2006 Buick LaCrosse Expert Review
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 Sure they’ve mostly been replaced by buttons these days but not in the LaCrosse.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
Impressive handling, quiet cruising.
Buick LaCrosse is a premium midsize sedan. It's quiet and pleasant-mannered as we'd expect of a Buick, yet its steering is more precise than owners of previous Buicks might expect, and it turns into corners crisply, with little body lean. Its V6 engines offer good power, growling under acceleration, but motoring along smoothly and quietly on the freeway, and the transmission works flawlessly.
Inside is a rich, high-quality cabin with attractive woodgrain trim, nicely presented instruments and controls, and available leather seats with nice-looking gathered stitching.
Electronic features make the 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 Fox News, CNN, ESPN, or your favorite music; and StabiliTrak, which can help keep you from skidding off a slippery road.
LaCrosse was introduced as a 2005 model, replacing both the Century and Regal. For 2006, ABS and side-curtain airbags have been made standard on all models.
The Buick LaCrosse comes in three models. The CX and the more luxurious CXL come with a 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6 rated at 200 horsepower. The performance-oriented CXS comes with 3.6-liter V6 with modern double overhead cams and variable valve timing that develops 240 horsepower.
The CX ($22,935) comes with cloth upholstery and manually operated air conditioning. Standard features for all models include tilt wheel, six-way power driver's seat, programmable power locks with remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped shift knob, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system. All models also come standard with OnStar and a one-year subscription. A Comfort and Convenience Package for the 2006 LaCrosse CX ($1,190) includes a remote vehicle starter, programmable driver information center, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescope steering wheel with redundant audio and climate controls, cargo convenience net, security systems, and illuminated vanity mirrors.
The CXL ($25,435), features leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, power lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, a split-folding rear bench seat, driver information center, and content theft alarm.
The CXS ($28,435) comes with thicker anti-roll bars front and rear, and 17-inch wheels and tires to go with the more powerful V6. CXS also boasts additional touches like driving lights under the front bumper.
LaCrosse CX and CXL are available with five- or six-passenger seating. Front bucket seats with a center console and leather-wrapped floor shifter come standard, but a six-passenger option moves the shifter to the steering column and substitutes a 40/20/40-split bench seat whose center cushion flips over to become a mini-console.
Options include nine-speaker stereo with MP3 capability ($545) or six-disc CD changer ($695), digital audio with XM Satellite Radio ($325) that includes a one-year subscription, power sunroof ($900), heated front seats ($295), power adjustable passenger's seat ($350), 16- or 17-inch chrome wheels ($650), remote starting ($150), engine block heater ($35), and an exterior chrome decor package ($295). The Driver Confidence Package for the CXL ($1,250) and CXS ($1,150) adds redundant audio and climate controls on the steering wheel, a universal remote transmitter, electrochromic inside rearview mirror, heated outside mirrors, power-adjustable front passenger's seat, ultrasonic rear park assist, and rear-seat reading lamps.
Safety features on all 2006 Buick LaCrosse models include anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control along with the required front airbags. Optional safety features include side-curtain airbags for head and torso protection, electronic stability control, rear park assist, and StabiliTrak electronic stability control.
LaCrosse is unmistakably a Buick, with its trademark vertical-bar waterfall grille, long nose, long slopes and simple body curves. A tiny third side window behind the C-pillar adds some visual interest, while at the rear, a discernible dent in the decklid ties the taillamps together and recalls the more adventurous surface development that characterized Buicks of the early 1960s. A single, slender chrome spear decorates the doors. XM Satellite Radio shares a single antenna with the standard OnStar system.
CX models can be identified by a grained, graphite-color finish on the rocker panels underneath the doors, while this panel is body color on CXL and CXS. Otherwise, the base CX has almost no decoration at all, beyond the bolt-on faux alloy covers for its 16-inch steel wheels.
Construction quality looks good. Body, door, and fender gaps on the LaCrosse are all noticeably smaller than on the previous Regal and Century models. And LaCrosse's headlamps are said to be 35-percent brighter.
To improve crash safety and reduce noise, Buick used generous amounts of expensive, high-strength steel, a magnesium cross beam behind the instrument panel, another cross beam behind the rear seats, steel reinforcements in the rocker panels, an interlocking door latch system, high-strength steel door beams, a double-thick Quiet Steel floor pan and firewall, and structural foam in the front fenders.
The Buick LaCrosse features a roomy, comfortable cabin with a general look of quality. The standard front bucket seats, clad in leather in the CXL and CXS, feature a new type of stitching, and newly developed silk-impregnated vinyl on the seat side panels emulates the look and feel of leather.
Rear-seat legroom is generous, thanks to a relatively long wheelbase of 110 inches. My 6-foot, 4-inch frame can sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver with plenty of room to spare.
Interior quality and appearance are enhanced by reducing the number of individual trim pieces, which makes everything fit better and gives the cabin a richer, higher grade look. The instruments and controls are white on black, and each of the three round dials is wringed in chrome and set into a deeply tunneled instrument panel. It's all very nicely presented, and relatively sporty looking.
The center stack is finished a mica-flecked flat black, with a trip computer and driver information system that's easy to put through its menu. However, the information panel is so glossy that it's hard to read in early morning or late afternoon light. The entire dashboard is decorated with a very good imitation woodgrain.
Buick uses its Quiet Tuning program to reduce, tune out, absorb, cover up and mask noise sources all through the car. Quiet Tuning uses specially engineered parts and adds sound insulation in the engine, on the firewall, under the toeboard, inside the wheel wells and in the roof. Buick's Quiet Tuning has made LaCrosse one of the quietest cars in the class.
Optional features upgrade this car to a cut above, making for a truly complete, safe, all-weather family car. Among them are a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away, OnStar, XM Satellite Radio, and StabiliTrak; if we were ordering a LaCrosse, we would add all of these excellent systems.
The commercials showing the pair of matching Buicks doing pirouettes might be pushing it a bit, but the LaCrosse CXS does indeed handle far better than we would have guessed and responds quite well to hard driving though most buyers probably won't drive like that.
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 that comes on the CX and CXL is smooth and quiet and is rated to get 29 miles per gallon on the highway. It's a gutsy V6 that generates strong torque, meaning you get good acceleration performance without having to rev it up much. This is an older cast-iron V6, but it's been thoroughly upgraded internally to reduce mechanical noise and features electronic throttle control. It's rated at 200 horsepower at 5200 rpm, and 230 pound-feet of torque at 4000.
The newer 3.6-liter V6 that comes on the CXS revs more freely and produces more power despite its smaller size: 240 horsepower at 6000 rpm. Its torque curve is also flatter, peaking with 225 pound-feet at 2000 rpm, but delivering 90 percent of that peak between 1500 and 6000 rpm. What that means is that you've always got good, strong power on tap in any situation. Mash the gas pedal and she goes. A thoroughly modern engine, the 3.6-liter features all-aluminum construction, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder with continuously variable valve timing, and electronic throttle control.
All three LaCrosse models come with a four-speed automatic transmission. It works flawlessly.
As mentioned, the LaCrosse handles quite well. The steering is quite precise, really biting into the pavement when you want to turn. It has terrific body roll control, meaning it's not bouncing and yawing around when pushed harder on rural roads. The suspension used in the CX and CXS is about 20 percent stiffer than in the old Regal or Century, with larger stabilizer bars, so the LaCrosse handles better than those cars.
We found the CSX more sporty to drive on winding roads in Northern Michigan. We later pushed one of these cars hard on some tight, bumpy canyon roads outside Los Angeles and found it handles quite well. The grip from the tires is tenacious. Even when squealing around curves, we found it maintained good composure, not losing its poise the way older American sedans tend to do. It offered good transient response, meaning it could change directions quickly in hard left-right-left maneuvers. In short, it could do all the things shown in the Buick commercials. The steering has the same good feel and turn-in power as in the other Lacrosse models, but the ratio is quicker. The CXS gets a special Gran Touring suspension with stiffer front and rear stabilizers, as well as Magnasteer electric power steering. The optional StabiliTrak suspension package comes with more sophisticated Magnasteer II power steering.
For the most part, the LaCrosse rides smoothly, though we admit being a little disappointed in the ride quality on L.A.'s Interstate 405. It's a bumpy section of one of the busiest freeways in the world that really tests a smooth ride. Here, the LaCrosse suffered some vibration and the ride quality wasn't nearly as smooth as we think a Buick should be. This is perhaps a trade-off of the responsive handling.
Three different traction control systems are offered: CX and CXL versions use a speed-based setup that works with engine torque and fuel cutoff. This helps eliminate front wheelspin when accelerating on slippery surfaces, providing more stable control. The CXS comes with GM's full-range electronic traction control, which also selectively applies the brakes at one or more wheels as needed to restore traction.
StabiliTrak includes a traction-control function and also improves driver control during emergency or evasive maneuvers. We highly recommend getting the optional Stabili.
Buick's long tradition of fine sedans is well-served and continued by the LaCrosse. It's a quiet car that impressed us with its steering precision and handling crispness. The interior has been given extra attention and that has paid off handsomely.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Pellston, Michigan, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
Buick LaCrosse CX ($22,935); LaCrosse CXL ($25,435); LaCrosse CXS ($28,435).
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Sunroof ($900); XM Satellite Radio ($325); chrome-plated wheels ($650); remote starter ($150); Driver Confidence Package ($1250) includes tilt-and-telescopic steering column with redundant audio and climate controls, universal remote transmitter, electrochromic inside rearview mirror, heated outside mirrors, power-adjustable front passenger's seat, rear parking assist, and rear-seat reading lamps.
Buick LaCrosse CXL ($25,435).
*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.