2012 Buick Lacrosse Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 29, 2012

As a sophisticated, roomy, tech-savvy premium sedan—now with up to 36 mpg—the 2012 Buick LaCrosse hits the mark for a lot of shoppers who want luxury on a limited budget.

The more sophisticated, engaging Buick LaCrosse is essentially what started Buick's resurgence in earnest, with its last redesign for 2010, and in those couple of years it's almost—but not quite—erased memories of the stodgy, geriatric Park Avenue the LaCrosse badge had replaced a few years earlier. But this year Buick has lined up a few more very significant changes for the LaCrosse—which, we think, will truly appeal to a younger set, as well as help shoppers to understand that the Buick of 2012 is very different than the Buick of 2002 or 1992.

First, Buick is introducing a new 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder with eAssist, a reconfigured version of GM's belt-alternator-starter mild-hybrid system that was originally introduced a few years ago. This time, the technology brings serious fuel-efficiency improvements, with an EPA-rated 25 mpg city, 36 highway—the ratings of a compact car, and enough to warrant consideration among the price-conscious green set  Secondly, for 2012, the LaCrosse gets an all-new Buick IntelliLink touch-screen system that allows easy connectivity to smartphones and media players. 

The LaCrosse was at the front of a new styling ethos for Buick, and it's since been followed by the mid-size Regal and new compact Verano. Essentially, that means no more cataract-friendly gauge fonts, padded vinyl roofs, and squishy bench seats, a new, more European-flavored direction for the brand. The look is smooth and graceful, walking a careful line that's not likely deter the brand's older core buyers, but Buick is hoping the LaCrosse will attract a younger set as well. We'd like to say that the tacky 'portholes' have been thrown to the design dustbin, too, but they return in the upper hood area. Inside, the design feels a little more traditional, but if you let any old GM biases fall away before stepping in, it's everything a Lexus shopper might expect and more, with a modern, curvy dash design.

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Last model year, the former base engine, a 3.0-liter V-6, was replaced by an 182-hp, 2.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine as standard and with a 3.6-liter V-6 remaining an option. The base setup proved to be only a placeholder, with the new eAssist technology and its 36-mpg rating coming standard. Included with the eAssist system is an upgraded 115-volt battery, and the electric motor system provides about 15 horsepower of hybrid boost to the engine. Overall, the base powertrain is pretty smoothly integrated and perfectly adequate, though not all that enjoyable. The 3.6-liter V-6 is available, and this year it gets a 23-hp boost, to 303 hp. It's the choice for those who want strong, smooth performance—albeit with a very significant dip in mpg. Behind the wheel, the LaCrosse is still not a performance car, by any means, but it handles the curves better than its predecessors. Fitted with the optional magnetic adjustable suspension, the LaCrosse can be enjoyable to the mildly enthusiastic driver.

There's room for five inside the 2012 LaCrosse, and thanks to the width you can even fit three across in back, with enough legroom for all. The ride is smooth but not floaty, and in keeping with Buick's 'Quiet Tuning' philosophy, nearly all the wind and road noise are nicely damped out. But we have noticed that models with the larger 19-inch wheels have some noticeable road noise. The interior in top models feels lavish, with nice detailing and trim, as well as ambient lighting, and rivals Lexus interiors, but base models especially can feel just a little bit simple and plasticky.

The 2012 LaCrosse earns one of the best ratings of any vehicle from the federal government—including five stars overall—and it was rated an IIHS Top Safety pick last year. Safety-tech options include a blind-spot warning system, adaptive cornering headlamps, and rear side thorax bags, and for 2012 the rear-view camera system is available without the nav system. A head-up display is also available.

Depending on whether you go with a Base or Convenience model, or a top Premium or Touring model (the old CX, CXL, and CXS trims have been retired), the feel of the LaCrosse, as well as the equipment list, varies greatly. Base models don't feel any more extravagant than a mid-range Chevy (albeit with somewhat more stylish design)—and with the new features this year, GM has raised base prices by several thousand dollars, to about $30k. But the upper models can feel like entry-level Cadillacs, with an upgraded instrument panel, hard-drive navigation, and a Harman Kardon sound system. All LaCrosses feature hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity, remote start, eight-way adjustable seating, and dual-zone climate control. IntelliLink, a new option for 2012, allows streaming Pandora or Stitcher audio, through a paired smartphone, as well as hands-free calling or easy connectivity to media players.

7

2012 Buick Lacrosse

Styling

For the most part, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse looks elegant and graceful.

The LaCrosse was at the front of a new styling ethos for Buick, and it's since been followed by the mid-size Regal and new compact Verano. Essentially, that means no more cataract-friendly gauge fonts, padded vinyl roofs, and squishy bench seats, a new, more European-flavored direction for the brand.

On the outside, the look is smooth and graceful, with a soft shoulder line and enough chrome to gently punctuate. The design walks a careful line that's not likely deter the brand's older core buyers, but Buick is hoping the LaCrosse will attract a younger set as well. We'd like to say that the tacky 'portholes' have been thrown to the design dustbin, too, but they return in the upper hood area.

Inside, the design feels a little more traditional, but if you let any old GM biases fall away before stepping in, it's everything a Lexus shopper might expect and more, with a modern, curvy dash design. Most notable—and part of Buick's new look, really—is the two-tone look, with an upper dash tier that swoops around and over the dash in a continuous arc, flowing nearly into the door trim to form an interior beltline. Base CX models especially can feel just a little bit simple and plasticky, but on other models there's additional detailing and surfaces, and the ambient lighting sets a luxury-like ambiance for night outings.

7

2012 Buick Lacrosse

Performance

The four-cylinder engine and new eAssist mild-hybrid system in the base 2012 LaCrosse is configured for efficiency, not performance, but with the available V-6 it's surprisingly quick.

Last model year, the former base engine, a 3.0-liter V-6, was replaced by an 182-hp, 2.4-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine as standard, and with a 3.6-liter V-6 remaining an option. The base setup proved to be only a placeholder, with the new eAssist technology and its 36-mpg rating coming standard this year.

Included with the eAssist system is an upgraded 115-volt battery, and the electric motor system provides about 15 horsepower of hybrid boost to the engine. Overall, the base powertrain is pretty smoothly integrated and perfectly adequate, though not all that enjoyable. eAssist enables the engine to stop at idle in some situations, to save fuel, and it starts very quickly and smoothly as soon as you lift your foot off the brake.

The 3.6-liter V-6 is available, and this year it gets a 23-hp boost, to 303 hp. It's the choice for those who want strong, smooth performance—albeit with a very significant dip in mpg.

Behind the wheel, the LaCrosse is still not a performance car, by any means, but it handles the curves better than its predecessors. Fitted with the optional magnetic adjustable suspension (and included V-rated performance tires and variable-effort power steering), the LaCrosse can be enjoyable to the mildly enthusiastic driver.

9

2012 Buick Lacrosse

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Buick LaCrosse, in its upper trims especially, feels like a true luxury car.

From the outside, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse looks like a big, roomy sedan, and inside the cabin it's fully in accord with that impression. The LaCrosse has room for five, as well as one of the few back seats where (thanks to a little added width) you can fit three across. And its relatively tall, not-too-swoopy roofline and front-wheel-drive layout bolster the impression of space. Trunk space is vast as well.

Front seats in the LaCrosse are nothing to grumble about—they're a bit soft but long-distance comfortable nevertheless. A wide range of materials, including plastic, wood and leather, with quality rising as you move up the model line—although the faux wood in some models feels a little out of place.

The interior in top models feels lavish, with nice detailing and trim, as well as ambient lighting, and rivals Lexus interiors, but base models especially can feel just a little bit simple and plasticky. The faux stitching on the dashboard and well-upholstered and bolstered seats make for a more luxurious setting than might be expected from the LaCrosse's mid-market pricing, and the top-level CXS gets upgraded perforated leather and ventilated heating and cooling features, along with more adjustability and memory settings.

The LaCrosse has a ride that's smooth but not floaty, and in keeping with Buick's 'Quiet Tuning' philosophy, nearly all the wind and road noise are nicely damped out. But we have noticed that models with the larger 19-inch wheels have some noticeable road noise.

Our one criticism of the LaCrosse with the 3.6-liter V-6 is that it's a little raspy-sounding in this application—more vocal than the four, it seems—and its character doesn't marry so well with the otherwise sophisticated and supremely muted and isolated character. 

10

2012 Buick Lacrosse

Safety

In safety, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse is about as good as it gets—even if you include more expensive luxury brands.

The 2012 LaCrosse earns one of the best ratings of any vehicle from the federal government—including five stars overall—and it was rated an IIHS Top Safety pick last year. In all, its combination of vaultlike construction, all the expected occupant-protection features, stable handling, and good outward visibility make the LaCrosse a top choice for shoppers who demand top safety.

Safety-tech options include a blind-spot warning system, adaptive cornering headlamps, and rear side thorax bags, and for 2012 the rear-view camera system is available without the nav system. A head-up display is also available.

8

2012 Buick Lacrosse

Features

The 2012 Buick LaCrosse has a feature set that's close to that of a Cadillac—but with a price tag not much more than a well-equipped Chevy.

Depending on whether you go with a Base or Convenience model, or a top Premium or Touring model (the old CX, CXL, and CXS trims have been retired), the feel of the LaCrosse, as well as the equipment list, varies greatly. Base models don't feel any more extravagant than a mid-range Chevy (albeit with somewhat more stylish design)—and with the new features this year, GM has raised base prices by several thousand dollars, to about $30k. But the upper models can feel like entry-level Cadillacs, with an upgraded instrument panel, hard-drive navigation, and a Harman Kardon sound system.

Wheel configurations are one of the key differences, and ranging from standard 17-inch steel wheels with plastic covers in the base CX up to large 18- and 19-inch machined, painted, or chrome-plated alloys, they can significantly change the LaCrosse's look.

All LaCrosses feature hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity, remote start, eight-way adjustable seating, and dual-zone climate control. IntelliLink, a new option for 2012, allows streaming Pandora or Stitcher audio, through a paired smartphone, as well as hands-free calling or easy connectivity to media players.

An available Heads-up Display (HUD), and a 40-gigabyte hard-drive-based navigation and entertainment system can also be fitted, pushing the LaCrosse into the high-tech realm. The LaCrosse CXL and CXS get a standard Harman Kardon sound system that sounds pretty great no matter what the music.
6

2012 Buick Lacrosse

Fuel Economy

Among big, roomy sedans, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse is one of the greenest picks—especially for those who log lots of highway miles.

With the available V-6, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse gets pretty typical mileage for this class—either 16 or 17 mpg in the city, and 26 or 27 on the highway.

But it's the base LaCrosse eAssist versions, incorporating a new version of GM's mild-hybrid belt-alternator-starter system that are the standouts. The EPA rates the four-cylinder 2012 Lacrosse at 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, for a combined gas mileage figure of 29 mpg.

That's remarkable for such a large near-luxury sedan, and it's far better than the 19 city, 30 highway, and 23 combined of the 2011 model using the same engine, but without the eAssist system.

Though hybrid near-luxury sedans are hardly their own category, likely competition for the 2012 Lacrosse hybrid includes the slow-selling Lexus HS 250h (35 mpg combined) and the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid (39 mpg combined).

In real-world driving, we've seen about 30 mpg in 270 miles of mixed driving with one editor, and about 23 mpg in 160 miles of mixed driving with another editor (somewhat less highway driving). A cautionary note for those with urban commutes: Though we've been able to come close to replicating the LaCrosse's 36-mpg highway rating, we've found it challenging—virtually impossible—to see the EPA test's 25 mpg in city driving; the trip computer's figures in typical city driving have been more in the 19 to 21 mpg range. 

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April 13, 2015
For 2012 Buick Lacrosse

generally a good car

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good car but poor on safety due to restricted vision..i would not buy another..
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8.2
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
Safety 10.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy 6.0
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