What's New for 2008
The big news this year is the arrival a new La Crosse Super model with a 300-horsepower V8, sportier suspension tuning, and larger wheels and brakes. It's further distinguished from lesser LaCrosse variants by fender "portholes," unique front and rear styling and dual chrome-tipped exhaust outlets.
The 2008 Buick LaCrosse is a decent midsize sedan operating at a disadvantage: Despite representing one of the new and improved GM product designs of late, it does battle in the highly competitive $25,000-$30,000 bracket of the family sedan segment. Import and domestic brand rivals keep getting faster, more agile and more upscale, while the Buick soldiers on with an aged platform, outdated drivetrains, and a staid design and image. As such, the LaCrosse typically doesn't make it onto the radar of mainstream midsize sedan shoppers.
In an attempt to boost its visibility in the marketplace, Buick has reached back into the 1950s and resurrected its premium "Super" moniker for a new V8-powered variant of the LaCrosse. While all 2008 models benefit from a freshened, reshaped "waterfall" grille, the top-drawer Buick LaCrosse Super is engineered by the GM Performance Division and features unique styling with exclusive portholes on each side and a deck lid spoiler out back. Chrome-tipped dual exhaust and 18-inch wheels offer further evidence of the enhanced hardware that lies underneath: a powerful 5.3-liter V8 packing 300 horsepower along with upgraded suspension and brakes to match. Lesser LaCrosse models continue to use a pair of V6s: an aging 3.8-liter 200-hp V6 (CX and CXL) and a more modern 3.6-liter DOHC V6 putting out 240 horses (CXS).
Inside, the 2008 Buick LaCrosse is a mixed bag. Its acceptable fit and finish and pleasing blend of wood and chrome trim are offset by cheaper plastic pieces. Seating comfort and rear passenger room are marginal, and the overall combination probably won't hold much appeal except for more traditional customers. For them, the quiet cabin environment, lively engine performance (at least in the CXS and Super) and smooth ride quality will probably add up to an acceptable package. Others looking for a truly premium experience will be less impressed by the LaCrosse's compromised interior, uninspiring handling and lack of high-tech features. Before committing to this Buick, we suggest these shoppers check out the many better-performing alternatives, including the Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable, Hyundai Azera, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon/Camry, Volkswagen Passat and even GM's own Saturn Aura.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Buick LaCrosse is a midsize family sedan offered in four trim levels: CX, CXL, CXS and Super. Five-passenger seating is standard, but an available front bench seat in the CX and CXL increases capacity to six.
The base CX comes well equipped with 16-inch steel wheels, a power driver seat with memory, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a six-speaker CD stereo with satellite radio, fully powered accessories and remote vehicle starting. The more upscale LaCrosse CXL adds alloy wheels, leather upholstery, wood-grain trim, heated front seats and a driver's power lumbar adjustment. Further upmarket, the fully equipped CXS provides a smoother and more powerful V6, 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a quicker steering ratio and a split-folding rear seat. Many of the CXS model's features are available on the CX and CXL. Other noteworthy options include a sunroof, rear parking assist, a power front passenger seat and an upgraded nine-speaker audio system with an MP3-compatible CD player. An in-dash CD changer is available as well, but popular high-tech features like a navigation system and Bluetooth are not.
The new top-of-the-line Buick LaCrosse Super offers most of the above features as standard equipment. In addition, the Super has V8 power, 18-inch wheels, a further upgraded suspension, larger brakes and leather seating with unique woven inserts. The only options on the LaCrosse Super are a sunroof and CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
The LaCrosse CX and CXL are powered by a 3.8-liter V6 that makes 200 hp and 230 pound-feet of torque, while the CXS is equipped with a 3.6-liter DOHC V6 good for 240 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque. More enthusiastic drivers will want to head straight for the new LaCrosse Super, with its 5.3-liter V8 pumping out 300 horses and 323 lb-ft of torque.
All models are front-wheel drive and make do with an antiquated four-speed automatic transmission -- a liability in a class where rivals offer modern five- and six-speed automatics, as well as continuously variable units. Fuel mileage ratings are respectable but not class-leading. The CX and CXL have 17 mpg city/28 mpg highway estimates, while the CXS comes in at 17/25 and the Super rates 16/24.
The 2008 Buick LaCrosse features standard full-length side curtain airbags, OnStar communications and antilock disc brakes. Front-seat side airbags are not available. A stability control system is standard on the more powerful CXS and Super models, and optional on the CXL. The base CX comes with traction control only.
In frontal-impact crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Buick LaCrosse earned five stars out of five for driver and front-passenger protection. In NHTSA side-impact tests, the LaCrosse received just three stars for front-occupant protection (a low rating in this class) and four stars for the rear seat. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the LaCrosse achieved a best-possible "Good" rating for frontal-offset crash safety, but only a "Marginal" rating in that agency's side-impact crash test.
Interior Design and Special Features
For those who need to carry more people, the five-passenger LaCrosse is also offered in a six-passenger seating configuration. Its broad, flat seats make ingress and egress easy, but lack support for taller adults. Rear-seat legroom is tight for larger individuals, too. The dash design is clean and elegant, with a long expanse of faux wood trim sweeping across its length, interrupted only by a simple gauge cluster directly in front of the driver. Tasteful chrome accents along the dash and around the gear selector add a splash of style. Although the leather upholstery is soft, the plastics used for the door panels, console and most controls have a low-rent appearance and feel. To its credit, the cabin offers lots of storage bins and cubbies, and the trunk volume measures a generous 16 cubic feet.
Like its Regal and Century predecessors, the Buick LaCrosse was engineered to offer an agreeable balance between a supple ride and confident handling. On the highway it rides smoothly and soaks up bumps with little drama, as you'd expect a midsize family sedan to do. But the sedan's handling capabilities leave much to be desired. The retuned 2008 Buick LaCrosse Super is a step in the right direction with its revised suspension, but other models exhibit excessive body roll and generally numb steering.
Although noisy and unrefined for this class, the standard V6 in CX and CXL models offers adequate power and decent fuel economy. But the more refined CXS is a better choice with its smoother overhead-cam V6. Asphalt-burners will want to slide behind the wheel of the new V8-powered Super, but bear in mind that the old-school V8 has a gruffer delivery than the more modern V6 in the CXS.