Let’s get this out of the way right now. You may see the Buick LaCrosse (stripped-down versions, at least) populating your local rental-car outlet’s lot-but if you’re set thinking about the LaCrosse as a rental-car, you’d better change your perceptions of rental cars. This Buick-maybe for the first time-actually hits the targets set for it by the suits in Flint. It’s quiet, soft, well-made, luxurious-and American-made. It may not set your blood to boiling, but ‘Hallelujah!’ just the same.
We tested the top-rung CXS-level sedan, bathed in an inoffensive but undoubtedly attractive metallic maroon paint and wearing uplevel chromed 17″ rims. The tasteful color accentuates the soft curves of the LaCrosse’s lines. Those lines get better the more you look at them; there’s nothing bold or beautiful here, but there’s also nothing offensive, and it’s a bit beyond the bland modernity offered by other cars in the class. At this end of the luxury family-sedan market, that’s right on the mark.
In a vehicle like this, the comfort, style and luxury-as measured in GPSI, or Gadgets Per Square Inch-of the interior is tantamount to desirability. Buick is lacking somewhat here-navigation wasn’t offered at the time of our test, and the only buttons beyond the usual power controls belong to the driver information center-certainly fun to play with, but essentially unnecessary.
Take a ride in the LaCrosse, and if you’ve been raised on the floaty, un-tethered American land-yachts of yore, you’re in for a surprise. The LaCrosse handles all road surfaces with aplomb, transmitting next-to-none of the evil outside worlds’ lumps, bumps or noise. Solid and smooth, it feels almost…yes! It feels almost European!
First off, it’s smooth enough to please Buick’s target audience-and honestly, when it’s not accompanied by a floaty, disconnected feeling, smooth is nice! The CXS-special 240-horse V6 is also as smooth as they come-quiet, too-and we all know GM makes a smooth automatic transmission. (The base 3.8-liter V6 is also a smoothie, but as a pushrod motor it’s noisier and at 200 horses a lot less efficient.)
And although it smacks of pure marketing BS, the whole Quiet-Tuning thing-extra sound-deadener, better insulation, and noise-canceling engineering-actually works. This Buick is as quiet as anything we’ve ridden in lately-and that includes some high-dollar rides. Power the window up-you can barely hear the motor-and when the glass makes that “shoop” Tupperware-pop sound, suddenly the outside world is like a silent movie. You can see it, but you can’t hear it. It’s a neat experience, and something luxury-car buyers won’t live without. Buick’s last attempt at this-the Rainier we drove a couple years back-didn’t quite make the cut. The LaCrosse, however, makes up for all that. It’s more of a respite from the daily grind than most living rooms.
The LaCrosse is available in three flavors; all have basics like power windows, locks and keyless entry, plus a decent 6-speaker CD stereo. The CX is the bargain-basement version, and none was available for testing. It starts at $22,500, and packs the venerable Series II 3800 V6 you’ve probably driven in your Mom’s old Riviera. Stamped-steel wheels with wheel covers and velour seats are the order of the day here. The $25K CXL adds leather seating and niceties like dual-zone climate control and power lumbar. For $28 grand, you get the CXS model, where things get interesting. The “sport-tuned” suspension really firms things up, as we’ve said-and the variable-assist Magnasteer I rack-and-pinion steering is surprisingly accurate. More important, though, is the upgraded motor-the CXS packs the VVT 3.6-liter V6. This motor’s 240 horses and 225 lb./ft. of torque make the LaCrosse competitive with the rest of the market-as long as we’re not looking at HEMIs in the other column.
We applaud Buick for keeping safety items off the option list, here. The El Cheapo LaCrosse comes with airbags in front, at side-impact points, and in the curtain areas in front and back. LATCH child-seat tether-points are included, as is four-wheel ABS and traction control. A year of OnStar’s Safe and Sound package is included as well; which won’t keep you safe but will call you an ambulance if you’re unable to do so yourself after an accident.
It’s pretty much stated right there in the press kit on this car; the Lexus ES330 was the LaCrosse’s development target. Fortunately, Buick’s hit this one right on target. Like the ES-which we tested alongside this one, just to be safe-surprises with its quiet competence, serene luxury and road manners. Still, at $31,995 the LaCrosse competes at a tough price point; the 900-lb. gorilla in which now is the Chrysler 300C. Fortunately, incentives and/or GM’s discount-flavors-of-the-month are sure to apply. If spacious comfort, ease of use and quiet competence is on your vehicle shopping list-and if you’ve got that vague guilt in the back of your mind from not having owned an American car since that bucket-of-bolts hand-me-down your parents gave you out of high school-the LaCrosse is maybe worth more consideration than you thought.