Replacing the Regal and soon-to-exit Century, the front-drive LaCrosse is Buick
's new, younger-thinking midsize mainstay. Although it borrows heavily from GM's aging W-body platform that also underpinned the Regal/Century, the LaCrosse gains 1.5 inches of wheelbase--to 110.5 inches--plus multiple improvements that enhance both its structural integrity and overall sophistication.
The lineup includes CX, CXL, and CXS models. Traditional Buick character is more evident in the latter pair, but the CXL trades leather upholstery for cloth, adds a Driver Information Center, and nets dual-zone auto climate control in place of manual A/C. The top-line CXS moves beyond with a more powerful engine and Gran Touring sport suspension, plus numerous other amenities.
Vertical bars in an oval grille are all that really speak to Buick lineage on the soft-lined exterior. Otherwise, styling reflects a pleasantly modern potpourri of domestic and international cues set off by subtle chrome accenting. Overall finish is impressive and body panel gaps consistent, reflecting the Lexus engineering target for this breakthrough Buick. The CXS also comes with 17-inch aluminum wheels and 225/55TR17 tires in place of the 16-inch rims--steel on CX, alloy on CXL--that wear S-rated 225/60 rubber.
Tasteful understatement with an emphasis on serenity is the order of the day inside. Marginally convincing faux walnut trim notwithstanding, there's a look and feel of quality. Main controls are logically positioned, although legibility of the instruments--light grey-on-charcoal rather than true white-on-black--suffers in low-ambient-light conditions and brightwork on the dash can cause annoying sun flare.
The front buckets are more about cruising comfort than lateral support, but the LaCrosse does offer a bench seat option that allows it to carry six. While the wheelbase stretch makes the aft quarters more adult friendly, taller occupants may find head- and legroom marginal. Both CXL and CXS have a 60/40 split-folding rear seat with a pull-down armrest and dual cupholders. A locking glovebox, open storage in the console, a covered bin in the center armrest and mini-pockets in each front door hold smaller items, while a 16.0-cu-ft trunk with reasonably easy access takes care of the big stuff.
All models feature a full range of power assists, keyless remote entry, six-way power driver's seat, and retained power plus a six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system with auto tone control and speed-compensated volume. Available nine-speaker upgrade units add either a six-disc changer or CD/MP3 capability, and XM satellite radio also is available. Another neat touch is optional remote starting. Quirks include manual adjustment for the driver's seatback and cumbersome two-lever activation for the tilt/telescope steering column that's a CXL/CXS standard. Most glaring omission: No navigation system is offered. At the heart of the LaCrosse is Buick's "Quiet Tuning" technology. Using the Lexus ES sedan as an NVH bogey, engineers sought to give their new sedan world-class refinement, complementing the platform redesign process with massive amounts of sound deadener plus other innovative touches like Quiet Steel laminate in the forward clip, acoustic laminate in the front and side glass, and noise-quashing baffles in the roof pillars. For those efforts, the LaCrosse does merit at least "Lexus-like" marks under nearly all conditions.
All LaCrosse models have standard front airbags and offer optional front/rear side airbags and side-curtain bags. One year of OnStar Safe and Sound Service that includes automatic notification of emergency services whenever an airbag deploys also is standard across the line.
While the CX and CXL carry the venerable cast-iron 3.8-liter OHV, here rated at 200 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque, the CXS gets GM's global 3.6-liter modular DOHC six that cranks out 240 horses, 230 lb-ft of twist, and delivers up 60 mph in under eight seconds. This high-tech all-aluminum gem features variable valve timing on both cams to optimize efficiency. A smooth-shifting automatic transmission backs both engines, but it's a four-speed unit in a class where five is the norm. Appropriately reinforced to handle the added muscle, the CSX unit also uses a lower final drive ratio.
Behind the Wheel
Thoroughly competent and unexpectedly engaging, the LaCrosse makes the most of its comprehensive platform tweaks. A new aluminum front cradle impressively decouples the powertrain from the passenger compartment, and creates a stiffer, better-isolated foundation for the steering and suspension. As a result, the LaCrosse, particularly the CXS, has a reassuringly confident feel, whether trekking down an interstate or reveling in the joys of a favorite back road. Turn-in is pleasantly brisk, body roll well controlled, and the low-profile tires strike a commendable balance between grip and compliance.
Conventional power steering in the CX/CXL gives way to a quicker-ratio MagnaSteer unit in the CXS. As usual, it's the system is better at providing distinctly artificial effort than any actual road feel. On the braking front, newly upgraded disc/disc binders couple improved stopping power with a short pedal stroke and firm feel. The CXS also adds ABS paired with traction control, and offers optional Stabilitrak--which makes its first-ever appearance on a mid-size Buick.
The new twin-cam V-6 delivers quick throttle response; and at 19/28 mpg city/hwy ratings from the EPA, sacrifices only one mpg in each duty cycle to the pushrod 3.8-liter engine. Full-throttle charges elicit a note of audible urgency, but in cruise mode, low-level tire thump and drone are the most noticeable items.
Clean styling, genuine refinement, and rewarding driving experience aside, the LaCrosse is still a vehicle best appreciated by those with fairly conservative automotive tastes. Even attractions like the new 3.6-liter V-6 and Quiet Tuning technology can't fully offset class-lagging weaknesses like a four-speed automatic and the absence of a navigation package. All three LaCrosse variants also fall below average in IC's Total Cost of Ownership value ratings. Troubling news, given competition that ranges from the new, 280-hp Toyota Avalon in the near-lux realm to Pontiac's Grand Prix clan on the sport side--not to mention perennial market leaders like the ubiquitous Accord and Camry.
Buick's attempt to redefine its born-in-the-USA bloodline deserves kudos. But even at CXS level, the LaCrosse appeals to a largely post-boomer buyer who demands a well-crafted, but inherently domestic, product.
The new LaCrosse offers laudable levels of sophistication and refinement in a midsize sedan that gives American-car partisans reason to rejoice.
The Silver Convenience Package brings CXL/CXS touches to the CX, and includes the remote starting feature. Its Gold counterpart adds items like a power passenger seat, heated mirrors, rear parking assist, and steering wheel buttons for audio/temp/cruise control to CXL/CXS models. XM Satellite radio is offered across the line.
Others to Consider
Mercury Montego, Honda Accord, Toyota Avalon