So how come not many people outside of GM even know the LaCrosse is out there? Someone needs to get the word out.
WHAT IT IS
The LaCrosse is a mid-sized, front wheel drive or all-wheel-drive luxury sedan.
Prices start at $26,495 for a base trim CX with front-wheel-drive and four-cylinder engine and range upward from there to a top-of-the-line sport-themed CXS with direct-injected 3.6 liter V-6 at $33,265.
Primary competition is the $35,525 Lexus ES350 sedan, but the LaCrosse should also be cross-shopped against models like the $46,830-$54,250 all-wheel-drive Acura RL sedan.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
The LaCrosse was completely redesigned for the 2010 model year; the biggest change to the roster for 2011 is that the mid-range 3.0 V-6 available last year has been dropped. The ’11 LaCrosse comes with either a 2.4 liter four-cylinder or the optional 3.6 liter V-6.
Also, the 3.6 liter V-6 can now be teamed with all-wheel-drive in the mid-trim CXL.
Supremely comfortable long-haul cruiser – as a Buick ought to be. Not an old lady’s car, as recent Buicks have tended to be. Modern, quietly classy exterior; elegant interior.
Available AWD and Heads-Up Display (HUD). Direct-injected 2.4 liter engine delivers excellent economy; good everyday power. Costs thousands less than a FWD-only Lexus ES350 or an AWD Acura RL.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Optional AWD system requires stepping up to the higher-cost CXL trim and buying the optional 3.6 liter V-6. Top-of-the-line sport-themed CXS isn’t offered with AWD.
Cruise control isn’t “active” (so the car goes faster than your set speed when going downhill). Trunk is a bit on the small side.
UNDER THE HOOD
The LaCrosse can be equipped with one of two available engines and either FWD or AWD, allowing the buyer to select a powertrain that emphasizes fuel efficiency, sportiness – or all-weather tenacity.
The standard engine in the base trim CX is a 2.4 liter, 182 hp four-cylinder teamed up with a six-speed automatic driving the front wheels. (AWD is not available with this engine.)
The 2.4 liter “Ecotec” four features fuel-saving direct injection technology and can deliver 30 mpg on the highway – which is very close to what many current-year compact economy sedans deliver. It’s also noticeably better than the mid-20s typical of mid-sized sedans that only come with larger, thirstier V-6 engines that not everyone may need. The Acura RL, for example, only manages 22 mpg on the highway – and a dismal 16 mpg in city driving.
Zero to 60 capability with the 2.4 liter engine is around 8.8-8.9 seconds – not super quick, but probably adequate for many drivers.
For more performance, Buick offers a 3.6 liter, 280 hp direct injection V-6 that can get the car to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds in the Front-wheel-drive (and sport-themed) CXS.
This engine is also optional in the mid-trim CXL with all-wheel-drive, which is slightly less quick due to the additional weight of the AWD components. Both engines come standard with six-speed automatics.
ON THE ROAD
What a nice car. The LaCrosse manages to be as laid-back-feeling as the ES350 – plush seats, extra-cushy ride, super quiet cabin – without also putting you to sleep. There’s enough in the way of steering/suspension response to make the car appealing to the under-50 buyers that represent the future of the business, without getting too aggressive (even in the sport-themed CXS) and thus sacrificing the serene driving experience that is what Buick is supposed to be all about.
The LaCrosse is both cozy and happy to pick up the pace a bit, should the need arise. For the target audience, that’s probably just right.
Four-cylinder versions offer an appealing mix of very high fuel economy (for a large car) along with adequate power for most everyday driving situations. Keep in mind that the 2.4 liter engine’s 182 hp is more power than most V-8s were producing in the late 1970s – and more than most V-6s were making as recently as the 1990s. The 2.4 liter-equipped LaCrosse isn’t slow – it’s just not sports-car quick, as the V-6 equipped versions are.
If you mostly drive at or near the posted speed limit and with the normal flow of traffic, the four may be all you need. Don’t automatically assume you have to go with the (thirstier, more expensive) optional V-6 based on memories of double-digit power figures for four-cylinder engines. Test drive one and see whether it works for you. If it does, you could drive home a LaCrosse for almost $10k less than an ES350. And $15k less than an Acura RL.
AT THE CURB
The new generation of Buicks are the result of GM’s styling studios in China where Mrs. Doubtfire’s picture isn’t hanging in a place of honor on the wall. These new Buicks are targeted at the up-and-coming middle class buyers in their 40s and 50s who want luxury and value, hold the Preparation H. This is the demographic Lexus has owned for more than a decade now, without much effort.
All it took was a dressed-up Camry (the ES350). The LaCrosse is a much better effort, all around.
First, it’s not just a rebadged Chevy with uprated trim (like the ES350, which is a tarted-up Toyota Camry).
A handsome, even bold-looking exterior with some nicely inserted Buick character touches such as the slat vents on the hood encloses what may be the most elegantly laid-out interior in a new car priced under $40k.
The dash curves upward and around, arcing downward into the door panels; soft-to-the-touch leather covers the dash, with swank-looking white stitching and very handsome-looking wood inserts for contrast. Gentle blue backlighting illuminates the controls.
It is supremely relaxing place to spend time. Compared to the Acura RL – which has a busy-looking dash and center console with lots of tiny, sometimes inscrutable, little buttons, the LaCrosse’s cabin is as welcoming as leather recliner by a crackling fire.
It is also surprisingly roomy. Though classified as a mid-sized sedan, a six-foot-three passenger (me) will enjoy as much as 6-8 inches of clearance between his knees and the back of the front seats. That is something you don’t often see outside of extended wheelbase, “L” versions of full-size luxury sedans.
The stats bear out the anecdotal evidence, too: 40.5 inches of rear seat legroom in the LaCrosse vs. 35.9 in the ES350 and 36.3 in the RL.
The Buick also wins on rear seat headroom, with 37.3 inches vs. the ES350′s 36.8 inches and the Acura’s 37.2 inches. In fact the only measure of interior space where the ES350 or RL out-room the LaCrosse is on front seat legroom, and then just barely: 42.2 inches for the Lexus and 42.3 for the Acura vs. 41.7 inches for the Buick.
You can equip this car with some very high-end features, too – including a heated steering wheel and rearseat entertainment system with twin LCD displays built into the backs of the front seat headrests. And while such features are offered in competitor models, good luck driving one home for less than $40k. Or even $50k.
Only a few small design miscues are present. First, the center console storage compartment is set back too far. It’s hard to open and access it while the vehicle is moving, or without removing your seatbelt and rotating your torso around to get at it. Second, that’s where the (sole) 12v power point is located – underneath a non-removable, flip-up cover that you have to tilt up first just to get at it. The power point itself has a fairly stiff spring-loaded cover, too – further impeding ease-of-use. If you have a radar detector, this is a hassle.
The final small nit is the smallish trunk – 13 cubic feet (vs. the ES350′s 15 cubic feet). This is the price you pay for the Executive Class rear seating.
Still, if there were an Academy Award for Best New Interior, the LaCrosse would deserve to win it.
Buick should be very proud of this car. It’s every inch as nice as (in my opinion, nicer than) the substantially more expensive, Toyota Camry-sourced, front-wheel-drive-only ES350; it has more features for less money (including available AWD) has a better warranty (five years, 100,000 miles on the powertrain) and on and on.
If it has a weakness, it is Buick’s association with the elderly driver cruise-controlling it at 53 mph in the fast lane with his turn signal on.
But that was yesterday – and today’s Buicks are nothing like the stereotype.
In addition to the expected standard full row curtain air bags, ABS, traction and stability control, Buick offers several noteworthy additional safety features – including a blind spot warning system, rear seat side impact air bags, adaptive headlights and a Heads-Up Display (HUD) that projects key information such as your current speed directly in your line of sight, so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to glance at the instrument cluster.