Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Revised styling adds style to this smooth, full-size sedan.
With its attractive design, quality materials, solid driving dynamics, available all-wheel drive, comfort, and array of electronic and safety features, the Buick LaCrosse is a good choice for a luxury sedan.
The 2014 Buick LaCrosse gets sweetened with a prettier face and more shapely interior. The suspension is upgraded with active dampening on the two top models with the V6 engine. LaCrosse was last redesigned for the 2010 model year.
This full-sized sedan is built on the same platform as the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Impala. The chassis was initially developed in Germany for Opel.
Engine choices include GM's 3.6-liter V6 that makes 304 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque and returns an EPA-rated 18/28 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, and the 2.4-liter inline-4 with eAssist that makes 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque while achieving an EPA-rated 25/36 mpg, impressive numbers for a luxury sedan. We got less when we drove the 2.4-liter, with an average of 25.1 miles per gallon a four-day road trip with mostly freeway driving.
Both engines use a 6-speed automatic transmission, the V6 version being stronger and sportier. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is available with the V6.
The 2014 LaCrosse facelift includes a handsome new waterfall grille, sculpted hood, and wing-shaped LED headlamps. In back is a new rear fascia, integrated spoiler, and wing-shaped LED taillamps. Aerodynamics are improved for 2014 with the addition of active front grille shutters, which close at highway speeds to reduce drag. This technology is used on other cars, such as the Cadillac ATS.
The cabin offers redesigned seats and more space. A new sloped center stack comes with an 8-inch color touch screen and Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system, which shares many features with Chevrolet's MyLink and Cadillac's CUE interfaces. Features include smartphone integration with apps like Pandora, and voice recognition that controls navigation and audio functions. A new seven-speaker audio system comes standard; an 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround system is optional. A new Ultra Luxury interior package uses semi-aniline leather upholstery and ash wood trim.
New electronic safety features include lane change alert, which goes a step beyond blind zone alert in that it can detect moving vehicles in the next line that are up to 230 feet behind. This and other features are bundled into packages, most notably the Driver Confidence 1 package, including forward collision alert, lane departure warning, lane change alert, side blind zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert, head-up display and HID headlights. The Driver Confidence 2 package adds active safety features including radar-based forward collision alert, collision preparation with collision mitigation braking (which will automatically brake if a collision is imminent), full-speed-range adaptive cruise control and a safety alert seat, which can vibrate the driver's seat cushion in lieu of an audible alert.
The 2.4-liter eAssist is a mild hybrid system designed for boosting acceleration, with its 15-horsepower liquid-cooled induction motor that becomes a 20-horsepower generator. It's like a turbo, only electric. It picks up the pace on freeway on-ramps, long grades, and two-lane passing. It boosts the fuel mileage by 6 or 7 mpg, while costing less than the non-hybrid V6. That's a rarity, definitely not the case with the Lexus ES, which offers similar powertrains, V6 and I4 hybrid. LaCrosse eAssist models use a front spoiler and underbody panels to improve aerodynamics, along with Michelin P235/50R17 low-rolling-resistance tires. It's not available with all-wheel drive.
Buick LaCrosse competes with the impressive Hyundai Genesis, the luxurious Lexus ES 350, and sporty Acura TLX. The LaCrosse eAssist model goes up against the Lincoln MKZ hybrid and Lexus ES 300h.
Buick doesn't give actual names to LaCrosse models. There are several combinations of powertrains and options available. The LaCrosse Base ($33,135) and Leather ($35,210) models come standard with the eAssist powertrain, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder GM Ecotec engine with an 11-kilowatt electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. The 3.6-liter V6 is optional. All models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
LaCrosse Premium I ($38,810), and Premium II ($39,355) models come standard with the 3.6-liter V6. All-wheel drive ($2175) is available with the V6 in Leather and Premium I.
LaCrosse comes standard with cloth upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls, power driver seat, split-folding rear seats, adjustable head rests, full power accessories, cruise control, eight-inch display screen, OnStar, Bluetooth, seven-speaker sound system with Buick IntelliLink radio, CD player, auxiliary jack and USB connector, keyless entry, remote start, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 17-inch painted aluminum wheels with P235/50 tires.
LaCrosse Leather models feature leather upholstery with French-seam stitching, heated front seats with more adjustment, memory seat and mirrors, rearview camera, rear park assist, and push-button start. An Ultra Luxury Package has suede headliners, Tamo Ash trim, and softer leather.
LaCrosse Premium I gets perforated leather heated and air-cooled front seats, power rear sunshade, 19-inch chrome-plated wheels, HiPer Strut front suspension, Real Time Dampening with Sport Mode, and Bose Centerpoint 5.1 Surround Sound 11-speaker system.
Premium II adds 20-inch alloy wheels, and the Buick IntelliLink Infotainment System and 8-inch diagonal color touch screen with navigation.
Many features found on the upper trim levels can be added to lower trims. For example there's an Entertainment Package ($600) and two safety packages called Driver Confidence I ($2125) and II ($1745). Stand-alone options include sunroof with second-row skylight ($2295), rear side airbags, and rear seat video with headrest-mounted screens.
Safety features on all models include eight airbags, antilock disc brakes (ABS) with brake assist, traction control, stability control and the OnStar telematics system. Options include a blind-spot alert system, rearview camera, rear-seat side-impact airbags, as well as the costly Driver Confidence packages. The standard headlamps are halogen with flash-to-pass, while articulating HID lights come in the Driver Confidence 1 package. All-wheel drive can improve handling stability on slippery surfaces.
The Buick LaCrosse looks contemporary, elegant and refined. Conservative but not conventional. The lines flow around the car, and a long roofline distinctively drops onto the deck. It looks like a fastback limo. It's longer than the Hyundai, Lexus and Lincoln, one inch longer than the Hyundai Genesis and seven inches longer than the Lincoln MKZ.
Buick heritage cues abound, namely the portholes and thick waterfall grille, cascading in half-twists down the nose. The grille is almost a nod to 1958, and it works, except for the big Buick emblem in the middle of the waterfall, that's a shame. The tri-shield emblem is forgettable, although the story is cool; it's the ancestral coat of arms of David Dunbar Buick, the Scot who built the first Buick, in Detroit at the turn of the 20th century. Mr. Buick sold the company for a modest amount and didn't die rich. His car lives on, now America's oldest. And it's still built in the U.S., Kansas City to be exact. (The Lincoln is built in Mexico).
The lovely winged headlamps fly toward a high beltline and unflared fenders. The Premium I's bright chrome nine-spoke 19-inch wheels seem like overstatement on an understated car. The big calipers are visible, but they're painted a bland silver. Overstated wheels, understated calipers, can't win.
At the rear there's a big horizontal chrome strip intended to enhance the stance, while chrome exhaust pipes on the V6 come out of a new black fascia, more integrated. A spoiler grows from the trailing edge of the deck, while new LED taillamps are moved outboard a bit, again to enhance the stance. LED taillamps are brighter and the brake lights are quicker.
The interior is roomy and feels premium, as it should. Sweeping lines, soft-touch materials, and stitched leather define the dash and doors, while the brushed metal and wood trim are tasteful. The center stack is sloped toward the windshield, giving dimension. The new display screen is 8 inches and very readable, with a rearview camera whose image is big and clear.
The Buick screen is like a smartphone, with icons that can be swiped with your fingertip; fine, except try swiping in a bouncing car. That's one reason dials are good, you can hang onto them while you're tuning without taking your eyes off the road.
It's silent in the cabin, thanks to what Buick calls QuietTuning engineering. Engineers have damped, cancelled, and isolated road and wind noise, using acoustical laminate on the windshield and front windows, steel laminate in the firewall, baffles in the pillars, melt-on sound deadening in the steel of the lower body, and heavy sound-absorbing material in the engine, passenger and cargo compartments.
The 2014 interior redesign offers a number of things. The footwell is well padded for the driver's right leg below the knee, a problem area in some cars. There's more storage in the center console, which is deep but not long, to leave room for cupholders behind the shift lever. New front seats have four-way adjustable headrests. New door controls include tidy door handles. There used to be 17 radio controls on the center stack, now there are seven buttons, and hooray, one of them spins through the many satellite radio stations. A knob always does it better, quickly and without distraction to your eyes or brain.
The front seats are comfortable while being quite firm, even in the perforated leather. There's a wide range of adjustment, although like many luxury cars, petite drivers might find themselves swallowed up in the broad, long cushions. And don't expect the bolstering of a sports sedan.
The rear seats offer good legroom: 0.5 inches better than the Lexus ES, 1.9 inches better than the Hyundai Genesis, 3.8 inches better than the Lincoln MKZ, and 4.3 inches better than the Acura TL. That's because the rear seat is elevated a bit; so in rear headroom, it doesn't do so well, fourth best, although only 1 inch separates best from worst.
The LaCrosse is fourth again in trunk space, so golfers should buy the Lincoln, which wins big at 16.5 cubic feet, then Hyundai 15.9, Lexus 15.3, LaCrosse 13.3 and Acura TL 13.1. The LaCrosse eAssist is even worse, with a tight 10.8 cubic feet in the trunk, thanks to the lithium-ion battery pack. The Chevy Impala, built on the same platform as the LaCrosse but 4.4 inches longer, has a trunk with 18.8 cubic feet. Golfer's delight.
The easy-exit driver seat slides way, way back automatically, to make it easier to climb out; however our seat never returned on its own when we climbed back in, so we had to use the memory button each time. Surely it's programmable to return on its own, but we never had the time it would have taken to figure out how to change this computer setting, and still maybe fail. Or it might have actually been an electronic fail, the kind that will drive you crazy for months until you find the day to take it back to the dealer to fix something so tiny, and wonder if it's all worth it just to drive a luxury car with so many electronic enhancements to make your life easier than it used to be back in those awful days when you had to bend your knees to get out of your car.
The cabin is wonderful at night, with Ice Blue ambient lighting. The gauges are lit organic white, with clean graphics and font, and bright white needles. The digital speed display is so big and clear that the analog speedometer just gets in the way, all 170 miles per hour of it, about twice as fast as 99 percent of Buick owners will ever drive this car. The available head-up display can't be seen in the windshield in daylight, not even at its brightest; but it doesn't really matter, because it's only needed for the digital display of speed, and that's already handled.
We got seat time in both a Base eAssist and Premium I with the Driver Confidence 1 package that includes articulating HID headlamps. They offer exceptional visibility at night, and could save your life. We wish they were a stand-alone option (on all cars), instead of costing thousands in a package.
Our Driver Confidence 2 package ($1745) included adaptive cruise control, and it was smooth; some of them brake too late and accelerate too fast, but not this one. It does what's needed without drama. It maintained our medium gap in the freeway fast lane without our even feeling it, braking and accelerating gradually. A number of times we watched the speedo drop gradually from 75 to 65 and scarcely felt it.
Visibility in corners is obscured a bit by the A-pillars and big mirrors. A steep rake in the rear window makes rear visibility adequate but not generous, and that's with the rear headrests lowered. The roofline doesn't create a blind spot over the driver's shoulder.
We appreciated the simplicity and efficiency of the leather-wrapped shift lever. The beauty of the classy Buick lever is that there's nothing fancy about it. In the LaCrosse, it all falls into your hand, with the gears in a line. In manual mode, the gear changes are made with a thumb button that doesn't twist your wrist to press. And the transmission gear display is easy to read.
The Buick LaCrosse is not intended to be a sports sedan, but with the V6 with active suspension it can hold its own in that broadening world. It doesn't corner with the spirit of the smaller Buick Verano because its wheelbase is 112 inches (5 inches more than the Lincoln), but it handles way better than you'd ever imagine from a big front-wheel-drive American sedan.
Faster cars are easy to find, but the 3.6-liter V6 is fast enough; it accelerates from 70 to 80 mph with zero effort, totally smooth and silent. When you floor it at slower speeds, the motor does its best to growl, but it's subdued.
Active suspension, standard on Premium I and II models, works by continuous electronic adjustment of the dampers, with sensors reading the road and making instant adjustments. Combine this with Buick's HiPer Strut front suspension, reducing torque steer by electronically adjusting the camber and isolating bumps, and you've got great ride and handling.
We didn't push it hard and fast over bumpy curves, but we came close enough to be satisfied that LaCrosse drivers will be pleased. With its compliant ride, the LaCrosse will work well for road trips, even with a couple of kids in the back.
In Sport mode, the 6-speed automatic transmission is worthy of a sports sedan. In Sport Manual it will not automatically upshift at 7000 rpm redline, it just levels the power and hangs there waiting for the driver's command. There is a growling rev-matching blip when you downshift hard, as the transmission accepts early downshifts into second gear, to decelerate for a slow corner. In Automatic mode it's invisible. You can't ask more than that.
We also got seat time in an eAssist with the electric motor that boosts power on demand. It's got good torque. Cruising is quiet. Its 6-speed automatic transmission is smooth and intelligent. You can feel the regenerative braking in your foot on the brake pedal, but it's not bothersome. You can also feel the Stop-Start system, which shuts down the engine at redlights, stop signs and such. The variable-ratio electric power steering, same system as in the V6 fwd, provided firm control at speed and light effort when parking. Good feel at the brake pedal, easy to make smooth progressive stops. The cabin was as quiet as the V6.
The already winning Buick LaCrosse is improved with better looks and interior. The Base model is affordable, stylish, responsive, and fuel efficient. The Premium models with leather, V6, active suspension and available all-wheel drive, are major players in their high-quality field, deservedly so.
Sam Moses filed this report after his test drives of Buick LaCrosse models with the V6 and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder with eAssist.
Buick LaCrosse Base ($33,135), Leather ($35,210), Premium I ($38,810), Premium II ($39,355), AWD ($35,285), Touring Group ($38,270).
Kansas City, Kansas.
Options As Tested
Power sunroof with skylight ($1195); Buick IntelliLink audio system ($795); Driver Confidence 1 ($2125); Driver Confidence 2 ($1745).
Buick LaCrosse Premium I ($38,810).
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