2005 Buick LaCrosse Expert Review:Autoblog
It was a tough day for me. In the morning I found out I would not be testing the new 2005 Corvette. There were unforeseen events that prevented it from reaching the Autoblog Garage. In exchange I was offered a variety of choices, obviously none as exciting as the Corvette. I settled on the new Buick LaCrosse simply because it is such an important model for the Buick brand. Plus I needed a ride home so who was I to argue.
I don’t know if other writers admit this but I read lots of reviews of the cars I test, mainly because we post so many of them on Autoblog. Yesterday we linked to Brian Moody’s review over at Edmunds.com. After only one day in the car I think Brian and I are almost on identical pages. This is a large American sedan. It should not be compared to a Lexus by the automaker or journalists. It will not win in that comparison.
Two things the LaCrosse has going for it are the 240 horsepower engine in our CXS test car and the quiet and comfy ride that I’m guessing exists throughout all trim levels. But what I was blown away by was something much less noticeable. Knobs. Yes knobs are back. You remember knobs right? Little stubs that stick out of the dashboard to control lights, radios etc. Sure they’ve mostly been replaced by buttons these days but not in the LaCrosse. There are two knobs (pictured here, click on the image for a larger version) to the left of the steering wheel to control headlamps and interior lights. Of course their functionality is pretty confusing but hey we have knobs.
Otherwise the interior isn’t going to blow people away. It is very conservative compared to the sleek exterior lines. Our test car has a center mounted shifter and seats five but you can get a LaCrosse to seat six that comes with a column mounted shifter. This is kind of a cool idea to accommodate the grey haired set that wants six seats (why I have no idea) and younger folks who want a center column of cubbies and shifter placement.
However in our five-seater there is still a foot brake that is always getting hit by my left foot on entry and exit and just one stalk on the left of the wheel column. Obviously these need to be universal to save costs.
And yes look at that exterior. There are elements of Jaguar around the front headlamps and clearly more modern Mercedes around the taillights. My favorite feature in person is the curved line from the rear door over the rear fender. It adds some needed personality. While the LaCrosse will never, and I mean never, win over the younger set it offers a very viable alternative to the Ford Five Hundred and Chrysler 300. The 300 will win every time of course but many people don’t like that styling and the LaCrosse has a mild elegance to it.
Read Day 2 here.
I'm sitting down to write after a weekend of highway driving in what is an excellent open road cruiser. The LaCrosse must be specifically made for taking on the daily commute, long trips and bussing people to and fro in comfort. It might not be a Lexus in looks or fit and finish but the ride, to borrow from Saturday Night Live, is like butta'.
Cars need more than just a pleasant ride but for a lot of buyers out there this is the number one requirement. I’d also guess this is higher up on the list for Buick buyers. I’ve read in a number of publications how great the handling is but to me it still has the slight floaty feeling of a big American sedan. You can’t really fault Buick for it and at high speeds the tracking is spot on. Driving around mall parking lots for two days trying to get all the holiday shopping done was surprisingly uneventful and getting this big boy between the yellow lines proved easy enough. The back-up sensor features the right amount of alarm for the distance and isn’t so sensitive that parking become annoying.
The trunk is appropriately big and can fit anything I’d ever fathom putting in it and the back seats will provide comfort for most passengers. On long road trips the leg room might not be as comfortable for full grown folks but kids will have plenty of room to themselves.
At this time I’m still not in love with the interior. I’ve said before while reviewing other cars something like “Why don’t companies just make the center stacks flat black plastic instead of crappy fake metallic plastic.” I’m paraphrasing myself here but after being sick and tired of so much faux metal I was surprised to see an all black plastic center stack in the LaCrosse. Could Buick, of all companies, be taking my advice? Should they have? The console seems mighty wide to me but otherwise looks good even if it doesn’t fit perfectly with the interior design. I like the feel of it to the touch and it certainly is a step up from the door panels’ shoddy treatment. Remember last week how I raved about the Suzuki? I’m sure some out there thought I was nuts but the little Reno had higher quality materials on the doors than this much pricier sedan.
This is another time I swear there should be a plastic consultant out there spreading the wisdom of how you turn plastic into appealing looking shapes and colors. The Ford Freestyle (and I’d guess Five Hundred) suffer the same fate as the LaCrosse so it’s not just a GM problem. And even some of the Dodge Magnum seems a bit too plastic heavy. Somehow the Japanese have figured out how to make it work and the Americans are still playing catch up.
Check out Day 1 in the Buick LaCrosse CXS.
As always click on the images for larger versions.
By this point of a test I've gotten very comfortable driving whatever vehicle happens ot be on the docket for the week. There's not much learning left to do and the car should feel more like "our" car. This is also when the little things the car company didn't execute at 100% start to get really annoying.
If someone was actually interested in the new LaCrosse and asked my opinion on how it drove I’d tell them you couldn’t argue with the comfort and 240 horsepower engine in the CXS. If that was all they asked me they might end up at the showroom the next day. But there is one thing that drives me absolutely nuts with this car. The buttons do not work.
I’ll clarify and say that they work, they just don’t work well or in any semblance of the normal use buttons go through. The most egregious are the environmental controls. It’s getting mighty cold outside here in Chicago so I’m adjusting the temperature, and heated seats, often. If you simply push the up arrow for more heat the command does not register. I’m not talking about a brush either, I’m talking a full force push. You have to push and hold in for an extra millisecond than normal to get it to register, and since the temperature display is so low on the dash your eyes are off the road too long when adjusting in this manner. The same holds true for the environmental modes or air direction buttons.
Now there are temperature controls on the steering wheel and they work fine. So it could be a moot point for many, but it still aggravates me. The heated seat buttons are only on the dash panel and also work in this way. They also have two settings, both of which seem too hot for me to keep on after I’ve warmed up. So you’re constantly turning them on and off.
Radio controls are pretty easy and the knobs for volume and tuning are simple and well laid out. My only beef here is with the RDS/XM information display. Usually if you select a radio like this to display the information it will scroll continuously like a ticker on CNN. Not in the LaCrosse. Here you must push the “Display” button every time you want to see the artist information. While it may be more fun and quiz like this way it gets tiresome and the Display button is on the far side of the dash as well.
The foot brake isn’t as annoying as it was at first but I’m still not happy with it. The unlock button also lets you open the trunk if you hold it for three seconds. While at first I thought this was neat and a convenient place for a trunk release I guess I get impatient waiting that full three seconds and just get out and pop it open with the key fob. There ends my rant on the negatives of the LaCrosse, Buick’s new flagship. Hopefully they can get the little things fixed and out of the way so folks that buy the car for its ride won’t think they’re mechanically inept when trying to do something as simple as change the temperature.
Also a reader asked in yesterday’s post why I think the plastic is cheap feeling/looking with the LaCrosse. Check out the door pictured here by clicking on it for the larger image. The plastic surrounding the door handle is really cheap looking, the plastic wood trim on around the door panels (also shown above) is acceptable but nothing special and the plastic throughout, the same as the two-tone here on the door, is just bulky and cheap to the touch.
New Car Test Drive
New midsize sedan is smooth, comfortable, roomy.
The 2005 Buick LaCrosse replaces both the Regal and the Century as Buick's midsize sedan, representing 50 percent of Buick's annual car sales. Buick says it has the competition, specifically the Ford Five Hundred, Dodge Intrepid, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry, beat on a number of fronts, including quietness and overall refinement. This is a car that was well on its way to completion when GM vice-chairman and product guru Bob Lutz joined the company, and charged the Buick team to delay the program one year, get the car right, and then introduce it. It's pretty clear that the wait, and the extra effort and money invested into the program, were worth it.
LaCrosse is not an all-new car by any means. It's built in Canada on GM's W-car intermediate platform, one of the oldest in the GM chassis inventory. But about 80 percent of the parts and systems underneath are new, along with new interior and exterior designs.
The LaCrosse has a rich, high-quality looking interior with attractive woodgrain trim, nicely presented instruments and controls and available leather seats with nice-looking gathered stitching. Buick's Quiet Tuning has made the new LaCrosse one of the quietest, most pleasant cars to ride and drive in among the entire class.
The LaCrosse rides smoothly and quietly, but its steering is much more precise than previous models and it turns into corners crisply with little body lean. The V6 engines offer good power, growling under acceleration, but smooth and quiet when motoring along, and the transmissions work flawlessly.
New features make a well-equipped LaCrosse a safe, all-weather family car with nice conveniences. Among them: a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away, great on cold winter mornings; OnStar, which will dispatch emergency crews to your precise location if you have a wreck and don't respond to operators' calls; XM Satellite Radio to pick up FoxNews, CNN, ESPN and other broadcasts; and StabiliTrak, which can help keep you from skidding off a slippery road.
The LaCrosse comes in three models. The CX ($22,835) is the base model and it comes with cloth upholstery and manually operated air conditioning. The LaCrosse CX is powered by a cast-iron 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6 engine that was first introduced in Buicks back in 1979, the continuously improved and now rated at a modest 200 horsepower. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are optional.
The middle model, the CXL ($25,335), comes with leather upholstery, automatic climate control, ABS, and quite a list of additional standard equipment. The CXL also uses the 3.8-liter engine.
The CXS ($28,335) is the performance car of the family, with GM's new high-feature 3.6-liter V6 with modern double overhead cams and variable valve timing develops about 240 horsepower. The CXS gets its own suspension and steering system, 17-inch tires and wheels, and a raft of additional touches like driving lights under the front bumper.
The LaCrosse is available with five- or six-passenger seating: either bucket seats with a center console and shifter or a 40/20/40 bench seat with the shifter on the steering column. Standard features include tilt wheel, remote keyless entry, power driver's seat, programmable power locks, power windows, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD system. All models come standard with OnStar including a one-year subscription.
Options include side curtain air bags ($395), StabiliTrak chassis control on the CXS model only ($495), XM Satellite Radio ($325 with one-year free subscription), power sunroof ($900), remote starting ($150), heated front seats ($295), 17-inch chrome wheels ($695), and a chrome package ($295). A Gold Convenience option package ($1,150) is offered with a leather steering wheel with redundant climate and audio controls, a universal transmitter, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated outside mirrors, six-way power passenger seat, rear park assist, and rear reading lamps. Two cast aluminum wheels are available, one 16-inch and one 17-inch.
LaCrosse is unmistakably a Buick sedan, with its trademark vertical bar waterfall grille, long nose, long slopes and simple body curvatures. They've added a tiny third side window behind the C-pillar to add some visual interest. About the only new design theme is at the rear, where there is a discernible dent in the decklid that ties the taillamps together. There is a single, slender chrome side spear on the doors and body in lieu of anything sportier.
The base LaCrosse CX comes with 16-inch wheels and bolt-on faux alloy wheel-covers and has almost no decoration at all. Body, door, and fender gaps are noticeably smaller than on the Regal and Century, and the new aero headlamps are said to be 35-percent brighter. CX models can be identified by a grained graphite-color finish on the rocker panels underneath the doors, while other models have these panels in body color.
GM's aging W-car architecture has been torn apart and put back together to improve the LaCrosse's ride and handling by several orders of magnitude. The old steel front cradle has been replaced by a lighter, stronger, stiffer extruded aluminum one that holds the engine, transaxle, steering and suspension tighter, controls powertrain rocking, and weighs 20 pounds less.
Buick says the new car is designed with more high-strength steel content than Regal and Century, a magnesium cross-car beam behind the instrument panel, another cross-car beam behind the rear seats, steel reinforcements in the rocker panels, interlocking door latch system, high-strength steel door beams, and a double-thick Quiet Steel floor pan and firewalls, all added in the name of crash safety and quietness. Altogether, Buick says, about 40 additional pounds of sound deadeners have been added to the car, including structural foam in the front fenders.
The Buick designers were given a much longer wheelbase, two inches longer than the old Century and Regal. And all of it was dedicated to back seat legroom. My 6-foot, 4-inch frame can sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver with plenty of room to spare now.
The LaCrosse interior is altogether new and different from the cheapie Regal and Century rent-a-car interiors. There are fewer but larger individual pieces, built to closer tolerances, for a richer, higher quality look inside. The instruments and controls are presented in white on black, and each of the three round dials in the deeply tunneled instrument panel has a chrome ring around it. Very nicely presented, sportier-looking than previous instruments, with small-diameter chrome-ringed knobs arrayed around the dashboard.
The center stack is done in a mica-flecked flat black, with a trip computer and driver information system that's easy to put through its menu, though the information panel is so glossy that it's hard to read in the morning or afternoon light. The entire dashboard is decorated with a very good imitation woodgrain material. The new front bucket seats in the five-passenger model are clad in leather in the CXL and CXS versions, with a new silk-impregnated vinyl on the seat side panels that emulates leather in look and feel, and a new type of stitching.
Buick makes quite a point of talking about Quiet Tuning, a program of eliminating, tuning out, absorbing, covering up and masking noise sources all over the car, a combination of substituted parts and different types of added sound insulation in the engine, on the firewall, under the toeboard, inside the wheel wells and in the roof. Taken together, the system has made the new LaCrosse one of the quietest, most pleasant cars to ride and drive in in the entire class.
New optional features available on the LaCrosse that were never available on the Century or Regal include a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away, OnStar, XM satellite radio, and StabiliTrak, and if we were ordering a LaCrosse, we would add all of these excellent systems to make a truly complete, safe and all-weather family car.
We drove all of the LaCrosse models at the car's introduction in northern Michigan. Both of the available V6 engines have been tuned to give a nice, healthy growl on full throttle, but disappear into the background in high-gear cruising.
The standard 3.8-liter engine is rated at 200 horsepower and 225 foot-pounds of torque, a cast-iron V6 that's been fitted with electronic throttle control (ETC), a stiffer crankshaft, an underhood silencer, new pulleys, new power steering, and a structural oil pan all in the name of less mechanical noise. With all of its new parts, the 3.8 is the same gutsy V-6 it's always been, with good torque on demand, smooth, quiet operation, and 29 miles per gallon on the highway in the new car.
The new 3.6-liter, the so-called high-feature V6, with double overhead cams and electronic throttle control has quite a bit more horsepower and torque, revs more freely, but comes only in the CXS (at a $3,000 price penalty). The final numbers are expected to be 240 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 230 foot-pounds of torque at 3200 rpm, and 28 mpg.
The transmissions in all three versions worked flawlessly. All models use GM's high-capacity 4T65-E transaxle, which has only four forward speeds, not five or six as in some of the newest designs.
The base suspension used in the CX and CXS has been stiffened at the rear about 20 percent more than the outgoing Regal and Century, with a larger stabilizer bar. The more powerful CXS gets the Gran Touring suspension with stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars, as well as Magnasteer electric power steering. The optional StabiliTrak suspension package comes with Magnasteer II power steering.
We found the CSX more sporty to drive through the trees on an autumn day in northern Michigan. The steering has the same good feel and turn-in power as in the other LaCross models, but the ratio is quicker. In all three models, the suspension rides more quietly and smoothly, and the steering precision is of a much, much higher order than the Century or Regal, really biting into the pavement when you want to turn, with terrific body roll control.
Three different traction control systems are offered: CX and CXL versions use a speed-based system that works with engine torque and fuel cutoff. this helps eliminate front wheelspin when accelerating on slippery surfaces for more stable control. The performance CXS uses GM's full-range electronic traction control, which selectively applies the brakes at one ore more wheels as needed to restore traction. GM's optional StabiliTrak system improves driver control during emergency or evasive maneuvers. StabiliTrak uses sensors to detect the direction the driver is steering the car and if the car is not responding adequately, it applies the brakes selectively and precisely to the left and right wheels and reduces throttle to help realign the vehicle's path with that being steered by the driver.
The 11.7-inch ventilated front and 10.6-inch solid rear disc brakes with ABS are brand-new Delphi brakes, larger, stiffer and more powerful than before. On our middle CXL model, they worked just fine to haul the car's 3500 pounds down from supralegal speeds whenever a sudden 90-degree corner popped up, with a brake pedal feel and deceleration curve that feels like Mr. Lutz ordered it to his personal specifications.
Buick's long tradition of fine sedans is served and continued very well by the new LaCrosse. It is a very quiet car that surprises the new driver with its steering precision, road manners, and handling crispness. The interior has been given extra attention since Bob Lutz ordered a re-do, and that, too, has paid off handsomely.
We don't know that the LaCrosse will compete directly with the Accord and Camry, but it is certainly a worthy competitor for all the American-made competition in the $30,000 sedan class.
Jim McCraw filed this report from Pellston, Michigan.
Buick LaCrosse CX ($22,835); LaCrosse CXL ($25,335); LaCrosse CXS ($28,335).
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Sunroof ($900); XM Satellite Radio ($325); chrome-plated wheels ($650); Gold convenience package ($1150); remote start ($150); StabiliTrak ($495).
Buick LaCrosse CXL ($25,335).
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