Republished: 02/01/2010 (Original Date: 02/03/2010)
Warren Clarke, Contributor
Auto manufacturers like to toss around the word "reinvention." Most of the time, it's little more than wishful hyperbole, but every now and then, a vehicle redesign is executed in which the slate is truly wiped clean. So it is with the 2010 Buick LaCrosse.
The previous-generation LaCrosse was unremarkable, with a low-rent interior and handling that was about as scintillating as Meemaw's stewed prunes. With the current model, Buick has whipped up something more enticing and well-rounded. The LaCrosse's sheet metal is muscular and alluring, and ride quality is comfortable and substantial enough to merit the adjective "Germanic." Its cabin boasts innovative styling, and materials quality is mostly impressive, though there are some incongruous metallic accents that seem lifted from its humbler cousin, the Chevy Malibu.
There's no shortage of capable premium sedans, and each has its strengths. Look past its love-it-or-hate-it styling, and you'll find that the Acura TL offers enough nifty electronic toys to fill a playroom, along with a relatively fun-loving personality. You can count on the Lexus ES 350 for impressive acceleration and bulletproof quality, but unfortunately it's hobbled by a lack of personality that makes this Buick seem vivacious.
Like the Buick, the Hyundai Genesis is an outstanding high-end sedan with a modest badge that's thousands cheaper than similarly equipped rivals. Among these worthy competitors, though, the LaCrosse's assured handling and appealing aesthetics make it one to consider.
The Buick LaCrosse CXS comes with the bigger of two available V6 engines, a 3.6-liter mill that generates decent -- though not exceptional -- acceleration. Good for 280 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque, this power plant hustles the LaCrosse from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. This isn't bad, but the TL (6.4 seconds), ES 350 (7.0) and Genesis (6.4) have more scoot.
Our tester's six-speed automatic transmission executed fluid shifts, but we did notice some downshift lag. Handling is exactly what it should be for a car in this segment -- this Buick exudes a confidence and gravitas that's right in step with its mission to credibly compete as a luxury cruiser. It snaked through the slalom at 62.3 mph -- about 5 mph quicker than the ES 350.
That notorious Buick wallow is nowhere to be found -- the LaCrosse's suspension manages to neutralize irregularities without isolating you from the road. Steering is intuitive and precise, and stopping power is adequate: The LaCrosse halted from 60 mph in 127 feet, while an ES 350 we tested took a disappointing 133 feet to accomplish the same. The Buick exhibited zero ABS vibration and minimal pitch as its brakes were punished at the track.
With an EPA rating of 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined, the LaCrosse's mileage is a hair behind the 22-mpg combined rating offered by the ES 350 and Nissan Maxima. It's worth remembering, though, that both these cars require premium fuel, while the Buick chugs regular unleaded.
The previous-generation LaCrosse had seats that were about as supportive as that ancient couch that littered your college dorm room, but the current model is a chapter from a new book. Its seats are firm but not too firm, and even offer some bolstering to keep you in place as you negotiate corners. Still, they would benefit from additional lumbar support.
With a width of 73.1 inches, this Buick is wider than the ES 350 -- wider, even, than the mammoth Honda Accord. This is good news if your plan is to seat three in back; a trio is accommodated in relative comfort. If you're only toting two rear passengers, they'll enjoy the fold-down armrest, which is nicely padded and offers two cupholders. Rear legroom is generous, more so than that of the huge 2010 Ford Taurus.
A serene cabin is the earmark of a true luxury sedan, and the Buick's performance in this regard is exemplary. Minimal road and wind noise make for a Zen-like stillness throughout the cabin, whether you're sprinting down the freeway or mired in surface-street gridlock.
One of the LaCrosse's most distinctive features is a wraparound dash that curves into the door panels, encircling the driver and front passenger. It's stunning to look at, but in practice, it's not always a winning approach. Taller editors who kept their seats positioned in a separate ZIP code from the dash were able to enter and exit the vehicle with no problems. However, editors who preferred a more forward seating position complained of bumping their knees on the somewhat intrusive dash during ingress and egress.
Our test car had a programmable feature that automatically slid the driver seat back to facilitate exit, and this can be used to eliminate this problem for drivers. However, front passengers who don't have the seat positioned way back will likely suffer a knock or two to the knees.
A sea of buttons awaits you on the center stack, but fortunately, they're well-organized and easily navigable. There aren't many storage options within the cabin; there's a decent-size cubby in the center console, but bins on the doors are shallow and narrow, and a cubby located near the steering wheel is small. Front passengers have access to two cupholders, but their center-console placement is rather awkward. When they're in use, elbow room is compromised, and it's difficult to manipulate the shifter.
Due to its somewhat crowded layout, the sedan's analog speedometer is hard to read, but happily, there are other options. The CXS's multifunction display gives drivers the ability to access a redundant digital speedometer; there's also an optional head-up display for those who can't bear to pry their eyes from the road. Other favorite features include an oversized power sunroof that serves up a big patch of sky, and seats that offer cold-weather heating and summertime ventilation.
The LaCrosse's short greenhouse and relatively large A-pillars burden those driving this large sedan with visibility challenges. As such, we'd recommend springing for the blind-spot warning system -- our test car wasn't equipped with this feature, but it's available as part of the $1,440 Driver Confidence package.
A child seat is accommodated with room to spare, and the LaCrosse offers a feature not seen in most sedans in this category: a third set of LATCH anchors in the center of the rear seat. Thus, parents have the option of using LATCH anchors to secure their child seat in this safer and more convenient location.
With only 12.8 cubic feet, the LaCrosse trails most large and midsize sedans when it comes to trunk space; its trunk is also irregularly shaped, which can make loading difficult. Still, there's enough room back there for a pair of standard-size suitcases. Golfers will be able to fit their clubs diagonally; the trunk's deep front-corner pockets also facilitate placement just parallel to the rear fascia.
Design/Fit and Finish
Beefy and solid-looking, the LaCrosse attracted a few admiring glances during its stay with us; cues like its oversize grille and abbreviated trunk communicate masculine authority. However, we feel the car's flashy hood vents are an unfortunate misstep.
Materials quality is mostly delightful -- the stitched leather and nicely textured plastics get the thumbs-up and could easily be found in a Cadillac. Still, there are some cheap-looking metallic accents around the center console that are out of sync with the sedan's upscale furnishings.
Who should consider this vehicle
The Buick LaCrosse is an excellent pick for families seeking transportation with more luxury and style than your run-of-the-mill family sedan -- provided they can live with the meager storage opportunities within the cabin and trunk.
With three pairs of LATCH anchors, it's a great choice for families with three kids of car-seat age, and its quiet cabin makes it ideal for shoppers who crave Lexus tranquility without the Lexus price tag. Its reasonable price, ample feature content and modish interior make this sedan a must-see for any luxury-car shopper interested in maximizing value.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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