Buick LaCrosse eAssist — Where big and mileage meet

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

There is considerable Chinese influence inside and out of the 2012 LaCrosse because Buick is that country’s number one luxury brand. The LaCrosse carries a distinctive look from its high beltline, broad body and deeply sculpted body lines, and an oversized Buick waterfall grille actually works well surrounded by blade-shaped headlamps.
In its third model year, the LaCrosse interior looks as dramatic as ever. Open the door and — most dramatic after dark — the interior is bathed in ice-blue light. The lighting is everywhere from the gauges to the inside of the door handle enclosures to a thin light bar that runs across the top of the dash from door-to-door. 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.
The dashboard flows from door-to-door and is attractive beyond anything Buick has done in decades. The interior is large and bucket like, almost too big. It makes the interior of a Lexus ES 350 look downright staid. Materials are generally first class and fit and finish is first rate although we did find a sharp edge on the bottom of the metal trim surrounding the front center cup holders. There are also a plethora of buttons on the center stack beyond the touch screen controller. All the buttons are charcoal with small font grey symbols or words that are very difficult to read. The buttons are back lit at night and are actually more readable, at least for some. It is a difficulty that one shouldn’t have to deal with in a luxury type car, or in the case of the U.S. market a near luxury car.
For 2012 the 182-horesepower 4-cylinder has been revised with a dose of hybrid power called eAssist (the “e” presumably for “electric”), which ups performance ever so slightly. Combined with some aerodynamic tricks, the hybrid provides about 25 percent more fuel efficiency, raising gas mileage from 19/30 with the standard 2.4-liter in 2011 to 25/36 for 2012. Buick hopes this will attract energy-conscious folks.
eAssist is a mild hybrid employing belt/alternator/starter technology. A small lithium-ion battery pack recovers and stores energy lost when braking and coasting and gives it back when the car accelerates. The electric motor can add as much as 15 horsepower.
It also employs an auto stop-start feature that cuts off the gas engine when the car comes to a stop at a traffic light. And it turns the engine off when coasting. We found the operation for the most part seamless but you become acutely aware of it while in a confining stop and go parking lot surrounded by lots of cars and people cutting in and out around you.
There’s even a hill-assist system that captures brake pressure to help keep the vehicle stationary when eAssist’s start-stop function is activated on a moderate or steep grade that allows the driver to accelerate more smoothly from a dead stop.
We found the LaCrosse extremely quiet and well mannered. The ride is luxury-class comfortable, but without the traditional Buick wallow. The eAssist LaCrosse was actually entertaining on our back-road winding test route.
Seating is comfortable in all four corners. The power driver's seat in our test car together with the manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel gave us a just-right driving position. Rear-seat passengers will find leg room adequate. 
We found trunk space on the skimpy side measured at just 10.8 cubic feet because of the hybrid battery pack. By comparison, a Lexus ES 350 has 14.7 cubic feet of space.
The eAssist while giving back with fewer stops at the gas pump  the price of entry ($30,820) is $2,830 more than the 2011 base 4-cylinder ($27,990). If that gives you pause, the only alternative is a 3.6-liter V-6 for just $470 more, starting at $31,290 in the one-step-up Convenience trim package. Seems like a no-brainer if you like traditional luxury-like performance. The engine has been endowed with 23 additional horsepower for 2012, now rated at 303, and capable of 0-to-60 runs in the mid-six-second range, as compared to the eAssist at eight seconds.
But perhaps it’s not so much a no-brainer when you figure that on average you lose eight miles to the gallon compared to the eAssist.
Another consideration; if you want all-wheel drive — something northern drivers may find attractive — you will have to opt for the V-6, and a $2,175 option.
The LaCrosse comes well equipped in the safety department with brake assist, stability and traction control and full-length side-curtain airbags. Important to a lot of folks, it scored five — the top rating — on both frontal and side-impact government crash tests.
While most automotive manufacturers are reducing the number of trim levels, Buick decided to swim upstream with a “what-were-they-thinking” moment and increased the number from three in 2011 to a mind-numbing seven for 2012.
The base model is well equipped and may be adequate for your needs. But if you desire such things as navigation, bigger wheels or a full leather package, you will be confronted with determining if it is cheaper to purchase a lower trim and add options a la carte or order a higher trim level where desirable features are standard equipment. The top Touring Group trim with V-6 starts at $39,130.
Our Premium I Group trim level, the top trim available for the eAssist, carried a base price of $33,300 including destination, and with options such as the navigation/backup camera package, a driver confidence package with a blind spot warning system and a top-level Harmon/Kardon 11-speaker 384-watt sound system the car came to $36,685.
The LaCrosse is worthy of consideration and more than holds its own against such noteworthy competitors at the Acura TL, Hyundai Genesis, Lincoln MKZ and Chrysler 300. And the eAssist adds a very interesting new, fuel-efficient dimension to the LaCrosse line.
Base price: $30,820; as driven, $36,695
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder plus electric motor
Horsepower: 182 @ 6,700 rpm
Torque: 172 foot-pounds @ 4,900 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.7 inches
Length: 196.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,835 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 10.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.7 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 36 mpg highway, 25 mpg city
0-60: 8.8 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Lexus ES 350, Lincoln MKZ, Hyundai Genesis, Acura TL
The Good:
• Smooth, quiet ride
• Elegant interior styling
• Excellent gas mileage with eAssist
The Bad:
• Limited luggage space with hybrid battery pack
• Small hard to read fonts and symbols on the center stack
The Ugly:
• Entry-level price $2,830 higher than 2011