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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.