Buick LaCrosse

by The Car Family

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 Buick has made a better, ah, Buick. Nothing more, and nothing less. If you like Buicks, this is the best one. If you don’t like them this model isn’t going to get many consumers to leave their Toyotas, Fords, and Chryslers unless they appreciate its understated looks and familiar accommodations.

The good news is that there aren’t many flaws with this car. However, it isn’t going to create much envy with the competition for three main reasons. First, the engine is not fuel efficient despite its ratings. If you get 20 mpg you are probably doing well. Secondly, the room in the backseat both in terms of legroom and headroom are not generous. Finally, the lack of some features that we feel should be standard such as side airbags, are extra cost options.

Buick is a big seller for General Motors and it now firmly holds the ground between the Cadillac and the Pontiac. It does so resolutely with a fine record of build quality and customer service. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Buick model line has not resonated well with the younger buyers. Indeed, the average Buick owner is well past 65-years-old. Thus the LaCrosse has being designed to appeal to younger buyers and it just may with a sportier feel and energetic engine. Perhaps what might most make it most attractive to the youthful customer are a streamlined roofline and more shapely shape. Unfortunately, that makes maneuvering in and out of the front seats an exercise that requires a supple body, as you have to lower your body and duck your head at the same time. It is not a difficult move to master, but it definitely is not for those who are not flexible. For them we recommend our favorite Buick, the Park Avenue or, if you need even better value, the Rendezvous van.

Buick has made the LaCrosse in three trim levels, the CX, the more sporty CXS, and the luxury oriented CXL.  The CX is the price leader and comes with the 200-horsepower, 3.8-liter (3800) V6, a power driver’s seat, a stereo/CD, and OnStar. If you upgrade to the CXL you find yourself sitting on leather, looking at a more luxurious trim level, and riding on alloy wheels. The CXS offers Buick’s new 3.6 liter V6 that produces 240 horsepower and is definitely more youthful in ride quality. It has a bigger set of wheels and sportier suspension. For those who dread the thought of getting into a frigid car in winter, Buick adds an interesting option in the form of a remote starter. All you need to do is point it at the frost covered LaCrosse and it jumps to life with its very fast acting heater and defroster preparing the interior for your highness’s entry. There is even a good- sized cupholder for the required early morning coffee cup.

Mom’s view: I am always interested in anything new from Buick since it has an outstanding reputation for build quality, resale (http://www.nada.com) and reliability. So when the all-new LaCrosse was announced we pounced on the opportunity to test it out. It is certainly a better Buick, but whether it has enough going for it to capture sales from the competition is uncertain.

Someone at Buick should find out a way to shut the trunk lid without getting his or her hands dirty. There is no handle. In addition, when you use the remote to unlock the rear deck lid it does not pop open high enough. I also found the glare from the chrome strip that runs the width of the dash annoying as it is reflected in the side window where you constantly see it when checking the mirror. There is more that I found needed to be explained by Buick designers. The combination of small side view mirrors, and large doorframes create blind spot on both sides of car. The seats have a manual rake

adjustment, although the fore and aft controls are electrical, and the lever is awkward to reach, as it is located far back on the side of the bottom cushion. I also have no idea whose idea it was to make the interior trunk release so bothersome. You have to have the car in park and depress the door lock for a couple of seconds to open the trunk lid. This caused me much angst at the airport where I was cited by the police for blocking the pick-up lane since I had the car in park in a no stopping zone. Yes, I am fighting the ticket.

Getting in and out of the front seats wasn’t as easy as it was on one of my favorites, the Buick Park Avenue. The A pillar cuts into the entry space. Once inside the layout is clearly not cutting edge, but old world in appearance. You can order three across front seat seating so the LaCrosse can carry six, but it would be tight. The plastic wood trim is not badly done but it is so dark and brooding that it looks out of place with the gray interior of the test car.

The instruments were easy to read, but I had a major complaint about the windshield wipers. It rained a great deal on our test and even at the highest speed they could not keep up with heavy rainfall. I am not talking about torrential, just above average, and it struggled.

My greatest disappointment with the LaCrosse was its poor gas mileage. On a trip with the family onboard and the cruise control set at 75 through the desert we averaged less than 20 mpg. This same trip with the more expensive Toyota Avalon saw 27 mpg.  The new V6 engine in our test vehicle has ample scamper power, but I never felt its 240 horsepower was as enjoyable as the old 3.8 with the optional supercharger providing the poke.

Safety wise the Buick had front dual-stage airbags and OnStar. The problem for me was that unless you order the more expensive CXS model the ABS is an option and even on that model stability control system extra, as are full-length side curtain airbags and a reverse-sensing system. I would like to see all these types of safety features as standard equipment on a passenger vehicle. If family genes are indication though, this should be a very safe vehicle as its sister, the Buick LeSabre, was listed as one of the safest cars of all time.

The driver’s information center came with current weather, gas consumption, fuel range, and time on the road readouts that we were easy to understand. I was surprised to see a steering wheel that both tilted and telescoped and I liked the size of the wheel and how it felt. Other items I liked about the LaCrosse were the OnStar, the ease of which you could change the stereo controls and cruise control features. The heater was superior and the heated seats had two settings. Satellite radio is also available and highly recommended if you travel a great deal.

On the road I noticed that the rear view mirrors needed to be slightly larger to improve side visibility and that the ride of the car was quite solid and, should I say, a little BMWish in feel. The engine was strong in this front wheel drive model, but I didn’t notice any torque steer. The transmission works well, although I would have liked to see an overdrive gear to get that gas mileage where it belongs on long trips.

Overall, for the price of nearly $34,000 (US) I felt like the LaCrosse should provide me with a more exceptional interior and exterior appearance. I am a fan of the understated look, but for that type of money I would like a little more bling.

Dad’s view: The real news here is the double-overhead-cam 3.6 aluminum V-6 with variable valve timing that creates 240 hp and 225 lbs. ft. of torque nearly everywhere along it rev range above 3000 rpm. It is quiet, has good pick-up, and appears ready to take its place under the hoods of the new Buick line-up. However, as all The Car Family stated, the gas mileage wasn’t very good.

I was frankly surprised at the handling the LaCrosse provided. This Buick uses an electric Magnasteer system for its power steering that provided fairly good feedback and is easily the most responsive vehicle in the Buick line-up as it takes the steering angle and vehicle speed into account before adjusting the power assist. A fully independent suspension with front strut and a rear tri-link suspension give it a well-dampened effect, but nothing Buick owners would find objectionable. The ride is fairly quiet and the aluminum engine cradle helps keep the weight down to 3500 pounds. You can tow 1000 pounds, according to Buick.

The gas throttle has an electronic control that takes a while to get used to, as it tends to respond to initial inputs more dramatically than other Buicks. The acceleration is good to 60 mph, look for a time around eight seconds, and it has enough energy to easily conquer hills with a full family onboard. The four speed automatic transmission is an excellent unit, but it does need that extra fifth gear to enable the engine to loaf more at speed and increase fuel mileage.

Clearly, the LaCrosse is a step in the right direction for Buick and should quickly make aficionados forget the Century and the LaSabre.

Young working woman’s view: This is clearly a Buick in both looks and treatments. Buick has improved the silence in the interior with its “Quiet Tuning.”  This was accomplished by using more sound-deadening materials and a special Sandwich-construction steel panels that is said to reduce noise, and thicker carpeting. It works, but don’t do a back-to-back drive with a Toyota Avalon or you are going to be disappointed.  The interior look is an acquired taste, but there is nothing that would detract a potential buyer except for the dreaded chrome strip alluded to by my mother. It is not only a distraction, but out of place in this understated vehicle.

Driving the LaCrosse is quite easy. It responds well, gives you enough road feel, and the car has more than enough speed. The brakes are reassuring with little dive under emergency stopping. I found it easy to park and roomy inside. It would not be my first choice, but owning this Buick owning one would not be embarrassing either and I think that is a credit for Buick in its quest to reach the younger buying demographic.

Young working male’s view: My singing career is starting to bud. Just sold 200 CDs to Finland. Who says the Europeans don’t know good tunes. Anyway, this Buick is just not in my field of vision and so I give my time to my Grandfather.

Grandfather’s, not working and not interesting in working view: Didn’t like it. Looked like a new old car. There wasn’t enough room in back and getting in and out of the front seats had me holding on to the top of the car so I wouldn’t hit my head. It wasn’t all that quiet inside compared to the Toyota Avalon we just tested, but it was cheaper. You get what you pay for. I expect you read that before. The trunk lid was hard for me to close. My hand kept slipping off the freshly waxed paint and there wasn’t any other place to grab it. I liked the Park Avenue much better. It even looked slinkier.

I really enjoyed the XM Satellite radio. I was singing along to all the top bands from the 30’s and 40’s much to the chagrin of my protégé, Mr. Simple Thoughts. Sort of interesting that I learned electronics by building a crystal radio set and now you get hundreds of stations without any static. Just pay the money. Being a veteran of these tests, this is my second thanks to my hip-hop rapping grandson, I prefer the Sirius satellite offerings more.

Since I have owned a number of Buicks in the past, can you say Roadmaster, I think that this one is quite good for the younger folks. I just felt out of place in it. Maybe progress isn’t what I thought it would be.

Family conference:  Although we liked the more expensive CXS with its many extra features, we encourage you to look at the less expensive CXS model with it proven 200-horsepower, 3.8-liter (3800) V6 that meets the stringent Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) standards if you don’t mind the floaty ride. However, if you want the well-optioned CXS prepare to see a sticker price of $33,750 (US) for the heated seats, traction control, side-curtain airbags and XM satellite radio. Either way you get a much-improved Buick, but be prepared to battle that chrome strip reflection and learn to duck your head. For all manufacture websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/auto/index.html