2013 Buick LaCrosse- Not Your Grandfather’s Buick

DSCI1133In the movie “Pleasantville”, two modern day teenagers are sent back in time to the perfect 1950’s middle-America community .  There were no pregnancies, no divorce, no plastics and no fab diets.  The milkman made his delivery every morning, and the most unthinkable saga was a cat stuck in a tree.  And everyone had an American made car in the driveway, including the Buick Roadmaster that belonged to the primary household.  Those were Buick’s brightest days- the age of  bench seats and floaty suspensions.  Fast forward to more recent times and in the late 90’s and early 2000’s Buick was nothing more than an afterthought.  A rebadged Chevy with added chrome and large, easy to read radio buttons that you’d only find in the senior center parking lot.  Buick’s sales numbers spiralled downhill as its targeted clientele aged.  Things looked bleak, but then a funny thing happened…..

DSCI1135GM went through restructuring in 2009 and in the midst of its mass-slaughter of brands, decided to keep Buick alive to see another day.  The move was baffling at first.  Pontiac sold nearly twice as many cars in America as Buick in 2008 (267,000 vs 137,000) and had always appealed to the youthful market that Buick just couldn’t ever obtain. Yet Pontiac was still killed off.  Almost overnight, Buick became bipolar and suddenly pushed itself to be hip, and not in need of hip replacement,  As a 20-something at the time, there was no way I could tell my friends that I own a Buick.  A Pontiac would be much easier to swallow, but surely not the official brand of the AARP.

To make sense of GM’s decision, one must search beyond their local scope and look east….far east.  Since 1997, GM has been selling an array of Buick badged vehicles in China.  Being the most populated country in the world and one that has had a massive increase of licensed driver’s and car sales, it’s a market that any international car maker wants a piece of.  Buick has a revered, well-established name in China, selling 1.2 million copies in 2011 alone (or about nine times as many as in the US), and is a preferred choice of chauffeurs.  It’s an enviable position to be in as many manufacturers are still trying to break into the Chinese market, let alone have the notoriety of Buick.  It’s a fact that GM couldn’t ignore.  Based on global sales, and not just domestic numbers, Buick is here to stay.DSCI1132

To represent the rebirth of Buick, GM introduced an all-new redesigned LaCrosse for 2010.  Based on the German Opel Insignia and Saab 9-5, it was billed as “America’s Lexus Fighter.”  To be honest, I was skeptical that the company that brought us such duds as the Century, Skylark, and LeSabre could match the likes of Lexus.  Could this new model breathe new life into the old brand? 

I was somewhat disheartened when handed the keys to the LaCrosse.  A Buick!?!?  Really?!  But perceptions changed quickly as soon as I sat inside.  Gone are the huge gap panels, terribly fake wood, and seats so soft that they  seemed to be made from Twinkies that once plagued every Buick.  The interior of the LaCrosse is classy, upscale, and elegant.  It’s obvious that designers and engineers sweated over the details and restrained themselves from going overboard with chrome and anything gimmicky. 

DSCI1116The door panels alone are works of art.  Soft touch plastics abound with rich mahogany wood accents that are supplemented by leather surfaces complete with French-seam stitching.  The various materials create flowing contours that form the interior grab handles and gently sweep their way into the dash.  Restrained touches of chrome frame the infotainment system and the same tasteful wood trim from the door panels DSCI1138trickles down into the console from the ventilation controls.  At night the wood trim on the dash, along with the door handles and console, are lit  with an ice-blue ambient lighting.  The glove box is lined with a rich velour and opens gently with dampers. Look below the dash, a place that many eyes don’t venture and where manufacturers often cut corners, and the impressive fit and finish is still present.  There’s nothing that’s DSCI1118overdone and the interior has an opulent, yet sophisticated and European vibe to it.  To me, it feels more like a Jaguar than a Lexus, and that’s not a bad thing.  The only negative aspect I found was that the panel holding the HVAC controls was easily pulled away from its clips.DSCI1124

The three spoke steering wheel has meaty grips and the leather trim is expertly applied to the rim.  The wheel does tilt and telescope and frames a small pod which houses the gauges.  I give Buick credit for retaining a traditional fuel and temperature gauge and the information screen displays the car’s stats and monitoring systems.  The left steering column stalk that controls the menusDSCI1146 for the screen is easy to use as well.  Typically large numbers are a good thing on a speedometer, however the ones on the LaCrosse’s instrument gauges are almost too big, and in contrast to the small markers, it’s difficult to determine at a glance exactly what speed the car is going.  However, the center information screen also has the option of a digital speedometer (complete with attractive colors and gradients) to offset that issue. 

DSCI1139Although windows are large, the pillars to the front and rear are thick.  The front A-pillars especially are in the driver’s view and were capable of hiding entire vehicles in the adjacent lane.  Backing up was also difficult thanks to a high shelf but the rear view camera was very helpful with guidance points and a proximity detection system.  It had a wide view of surroundings and the clarity of the screen was impressive.  Reversing would’ve been hairy without it.

DSCI1120The radio and ventilation controls can be daunting at first.  There’s no less than 35 buttons on the dash and they appear to be a complete clutter initially.  But as time goes by, it becomes natural to decipher them and they do eventually make sense.  The dual climate control is effective.  On that note, one strange issue we kept having was the passenger side windshield would continually fog-up while the driver’s side would DSCI1126be perfectly clear, even if there wasn’t a body on that side of the car and the entire windshield was set to defrost.  I’m not sure if this is a common LaCrosse issue or just a phenomenon on our particular car.  Most radio adjustments can be done through the large entertainment screen, which is touted as “Buick Intellilink”.  Intellilink is touch screen and offers some pretty high-resolution graphics.  It is much more user-friendly than Ford MyTouch and the basic radio  controls are easy.  However, like MyTouch, making more involved setting adjustments on the radio, such as bass or fade, requires going through a series of menus and requires way too much driver attention from the road.  On a random note, like may BMW’s and Mercedes today, the LaCrosse offers an electronic parking brake that is basically a button on the console. Personally, as an avid parking brake user, this setup actually caused me to forget to use it several times, and I still don’t completely trust it if there are ever any electronic gremlins or a dead battery.  Otherwise, the LaCrosse’s interior is easy to learn and intuitive.DSCI1142

Which is a good thing, because the cabin of this car is a pleasant place to be.  Seats are firm and grippy front and rear, and there is plenty of room for five people.  The front seats have a multitude of power adjustments and seat heaters.  The rear is particularly hospitable, offering plenty of leg and knee room for someone my heightDSCI1131 (6,5”) with someone of equal stature up front,  This is where the LaCrosse’s chauffeur heritage in China shines through.  Some longer limbed drivers may find knee room lacking upfront due to the wide console.  Any noises are almost completely hushed.  Only at 90mph was there minimal road noise, otherwise the Buick’s interior feels as solid and isolated as a bank vault from the outside world.  Entry and exit are easy front and rear with wide door openings and a taller roofline.

DSCI1115Trunk space is decent for a car of this size.  Not massive like Buick’s of yore, but was sufficient enough to carry all of the Christmas gear for the season.  In other words, the LaCrosse can easily carry a weekend’s worth of luggage for four people.  One decision that Buick does deserve credit for is that the LaCrosse has a split fold rear seat that folds flat completely.  A number of imported competitors only offer a pass-through for DSCI1114skis which inhibits versatility. 

As well as the upscale interior, performance is another major LaCrosse asset.  Power is sent through the front wheels by a DOHC 3.6 liter V6 offering an impressive 303 horsepower.  It’s a flex-fuel setup that is able to burn on E85 ethanol as well as traditional gasoline.  We solely used unleaded through the test and the engine’s DSCI1121responsiveness is thrilling for such a large sedan.  From a standstill, the 3.6 is able to take off with noticeable wheel spin and launch the 3700lb. Buick to 60mph with authority.  Merging onto freeways and climbing hills doesn’t require a second thought or pre-planning.  With such powerful numbers and front-wheel drive, torque steer can would typically be common issue and Buick does offer what they call “HiPer Strut” on the high-end Touring trim, which controls the steering under heavy acceleration.  I’m happy to report, even without HiPer Strut, that torque steer was not really prevalent on the lower trim models.

Even though torque steer wasn’t much of a concern, the steering has a lose, disconnected feel to it.  The car does feel stable on curves and roadholding is fine, butDSCI1134 there’s just a feeling that the steering column is connected to Jell-O.  It can be difficult to gauge where the car’s pointed trajectory is heading since there’s no communication to the driver and the overall experience on a windy road is unrewarding.  Since the car responded to my steering inputs, it is believed that the steering wheel was indeed connected to something .  It truly felt more like a 1995 Regal instead of a product from the new Buick. 

On a brighter note, ride quality was spot-on.  The front MacPherson strut and rear multilink suspension would comfortably absorb road imperfections without being overly floaty and remained stable and firm during cornering without seeming too harsh.  It’s a car that is well suited to any road surface and will easily eat up the miles.

The six speed transmission is a good match for the powertrain and shifts are brisk and efficient.  Downshifts areDSCI1145 timely and non-intrusive and the gear ratios allow the engine to sit at a lazy 1800 rpm at about 65mph.  That would explain the decent fuel economy.  The EPA rates the 3.6 liter at 17mpg/27hwy.  I averaged 30mpg on a 200 mile run of flat interstate and 24mpg in a mixture of city, mountain, and highway driving.  Not at all bad for such a large car.

DSCI1140Styling of the LaCrosse is inoffensive but attractive and modern.  Crisp lines form the headlights and run the length of the body to the tail.  It doesn’t look sporting, but still has an upscale presence with a waterfall grille and integrated rear tailpipes.  From some angles there are touches of Lexus, especially in the C-pillar and overall greenhouse.  The use of chrome was thankfully conservative and it’s a design that I feel will age DSCI1141well with time.  The only questionable touch are the portholes that Buick is insistent on putting on the hoods of every one of its models.  They’re distracting, serve no real functional purpose, and look like a tacky add-on from Pep Boys.

Our test car had 10k miles on it and there were no defects to report.

DSCI1137Prices for the LaCrosse start at $31,660 which includes the typical power accessories, bluetooth, power driver’s seat, satellite radio, and dual climate control.  Ours was the next level Leather Trim, which bumps the price to $33,870 and adds (as the name implies) leather upholstery, foglamps, heated mirrors, rear park assist, a rearview camera, heated front seats, driver memory settings and an eight-way power front DSCI1143passenger seat.  Add the destination charge and our LaCrosse had a total price of $33,745.  It’s not bad value and comparable to its main competitors the Lexus ES350, Hyundai Genesis, Chrysler 300, and Nissan Maxima.  Some of those cars offer rear wheel drive or more technology, but the LaCrosse is a nice balance among all of them.

The LaCrosse was a surprise.  It is one of GM’s best attempts to build a car worthy of competing against the foreign brands and appeals to people of all ages.  Despite some shortcomings, primarily with the steering, there is much to like about this car and it’s proof that GM can design a car that not only offers loads of space and a strong engine to please the passengers as well as the driver, but also offer a feeling of finesse and refinement that was once so elusive.  I never imagined walking away from a Buick impressed but that time has come and, regardless of the brand, I’m happy to report that it is deserving of 4.5/5.0 boomerangs

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One Response

  1. My Mom picked up a 2011 with 40,000 miles for a little over $10,000 with the 2.4l. It is a little doggy off the line but not buzzy at all. I tuned it with HPTuners softwwre , releasing some torque management and bumped the timing similarly as I did on the fiancé’s Terrain 2.4l for nice bump in power. Its no V6 but quick and light on it’s feet. It has steering turn-in and feedback to die for!

    I was seeing 26 mpg indicated commuting all city a half hour to see my sister and know if Mom keeps it at the speed limit she’ll see near 35 mpg, or as good as a Avalon/ES350 hybrid.

    Edmund’s compared the 2010 LaCrosse V6 to Lexus ES and chose the Buick and I can see why. Aside from my knee making the center console groan from flexing, the interior has held up well for 5-year old car.

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