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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.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.
- New 36-mpg eAssist powertrain
- Spacious, nicely trimmed interior
- Absorbent but not pillowy ride
- Top-notch safety
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- Still not a sophisticated driving experience (4-cyl)
- Luxury-brand price when loaded
- Cheaper look and feel for Base model