The new Buick LaCrosse was rotating on a showroom turntable in the middle of a Hollywood dance studio at a Buick extravaganza. People in tuxedos were posing for pictures with Bob Lutz. My wife and I were there to cover the celebration of Buick’s “comeback.” Performer Colbie Caillat was debuting her “Breakthrough” album and dancing in front of the new Regal concept car. All was glitz and glamour that night, in August of 2009!
Then all heck broke loose for GM with CEO Lutz exchanging jobs with other CEOs on the General Motor’s escalader to the top. Saturn, Hummer, and Saab were going out the backdoor and the Federal government was coming in the front door with bankruptcy paperwork on the lobby table. Through all this, I looked at the new LaCrosse that night and saw Buick’s vision to become an international automotive player. This is the car that saved Buick, and the Regal did not hurt things since then.
The LaCrosse is a beautiful example of good things happening in the midst of crisis. The interior is elegant and stylish with sweeping lines so the driver’s eyes stay upward. The materials continue to be quality-looking even without real wood or leather dashboards. The seats are comfortable for larger adults like me and the rear seat is a good place for two and a half more adults for long road trips. Best of all, the car is quiet- not needing ear-bending sound systems to drown out the noise. Yet, even the audio system is top-notch for an entry level luxury car.
The LaCrosse is Buick’s best-selling sedan and started 2012 with its best sales to-date. In June, retail LaCrosse sales were up 9 percent, with nearly a quarter of those sales coming from the fuel-efficient eAssist model. I have driven the LaCrosse with all its powerplants and found that none of them are bad choices. Recently, my road experience included a week in the 2012 Buick LaCrosse e-Assist which a gas/electric hybrid-lite drivetrain (which remains unchanged for 2013).
This consists of an Ecotec 2.4-liter engine with direct-injection and double overhead cams driving the top end. This aluminum engine produces 182 horsepower and the electric motor/generator adds another 15 horsepower and 110 pound-feet of instant torque. The e-Assist light electrification technology (standard on 1SB and 1SL) helps the LaCrosse get an EPA-estimated 36 mpg on the highway.
Actual mileage was 25.6 mpg around my city and 33.6 mpg on a road trip from 3000 feet elevation down to sea level and back. Running on regular fuel, I have average 31.5 mpg after 500 miles of combined city and freeway driving. This included some heavy-footed driving to see what power was available for freeway mergers. There is enough torque here for most drivers. A tank of pure open highway should result in at least 36 mpg. EPA’s estimations have been fairly accurate in most vehicles I have tested since the changes in condition parameters several years ago.
The e-Assist system has been developed on GM trucks and cars for a decade and now is ready from prime-time. It is hard to know what is actually happening because it all is smooth and silent unless you switch from gas to brake to gas rapidly in an emergency maneuver. Even the with a recent recall, the e-Assist and previous GM hybrid systems have been fairly reliable. The 100,000 mile powertrain warranty should put consumer’s minds at easy.
This e-Assist lithium-ion battery system and electric motor/generator uses regenerative braking and engine power to charge the battery, which limits the trunk space. It then uses the motor like a turbo for extra power assistance to the internal combustion engine. Like most hybrids, the new GM hybrid will shut the engine off when the car is slowing down and not just when it is stopped. The e-Assist system also allows the engine to shut down fuel delivery with instant restarts using the generator side of the electric motor. Meanwhile, all the accessories like the air conditioner, power steering, power brakes, etc., run on battery power. During start-up mode, the motor-generator unit is spinning to provide immediate power when the driver presses the accelerator.
The LaCrosse also slips through the wind with extensive aerodynamic research and developments. The front lower grille shutters automatically and underbody aero panels minimize vortex funnels. This plus the low rolling-resistance tires help with the 36 mpg. The single-outlet hidden exhaust system sounds a little thin under hard acceleration but this is not a muscle car.
The next-generation six-speed transmission is perfectly matched to the Ecotec 2.4L engine with eAssist setup. It is not so smooth that vehicle momentum is lost but is smooth enough for drivers to not worry about the right gear. GM made changes to clutch controls and plates to reduce interim spin losses and they increased shift response and time. This was is partly due to a clever electric-driven oil pump which keeps the transmission primed and fluid flowing when the engine shuts down at a stop.
The huge A-pillars and thick B-pillars block the vision of tall drivers when sitting at intersections. Cross traffic is hard to see when the driver’s seat is too far back. Also the vision out the rear is limited by wide C-pillars. One other complaint of the first LaCrosse was the poor position of the rearview mirror and smaller rear window. For 2013, Buick reduced the size and moved the mirror to a better position to improve visibility- a small thing but so important on newer sedans with slopping rooflines and larger trunks.
The 2013 LaCrosse include some new features like standard Buick IntelliLink on all LaCrosse models which incorporates a GPS-based navigation system. The optional XM Travel Link hooks up with the navigation to locate gas stations and pricing on fuel, weather forecasts, and even movie theater locations if you have time to just stop and catch a show? My 2012 Lacrosse Premium 1 model did not have navigation but the OnStar system gave directions both audibly and visually through the center screen, and through the instrument digital readout. Talk about flexibility and maybe a little too much redundancy?
The base and premium audio systems with AM/FM/SiriusXM Radio include Bluetooth, USB port, CD player, auxiliary input jack, steering wheel-mounted controls, and a very high contrast eight-inch color touch-screen. This is one of the best screens in the industry and does not “wash out” in bright sunlight.
LaCrosse is available in a five trim levels, including LaCrosse (1SB), Leather (1SL), Premium I (1SP), Premium II (1SR) and Touring (1ST) trim levels. Other new features for 2013 include Buick’s signature blue ring added to the Xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. There is also electric power steering on the 3.6-liter V-6 front-wheel drive LaCrosse.
All of these models get safety features like six air bags with a side curtain air bag system, GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability control, traction control which engages even at higher speeds to keep the car straight, and four-wheel anti-lock brakes with Intelligent Brake Assist (BA).
To keep costs down, Buick has chosen to not complicate the struts with Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension. They stuck to a MacPherson strut coil-over-spring with a twin-tube damper. The handling remains mainstream and comfortable. Buick has, thankfully, not chosen to through 20-inch rims on the LaCrosse and racing struts and bushings on the suspension to make this a “sports” sedan. Most of the time, this all means a stiffer ride, higher tires costs, increased road noise, and no real improvements to a luxury car. I found the P245/40R19 all-season tires to be low-profile enough but I am kind of a prude when it comes to flat tires and scuffed up wheels from curb-rash.
Back inside, the leather-wrapped heated steering wheel feels good in the driver’s hands and the dual-zone automatic climate control works well in 105 degree heat as well as in Zero-degree winter storms. I have experienced both extremes in the LaCrosse and it is a sedan for all seasons. I do wish the vents could be pointed in a wider variety of positions. These send too much air into the front passenger’s faces and not enough to the rear seat passengers. The remote keyless entry with a remote start let me get the car acclimated before I got into it. Even the heated power outside rearview mirrors defrost quickly on cold mornings.
There are a lot of cool amenities to like about this car. The electron parking brake is not one of them. But overall, everything works well and it is a nice sedan to commute with. The rear seat needs a little more headroom to consider this the perfect carpool vehicle. That notwithstanding, GM has escaped disaster and Buick came through with some of the best luxury sedans GM has built in many decades.
Likes: Quiet cabin, comfortable front seats, stylish interior and exterior, economical fuel mileage (on regular fuel), 17-inch wheel tire package.
Dislikes: Limited rear seat headroom for passengers over 6 feet tall, confusing electronic parking brake, large blind spots.
Pricing for 2013 is yet to be announced. The 2012 Buick e-Assist LaCrosse starts at $31,045 (FWD). My 2012 LaCrosse 2.4 liter e-Assist with the Premium 1 Group, Entertainment Package, and Driver Confidence Package with heads-up display and blind-spot alert system came to $36,175.
Touring Group with most of the options starts at $39,695.
AWD LaCrosse with V6 and Leather Group starts a $35,745.
LaCrosse is offered in 17-inch, 18-inch and 19-inch wheels.
* LaCrosse with eAssist: Standard 17-inch machined alloy wheels and low rolling-resistance tires.
* LaCrosse with 3.6L V-6 (1SB, 1SL 1SP): Standard 18-inch machined-face painted alloy
* LaCrosse 3.6L V-6 (1SR): Standard chrome-plated wheel (available on 1SL, 1SP with V-6)
* LaCrosse 3.6L V-6 (1ST): Standard 19-inch nine-spoke painted, machined alloy.