chevrolet Traverse to the Cadillac CTS. Packin’ heat in the form of direct-fuel injection and variable valve timing it bestows the LaCrosse with a robust 303 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of twist, numbers generous enough to make the car accelerate like a sports sedan… almost. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional.
Matched to the engine, which is one of the smoothest running bent-sixes in the business is a quick-witted six-speed automatic transmission that’s sharp enough to be a MENSA member. Like other GM gearboxes this one is smart, smooth and swift. It never seems flatfooted.
Around town this powertrain is estimated to deliver 17 miles per gallon; on the highway that figure swells to 27. According to the EPA most drivers can expect an average score of 21 mpg.
If fuel economy is priority No. 1, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is also offered. It delivers 182 horsepower with 172 lb-ft of torque, returning 25 miles per gallon around town and 36 on the interstate. These impressive numbers are largely thanks to Buick’s eAssist technology, which consists of a combination starter-alternator and a trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery.
This light electrification transforms the LaCrosse into a mild hybrid, giving it a number of fuel-saving benefits including start/stop, which kills the engine when paused at a red light or in traffic. It also provides a small power boost during acceleration as well as regenerative braking. Unfortunately the digits are well short of those provided by the rival Toyota Avalon Hybrid, with its 40 mpg combined rating.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE
There are many things to like about the luxurious LaCrosse, but forward visibility is not one of them. The car’s A-pillars are positively ginormous. They’re practically big enough to block out the sun, leading to partial automotive eclipses. As such, the view ahead is severely hampered. Whole vehicles can disappear in the shadows they cast. Beware of this Buick’s blind spots.
The gargantuan pillars are no doubt there because of roof-crush safety standards. Massive quantities of steel are the only affordable way of preventing the ceiling from caving in during a wreck, but in my humble opinion forward blind spots are far more dangerous than the risk a collapsing roof in the unlikely event the car gets overturned or smashes into an obstacle while on its side. This is just another meddlesome government rule, and an example of how lawmakers are killing us with safety.
The seatbelts are another downside to the LaCrosse, another concession to safety, another trade off to “what if?” They look like normal restraints, but don’t be fooled. The buckle is equipped with some sort of locking mechanism that prevents any slack from forming in the lap-portion of the belt. This quite literally results in a hostage situation. Passengers are locked in place, unable to adjust their seating position without first putting some slack in the shoulder-portion of the belt. This is very annoying if you need to reposition yourself while driving.
Don’t look for any evidence of Stockholm syndrome; these torturous buckles will win no sympathy from their captors.
Post-bankruptcy GM builds some really world-class products and this large and lovely Buick is one of them. Downsides notwithstanding, the LaCrosse is a fine premium sedan. It’s comfortable, quiet and easy to drive, admirable virtues to be sure, especially after a long day at the office.
Starting price is about $32,000 for a nicely equipped base model. They come standard with all the go-to features you’d expect including a USB port, satellite controls on the steering wheel and an eight-way power driver’s seat. However, our range-topping Touring tester stickered for just about $41,000, which is all over up-level versions of the Lexus ES350 and the freshly minted Lincoln MKZ like a coat of paint.
LaCrosse owners are protected by a four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty; the powertrain gets an even longer guarantee: six years or 70,000 miles. How’s that for piece of mind? It’s just another example of how Buick comforts LaCrosse customers.