By Lary Coppola
I’ve had three different opportunities to put the 2010 Buick LaCrosse through its paces since it debuted last year, and every time I drive it, I like it more.
The LaCrosse not only marked the beginning of a more luxurious and stylish era for Buick — it was also the most important vehicle GM had launched in a generation. With China the world’s largest potential car market, Buick survived GM’s reorganization as one of its four “core brands” for no other reason than the Chinese love affair with Buick. Owning a Buick in China is a status symbol akin to owning a high-end Mercedes in the U.S. Go figure…
GM has positioned Buick as a serious competitor to Acura, Volvo, and Lexus — with the LaCrosse the first shot across the bow in the battle for younger, import-buyers’s wallets.
This LaCrosse is truly a world car. Engineers at Opel created the basic platform and most of the chassis development, while American engineers tackled the body structure, and GM China handled the interior and the majority of the exterior design. Considering the Chinese affinity for Buick as a premium brand, they wanted to ensure the design and materials were best-in-class. The LaCrosse is the first North American GM product built on its global mid-size Epsilon II platform following the Opel/Vauxhall brand that debuted in Europe last year.
The LaCrosse, is a midsize sedan that is the roadmap to Buick’s future. The new design is part of GM’s plan to revamp the Buick lineup the way it successfully did with Cadillac. The change at Buick started with the Enclave midsize crossover SUV — another vehicle that impressed us — and continues with the new Regal.
Walkaround: it’s hard to argue with the LaCrosse’s stylish looks. Smooth and rounded, it incorporates many of the styling cues from previous Buicks without coming across as retro or cliche. The new LaCrosse features a lower, coupe-like roofline that creates the optical illusion that this sedan is significantly smaller than the previous version. However, it’s virtually the same size.
The hoodline, beltline and rear deck all sit higher than before, while the roof sweeps down towards the sedan’s haunches. Both the front and rear glass have a significantly flatter slope than previously, and since the LaCrosse’s sheetmetal is meant for a global audience, the upright front fascia meets the more stringent European pedestrian crash standards. The body surfaces have more pronounced creases in the hood and flanks, including Buick’s signature “sweep spear” at the rear quarter, all contributing to an elegant, modern design.
Three trim levels are offered: CX, CXL and CXS, which all our test vehicles have been. The base CX gets a choice of 17-inch steel or alloy wheels, while the two upper levels get 18-inchers and the CXS Touring package adds 19-inch hoops along with an adaptive damping system.
Interior: The quality of the interior — both materials, and fit-and-finish — are much higher quality than what we’ve ever seen from GM. The dashboard covering, door panels and instrument cluster hood are all sew and stitch leather normally reserved for Cadillac. And it isn’t exclusive to the top of the line models either — it’s standard across the range. All LaCrosse models also have a leather-covered shifter and steering wheel, which has a thick, easy-to-grip rim outfitted with redundant controls for the audio system.
The central instrument panel protrudes slightly from the fall-away dashboard, lessening the reach to controls.
Instrumentation is Buick’s soft teal color with very pleasing teal accents. And while some customers prefer a touch interface for the optional navigation and audio systems, others prefer a traditional knob arrangement. Buick provides a choice of both in the LaCrosse, with most of the controls accessible via the screen or a knob directly below. And for the tech adventurous, most of the systems are also accessible through voice commands by pressing a button on the steering wheel.
Buick claims the new LaCrosse is the quietest Buick ever thanks to Quiet Tuning, which involves acoustic laminated glass, triple-sealed doors, liquid-sealed sound deadening, and special designs for the suspension bushings, engine cradle and mounts, and steering and induction systems.
The LaCrosse features all the usual power items — windows, mirrors, door locks remote entry, etc., pretty standard, as well as a smart key and start button. AM/FM/CD/ XM are all standard as is GM’s OnStar.
Under The Hood: The CX and CXL come standard with the new 3.0-liter direct injected V6, while the 3.6-liter DI V6 is optional on the CXL and was standard on all our test vehicles. Later this fall, a 2.4-liter DI four-cylinder will be added as the standard engine in the CX and CXL, the only such engine currently available in the segment. All are mated to a smooth 6-speed automatic. Front-wheel is standard with AWD offered on the CXL and CXS.
Behind The Wheel: The LaCrosse is a pleasure to drive. On a quick turnaround trip to Spokane and back — meaning almost 12 hours behind the wheel — it was smooth and quiet. The front seats are well shaped and supportive, and hold up surprisingly well to both aggressive two — lane blacktop driving, as well as 12 hours on the freeway. The standard Stabilitrak system with traction control, 4-wheel independent suspension with front McPherson struts, and 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with intelligent assist, make handling and braking responsive, safe and effortless.
Whines: The lack of paddle shifters is a glaring omission. However, this probably won’t matter to anyone but a handful of people — many of which probably wouldn’t consider a Buick in the first place.
Bottom Line: Sim
ply put, this is a great car and a huge advance forward for Buick and GM. It’s quiet, comfortable, stylish, and at $34,090 as tested, a pretty good value as well. If you’re in the market for a mid-sized luxury sedan, you owe it to yourself to check the Buick LaCrosse out.