Buick LaCrosse — A move to the upside

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When we first saw one of the latest Buick LaCrosse television ads, we thought how outrageous.

As the LaCrosse comes to a stoplight on a busy city street, it draws a crowd of curious and obviously admiring onlookers as the voice over intones, “It’s not the new Lexus. It’s not the new BMW. It’s not the new Audi. What it is, is impossible to resist. It’s the new class of world class.”

General Motors, we thought, is climbing out on another of its infamous “the-goods-don’t-match-the-hype” limbs.

Then we were delivered a top-of-the-line CXS review car and 30 minutes into our first drive we stopped to collect our thoughts.


This Buick may be that good. The interior reeked of quality materials, classy styling and excellent fit and finish. The car was Lexus quiet (if you will) at highway speeds. It delivered solid, hushed performance from GM’s state-of-the-art 3.6-liter direct injection V-6 engine. The front chairs were comfortable, and rear leg room extraordinary for a car just pushing into the full-sized class. And a later walk-around left us highly impressed with the overall styling.

But wait. We need to add a quick qualification here. We know what you are thinking, this is a Buick and there are probably a lot of “qualifications.” Not so. This one is simple — we recommend passing over the base 4-cylinder 2.4-liter engine. As impressive as the 182-horsepower engine is in numerous GM entries, we don’t think it belongs in the two-ton Buick. It degrades the performance the two available V-6 engines provide, especially the 280-horsepower top-line V-6. You will have to decide if the mid-level 3.0-liter engine making 255 horsepower suits your needs. It will probably work for most people. Our solid recommendation is the 3.6.

As noted our week-long test came in a top-line CXS with the bigger engine and an impressive list of standard features for what we think is a reasonable price of $33,765 including destination charge.

Thirty-four grand for our review car we think is extraordinary considering the long list of standard equipment. If factory navigation doesn’t float your boat — it doesn’t float ours — then the base CXS has everything most people desire in an entry-level luxury sedan. No options necessary.

And for those folks living in winter-weather climates, all-wheel drive is available.

Buick has a strong following of loyal customers, but those costumers are mostly over 60. The brand needs an infusion of younger buyers, and the new LaCrosse may be just the ticket to attract people who are shopping the Lexus ES 350 or the Infiniti M35 or the Volkswagen CC or the Nissan Maxima or the Hyundai Genesis. It should be noted that the buyers of the mentioned vehicles are not the youngest either but they do skew younger than the typical Buick buyer.

Buick officials no doubt hope television spots like the aforementioned one are enough to at least snag shoppers who haven’t been in a Buick showroom in years.

The LaCrosse is well positioned to sell itself. The styling, while retaining some basic Buick traits, is new and refreshing. There is considerable Chinese influence inside and out since Buick is that country’s number one luxury brand — giving the LaCrosse a distinctive look from its high beltline and deeply sculpted body lines. An oversized Buick waterfall grille actually works well surrounded by blade-shaped headlamps. Stylized Buick portholes are still in evidence, but moved from the fenders to the hood.

Open the door and — most dramatic after dark — the interior is bathed in ice-blue light. Everything from the gauges to the inside of the door handle enclosures to a thin light bar that runs from door-to-door across the top of the dash feature the same ice blue lighting.

All this soft light could have turned the Buick interior into a glitzy sideshow, but the stylists pulled off a very sophisticated and luxurious look, a rich and soothing nighttime atmosphere.

A touch of Buick (and Cadillac) nostalgia remain in the new LaCrosse, with parking position sensors and lamps located in the headliner in the rear at the top edge of the rear glass still easily visible through the rear view mirror. Not the most modern of sensor placement but it still works.

The dashboard flows from door-to-door and is attractive beyond anything Buick has done in decades. It makes the interior of a Lexus ES 350 look downright staid. Materials are generally first class and fit and finish is first rate.

While the dashboard layout is one of the most attractive in the industry, the living area is not without its downsides. For one thing, the center arm rest is positioned too far back for comfort, and when the forward cupholders are in use the driver’s arm gravitates to the drink containers. There is also an aggravating lack of storage cubbies up front. We found ourselves using the drink holders to store our odds and ends.

The LaCrosse comes in three trim levels — CX, CXL and CXS — starting at $27,835 including destination charge. The CXL starts at $30,395 and the CXS starts at $33,765. The all-wheel drive CXL version carries a price tag of $32,570. For now, both the CX and the CXL come with the 3.0-liter V-6, but sometime during the model year the base CX engine will become the 4-cylinder. All models come with a six-speed automatic as standard equipment.

We found that the CXS with the 3.6-liter V-6 exhibited steady, smooth and quiet performance measured at a reassuring seven seconds from 0-to-60. Shifts were smooth and seamless and when it came time to come down from speed, brake feel was solid and confidence-inspiring.

Perhaps even more surprising, the ride was luxury-class comfortable, but without the traditional Buick wallow. The LaCrosse was actually entertaining on our winding back-road test route.

The front chairs in the LaCrosse are comfortable, and we think they will work well on long-distance trips. Rear-seat passengers are pampered with vast stretches of leg room, and when necessary the rear seat will accommodate three across.

Here’s a nice touch. The LaCrosse comes with three-across child seat LATCH anchors, making it possible to position the baby seat in the safer and more convenient center location.

Our other big concern is the rather small trunk — 12.8 cubic feet — for a vehicle this size. We didn’t test it but we would suggest a stroller storage test to make sure there is room for any and all that baby stuff if you’re going to use those LATCH anchors.

The downsides for LaCrosse are few, and the upsides — including price and a nice array of standard equipment — are many. While the GM hype of “World Class” may be beyond the reality this is one Buick we could recommend to many, whether 35 with a young family or 65 and just entering retirement.

Base price: $27,835; as driven, $34,090
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 280 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 259 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.7 inches
Length: 196.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,065 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 27 mpg highway, 17 mpg city
0-60: 6.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Lexus ES 350, Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Genesis

The Good:
• Smooth, quiet ride without Buick wallow
• Cutting-edge styling inside and out
• Available all-wheel drive

The Bad:
• Lacking storage areas up front

The Ugly:
• Small trunk for full-sized sedan