The Buick LaCrosse fills a North American niche for General Motors that neither the platform-sharing Chevrolet Impala nor Cadillac XTS can.
|1. Engine: 2.4L 4-cylinder with 182 hp or a 3.6L V6 with 304.
2. Transmission: Standard six-speed automatic.
3. Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway.
4. Price: Starting from $34,460 with AWD V6 models from $39,540.
5. Price as Tested: $45,475.
Improved as it is, the Impala might still strike drivers with life experience as somewhat pedestrian looking. It offers most of the same perks, but in the sort of work-a-day package that seems more at home outside an office or school than parked at a weekly bridge game or golf course. It also doesn’t offer all-wheel drive.
Cadillac’s XTS certainly makes up for whatever flash you’ll miss in the Chevrolet, but the touch-based cabin controls can be frustrating. Both the screen and center stack controls call for an acclimation period that someone who didn’t grow up with computers might find daunting.
Thankfully, the LaCrosse is able to fill that gap as a sedan that sits between both of those cars in terms of pricing, equipment and style. For once, General Motors’ rebadge and repurpose policy strikes true.
A Welcome Style Refresher
Styling changes for this year include a more imposing grille, sharper headlights and a revised hood. It was never an ugly car, but the mid-cycle changes introduced this year bring out the best elements of its design.
Like its body, the cabin comes with a handful of straightforward improvements. The center stack has far fewer buttons and is easier to understand. In fact, it goes from having 17 to seven this year and comes with a standard eight-inch color display that offers touch capability but doesn’t require it for very many tasks.
All-wheel drive is available, but only with the V6 and a starting price just over $39,000 compared to about $34,000 for the four-cylinder model. Loaded with high-end options including “white diamond tricoat paint” for $995, the LaCrosse can set you back by roughly $48,400 while powering the front wheels or about $50,000 with all-wheel drive.
The test car Buick offered AutoGuide cost $45,475 (all listed prices include $925 in delivery fees). That includes the V6 engine, all-wheel drive and a long list of safety features introduced to the car this year. For $2,125, drivers get a heads-up display, blind zone monitoring, articulating headlights, a frontal collision warning system and rear cross traffic alert. That last one is especially helpful because a heavily raked rear window and thick pillars would otherwise make navigating tight spaces tricky to say the least.
The driver’s seat vibrates, buzzing your bum to signal where an approaching car or obstacle is, which is handy in a car this size.
For an extra $1,745, the car comes with adaptive cruise control and “automatic collision preparation,” which automatically applies the brakes if you don’t. I didn’t have the stones to test the system to its full capacity, but it did slow the car down more than once during highway driving.
The “ultra luxury package” costs another $2,495 and adds real wood inserts, a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, perforated leather seats (all models save the entry-level version come with leather seats) and a micro suede headliner. At the price Buick asks, heated rear seats would be a nice bonus considering cars that cost much less offer it these days.
Regardless of which trim packages you pick, the LaCrosse mutes outside noise especially gracefully. If you’re serious enough to schedule a test drive, try asking the sales representative to stand outside the passenger door and talk to you through the window. Roll it up on him and lock the door and you’ll see exactly how well the car modulates annoying outside noises.
Handles like A Boat Buick
Front-wheel drive models come with a HiPer-strut front suspension that helps mitigate torque steer and a four-link rear suspension. All-wheel drive models come with standard struts and an H-arm setup to accommodate the rear differential.
Both the direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 3.6-liter V6 carry over for 2014 with 182 hp and 304 respectively. For a car north of 300 hp, the LaCrosse feels especially subdued on the highway. In the lower range, you’ll find the six-speed automatic helps create ample acceleration. Unfortunately, at higher speeds, throttle input is slow to respond and makes passing more of a calculated maneuver than an impulsive joy. The same engine feels more eager to go in Chevrolet’s Impala.
Manually selecting gears with a plus-minus rocker on the shift lever takes care of that, but you’ll sacrifice fuel economy in doing so. Official fuel consumption estimates suggest the car should return 17 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway or a combined 20 and in my two-week test, that’s almost exactly what happened. Over two tanks of gas, the car beat that average and returned between 22 and 23 mpg overall.
Overall, the LaCrosse is 197 inches long and it feels it. Tight turns can border on being uncomfortable and especially thick A-pillars often obstruct everything from cyclists to other cars.
Nana Needs More Junk in the Trunk
Believe it or not, the LaCrosse is 4.3 inches shorter than the Impala despite the fact that they share a 111.7-inch wheelbase. Even with a stubbier body, the LaCrosse has more rear seat legroom (40.5 inches) compared to the Impala (39.8). What gives? Quite a bit of trunk space, actually.
You only get 13.3 cubic feet of storage space in the old gal’s rump, which is a huge letdown when you consider that the cheaper Impala has almost 19. That’s a few irons short of what I would like to be carrying for a little Sunday golf with my grandpa and one of his golfing buddies.
It’s still enough to haul plenty of groceries, walkers with tennis balls or enough Werther’s Original caramel hard candies to rot the teeth right our of your grandkids
But the back seat is spacious in what is most likely a kowtow by GM to the East.
China has a heart-on for spacious Buick sedans like your Nanna does for I Love Lucy re-runs. Over 78 percent of Buicks sold last year went to China, a land where arriving by chauffeur is second only to selling children’s toys slathered in lead-based paint.
Given that, it isn’t surprising to see trunk space end up as a concession to second-row legroom. A bigger boot would still be good.
Buick does a splendid job of slotting the LaCrosse right where it needs to be. It has plenty of space for three adult passengers. It’s comfortable, quiet and – most importantly – easy to understand. With a splash of modern technology for improved safety the LaCrosse is fresh from cataract surgery and safer to drive than ever.