2009 Buick LaCrosse Expert Review:Autoblog
There was a time when Buick was at the top of the automotive food chain, just below Cadillac. Harley Earl was creating cutting-edge designs, the cars were packed with power and luxury, and affluent Americans were snatching up Buicks by the thousands. There was even a top of the line Buick that carried the "Super" moniker, representing the best of the storied nameplate.
By the '90s, the average age of a Buick customer reached into Senior Citizen territory, and its products were considered by many to be closer to Chevy than Cadillac. With the launch of the LaCrosse in late 2004, however, Maximum Bob and his crew declared that the drought was over, and that Buick would receive much-needed attention. While the subsequent launches of the Lucerne and Enclave were bigger strides towards giving GM the Lexus-fighters it so desires, the LaCrosse tangled more with other domestics than it did any luxury brand.
Enter the 2008 model year, and GM has given the LaCrosse a needed freshening. Buick also unveiled the LaCrosse Super, with four port holes on each side demarcating a 300-hp V8 under the hood. The General thinks it has a sleeper on its hands, and we get to see if it's right with a week-long stay in the Autoblog Garage. Hit the jump to read the full review and view more high-resolution pics.
All photos ©2007 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.
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The big aesthetic change for the 2008 LaCrosse is the new-look Buick grille. Much larger and more pronounced than the schnoz it replaces, the new front end also gives the LaCrosse a more contemporary look. The rest of the tweaks to the front end are subtle yet effective, with the fog lights growing in size, the front air dam opening up a bit, the bumper now comes to a point, and a more elegant shape was given to the bottom trim.
Out back, the tail lights remain unchanged, but edgier skirting and a small spoiler give the Super a much more defined look. The two large tail pipes and a small Super badge are the only two queues that something fun lies under the hood. The port holes, love them or hate them, give the side view of the LaCrosse Super a much classier appearance than the base model, and the more shapely skirting makes for a better-looking sedan. Buick rounds off the chrome parade with 18-inch wheels, which are overkill on some vehicles, but on the Super they look right at home. Our tester came with a rich brown metallic paint, which looked either charcoal or black under certain lighting. This blogger has never liked the color brown on any car, but on the Buick it looked pretty damn good.
Unfortunately, Buick took brown a little too far on the inside of our tester, but the materials used feel luxurious to the touch. It should be noted that the lighter beige interior also available in the LaCrosse has a much nicer contrast and would have been preferred. The soft-touch surfaces on the dash remind us of a Lexus ES 350, and the soft, rich leather-wrapped steering wheel feels expensive.
The center stack is very logically laid-out, and utilizes the same tactile switches that are used in many other GM products. The brushed aluminum helped provide more contrast inside the cabin, but it still looked a little plain compared to some of the LaCrosse Super's competition. We were a bit disappointed that the LaCrosse doesn't have an available navigation screen, but the Super, along with all Buicks, comes standard with OnStar.
The OnStar navigation service is, in many ways, better than an LCD navigation screen in that you can speak to an actual human to get information that you may not have handy to program into a nav screen. For example, we were looking for a restaurant with a name we couldn't remember and address we couldn't recall, yet by pressing the OnStar button on the rear-view mirror and telling the operator the city of the restaurant and the name we thought it was, she was able to tell us all restaurants with similar names in the area. Once we determined the correct name, directions were loaded to the Super, and a voice guided us through every turn. The trip odometer also transformed into an information center and told us the distance to the next turn. Cool stuff and much cheaper than a $2,000 navigation system.
The nine-speaker Concert III sound system pumped out crisp sound, great bass, and was easy to operate with redundant controls on the steering wheel. XM satellite is standard on all Buicks, and it's a great addition to any road trip. While XM sounds great on a high-end sound system, the LaCrosse was impressed passengers more with the sounds it didn't make. The cabin is so quiet that your ears almost pop when the door is shut. The LaCrosse seems to be even quieter than the church-silent Enclave we reviewed in August.
The best aspect of the Super interior resides where your rear rests. The leather seating surfaces of the LaCrosse were so terrific, we found ourselves looking for excuses to sit in them. Soft leather is abundant, leg support is perfect, and lateral support keeps you planted just enough during spirited driving without being intrusive otherwise. We'd love a cooled seating surface option to go with the rump roasters offered by Buick, though most vehicles in this price range don't yet have that feature.
Of course, the big deal with the LaCrosse Super isn't the comfort or the styling; it's performance. The Super marks the first use of a V8 engine in a LaCrosse, and 300 HP driving the front wheels can be a bit tricky for even the best engineers. The Super also makes due with just a four-speed auto tranny, which is a gear or two behind most of the competition. Also challenging for GM performance engineers is the fact that the LaCrosse platform is known for its plush, cushy ride, which is pretty much the polar opposite of what you'd want to work with in a sporty vehicle.
With all these things on our mind, we found the LaCrosse Super to be a vastly different vehicle from the base LaCrosse, and were pleasantly surprised at what the Super brought to the road. The performance gurus took a pillow-soft platform and made it stiff and compliant by using much stiffer Bilsteing monotube struts. Steering was also tweaked, and the brakes were up-sized. The result is a Buick that can not only hit 60 in 5.7 seconds, but can also hit a turn at speed without feeling like it's going to tip. The Super is one of those vehicles that makes you think you're not going as fast as you are, so we had to really watch the speedometer while accelerating and cruising on the freeway. The LaCrosse Super's steering is also far more weighted and precise than what we're used to in a Buick, and coupled with four pinned-down wheels, this sedan was both more fun to drive and more luxurious than the V8-powered Impala SS we drove a year ago.
The engineers that put the Super in the LaCrosse deserve a small round of applause for what they did here, as it represents a great deal of fun and amenities for a relative bargain. GM intends to only make as many LaCrosse Supers as people will want, and 10% of overall sales tends to be the magic number. Even though the base LaCrosse can be had with an improved 3.6L V6, our V8-powered Super with a $33,750 price tag is the only LaCrosse that we'd consider. For shoppers looking at a Mercury Sable, Toyota Avalon, or Chrysler 300C, the LaCrosse Super is definitely worth a passing glance.
All photos ©2007 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
V8 model brings Super name back from the past.
The Buick LaCrosse is a quiet, pleasant-mannered mid-size sedan that handles winding roads better than you might expect. Its styling is sophisticated and modern, yet conservative. Inside is a rich, high-quality cabin with eye-catching woodgrain trim, nicely presented instruments and controls, and available leather seats with attractive gathered stitching.
For 2008, the Buick LaCrosse has been updated with fresh styling, including a new hood, grille, and front fascia.
The LaCrosse lineup offers a choice of two V6 engines, but for 2008 a powerful V8 joins the line as well: The 2008 Buick LaCrosse Super is powered by a V8 and delivers the quickest 0-60 mph time since the famed Buick Grand National of the 1980s. Buick dug into its past for the Super model name, last used in 1958. The Super is distinguished by Buick's trademark portholes and other styling cues.
The LaCrosse CX and CXL offer a soft ride, the kind traditionally associated with Buick, but drivers may be surprised by the sportiness of the CXS and Super, which offer precise steering and a relatively firm suspension with little body lean. A LaCrosse CXS handles quite impressively on winding mountain roads and can carve through a canyon with the best of the midsize sedans.
We found the V6 engines motor along smoothly and quietly on the freeway yet offer good power, growling enthusiastically under hard acceleration. The 3.8-liter V6 that comes in the CXL is a reliable, cast-iron, overhead-valve engine that gets an EPA-rated 17/28 mpg and delivers strong low-rpm torque for good acceleration in on crowded, low-revving American roads. The sportier CXS features a double overhead-cam engine that revs more freely and produces more horsepower, making the LaCrosse more fun to drive while rating 17/25 mpg. The new Super V8 turns this Buick into a modern muscle car but is refined and quiet when cruising. The Super is EPA rated at 16/24 mpg.
Electronic features abound, making the 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 CNN, Fox News, ESPN, or your favorite music; and StabiliTrak, which can help keep you from skidding off a slippery road. ABS and side-curtain airbags come standard.
The 2008 Buick LaCrosse is offered in four models. The base CX and the more luxurious CXL are powered by a 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6 rated at 200 horsepower. The sportier CXS comes with a 3.6-liter V6 with modern double overhead camshafts and variable valve timing that develops 240 horsepower. The LaCrosse Super is powered by a 5.3-liter V8 that makes 300 horsepower and features GM's Active Fuel Management system, which deactivates four cylinders at light engine loads to increase fuel economy. All LaCrosses have a four-speed automatic transmission.
CX ($23,310) comes with cloth upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, tilt leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, interior air filter, six-way power driver's seat, power locks with remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, theater-style interior light dimming, leather-wrapped shift knob, six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system with XM satellite radio, remote engine starting, automatic headlights, alarm, and P225/60R16 tires on steel wheels with hubcaps. All models come standard with OnStar hardware and a one-year subscription to OnStar service. A Comfort and Convenience package for CX ($495) adds heated front seats, power driver seat lumbar adjustment, and a split folding rear seat. Also available for CX are alloy wheels ($350), chrome alloy wheels ($650), a power sunroof ($900), nine-speaker AM/FM radio stereo with in-dash six-disc CD player ($695), and a six-way power passenger seat ($250). Five-passenger seating is standard, but six-passenger seating is available for CX and CXL ($250).
CXL ($25,310) features leather upholstery, power lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat, and alloy wheels. Options for CXL include a split folding rear seat ($275) and P225/55R17 tires on chrome alloy wheels ($750).
CXS ($27,310) comes with thicker anti-roll bars front and rear, split folding rear seat, fog lights, and P225/55R17 tires to go with the more powerful V6. The Driver's Confidence package ($950) for CXL and CXS includes rear obstacle detection, heated power mirrors, six-way power passenger seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener and rear map lights.
Super ($31,310) has the V8, as well as rear obstacle detection, six-way power passenger seat, heated power mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener, rear spoiler, performance suspension, and P235/50R18 tires.
Safety features on all models include dual front airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control. Rear obstacle detection is available on some models and we recommend it because it could alert the driver to someone behind the car when backing up. StabiliTrak electronic stability control is standard on CXS and Super and optional on CXL and we recommend it because it can help the driver maintain control.
The LaCrosse is unmistakably a Buick, with its long nose, long slopes and simple body curves.
For 2008, the waterfall grille grows in size to resemble that of the new Buick Enclave (a cue introduced on the 2004 Buick Velite show car). The hood and front fascia are slightly revised for 2008.
At the rear, tiny rear side windows behind the C-pillars add some visual interest, while 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 other models. Otherwise, the base CX has almost no decoration at all, beyond the bolt-on faux alloy covers for its 16-inch steel wheels.
The Super model has several distinguishing characteristics, including Buick's trademark front fender portholes (four per side, one for each cylinder), flared rocker panels, rear decklid spoiler, chrome exhaust tips, and a different lower fascia in the rear.
The LaCrosse's construction quality looks good. The body, door, and fender gaps 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 uses generous amounts of expensive, high-strength steel, including steel reinforcements in the rocker panels, high-strength steel door beams, and a double-thick Quiet Steel floor pan and firewall. There's also an interlocking door latch system, a magnesium cross beam behind the instrument panel, another cross beam behind the rear seats, and structural foam in the front fenders.
The LaCrosse cabin is roomy and comfortable and exudes a look of quality. 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 front bucket seats are comfortable with plentiful headroom and legroom. This is the standard LaCrosse configuration and we prefer it: five-passenger seating with front bucket seats separated by a center console, and a leather-wrapped floor shifter.
However, a six-passenger option is available for the CX and CXL that substitutes a front bench seat. The front bench seat is split 40/20/40 and has a flip-and-fold center back cushion that can be converted into a center console/armrest with a large storage bin and dual cup holders. You'll most likely want to use this assembly most often as a center console, as putting someone in the middle will make for an uncomfortable trip for all front seat occupants. The shifter is mounted to the steering column on six-passenger models.
Back-seat passengers will find the LaCrosse comfortable. Rear-seat legroom is generous, thanks to a relatively long wheelbase of 110.5 inches. We found that a 6-foot, 4-inch passenger can sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver with plenty of room to spare.
In front of the driver are three round instrument dials ringed in chrome and set into a deeply tunneled instrument panel. The instrument graphics light up in blue in the Super model. It's all very nicely presented, and relatively sporty looking.
The center stack is finished a mica-flecked flat black. On the Super model it's finished in silver. The center stack has a simple layout that is easy to use though plain in appearance. The trip computer and driver information center are easy to put through their menus. However, the information panel is so glossy that we found it hard to read in early morning or late afternoon light. The dashboard is decorated in a light woodgrain pattern. Super models have a darker woodgrain. Super models also get unique floormats, metal sill plates, and a seat insert pattern called DreamWeave.
Buick applied its Quiet Tuning treatment to reduce noise throughout the car. Quiet Tuning uses specially engineered parts and adds sound insulation in the engine, on the firewall, under the toeboard, inside the wheelwells and in the roof. It's a school of thinking that makes LaCrosse one of the quietest cars in the class.
OnStar, XM satellite radio, and a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away make the LaCrosse a pleasure to live with.
The trunk has a generous 16 cubic feet of cargo room. Unfortunately, a split folding rear seat is not standard, but it can be ordered. We would recommend it, though a structural beam between the cabin and trunk limits the height of items that can slide through. On the positive side, the trunk uses struts that won't crush packages. On the negative, the size of the trunk opening will make it hard to load large packages.
Buick LaCrosse buyers have two main options: the CX and CXL with a soft, traditional ride good for cruising and commuting, or the CXS and Super with a firmer ride good for sporty handling on winding roads.
The CX and CXL suspension is about 20 percent stiffer than in the old Regal and Century, with larger stabilizer bars. It works well for commuting and running errands. It isn't designed for driving hard on winding roads, however, and will wallow in turns.
The CXS handles more like a sports sedan. The steering is precise, really biting into the pavement when you want to turn. The car is not bouncing and yawing around when pushed harder on rural roads. Compared to the CX and CXL, the sportier CXS steers through a quicker ratio (13.3:1 vs. 15.3:1), featuring GM's electronic Magnasteer (rather than hydraulic) assistance. It also rides on stiffer anti-roll bars both front (32 mm vs. 30) and rear (19.4 mm vs. 17). Indeed, our impression was that the chassis has excellent roll control.
We found the CXS to be responsive on winding roads in Northern Michigan. We later pushed one hard on some tight, bumpy canyon roads outside Los Angeles and found it handled quite well there. The tires grip nicely. Even when squealing around curves, the CXS maintained good composure, not losing its poise the way older American sedans tended to. The CXS offered good transient response, meaning it could change directions quickly in hard left-right-left maneuvers. The quicker steering ratio enhances the good steering feel and turn-in responsiveness we noted in the other Lacrosse models. CXS models with optional StabiliTrak feature GM's even more sophisticated Magnasteer II power steering.
The Super is sharper yet, thanks to several mechanical upgrades, including Bilstein front shocks, a premium steering gear with lower friction, larger front brakes, and 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot tires. The Super's steering feels more precise on center, but it is tuned to have a light, easy feel. While there is less body lean than in other models, the LaCrosse is still rather large and heavy, so body lean is still evident. In a trip around a road course, we found that the Super leaned in turns, but quickly took a nice set to track through without a problem. The Super felt surprisingly at home on the racetrack.
For the most part, the LaCrosse rides smoothly. However, the CXS suspension suffers a bit on bumpy freeways. We noticed this on a particularly bumpy section of the I-405 freeway through Los Angeles, one of the busiest freeways in the world and one that really tests a smooth ride. Here, the CXS transmitted some road vibration into the cabin, at least by Buick standards, a trade-off for the more responsive handling of the CXS. The Super's tighter suspension and 18-inch tires transmit a bit more road feel, but was never uncomfortable over bumps. The CX and CXL offer a smoother ride on rough freeways.
StabiliTrak can improve driver control during emergency or evasive maneuvers and we highly recommend opting for it because it can help you avoid an accident. StabiliTrak includes a traction-control function and uses sensors to detect the direction the driver is steering the car; if the car is not responding adequately, it applies the brakes selectively and precisely to the left or right front wheels (something no driver can do), while reducing throttle to help realign the vehicle's actual path with the path the driver intended. This can help the driver maintain control in an evasive maneuver. Remember to steer where you want to go and the car will do everything it can to get there.
The brakes worked well, big four-wheel discs, ventilated in front, with ABS all around. We found the brakes gave good pedal feedback and were easy to modulate, making it easy to bring the car to nice smooth stops in normal driving conditions, ensuring comfort for your passengers.
All three engines have been tuned to give a nice, healthy gro.
Buick's long tradition of fine sedans is well-served and continued by the LaCrosse. It's a quiet, comfortable car that measures up well against the best of the midsize sedans. Those who prefer a smooth ride and traditional Buick comfort will find it in the LaCrosse CX and CXL. Drivers who like sporty sedans will appreciate the CXS or Super, which deliver good acceleration performance, steering precision and crisp handling.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Pellston, Michigan, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and correspondent Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.
Buick LaCrosse CX ($23,310); LaCrosse CXL ($25,310); LaCrosse CXS ($27,310); LaCrosse Super ($31,310).
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
sunroof ($900); P225/55R17 tires on chrome-plated alloy wheels ($650); Driver's Confidence package ($950) with rear obstacle detection, heated power mirrors, six-way power passenger seat, auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener, rear map lights.
Buick LaCrosse CXL ($25,310).
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