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The Buick of yesterday isn't the Buick of today. Look for a 2014 Buick LaCrosse in The Villages, or Shady Pines, or any other neighborhood with "assisted" in the name, and you might be looking for a while. The LaCrosse has gone premium, along with the rest of Buick, and that's meant leaving the softly sprung past in the past, and a turn to more sporty and more shapely alternatives to the brand's heritage.
The Buick LaCrosse is one of the sharper reminders of how much change that's brought. It has enough of the vintage Buick styling cues to recall the connection--but the way it drives is almost entirely disconnected from the past, from its controlled ride to its available mild-hybrid drivetrain.
The graceful LaCrosse has lots in common with the new Chevy Impala--but the LaCrosse was here first, and the impact of its soft-shouldered, snappily creased body panels hasn't faded. It's been tweaked a bit for 2014 with new LED eyeliner and taillamps, but the pleasantly thick shape has always had most of the details down pat. If we worked at GM, we'd personally pry every fake porthole off its hood and banish them forever, but there's not much else to find fault with on the big Buick. The cabin's revamp this year remolds the center stack into a less complex shape, and an Ultra Luxury package slathers it in tamo wood and wraps the cockpit in semi-aniline leather.
There's almost no change to the LaCrosse's two distinctly tuned visions of performance. There's a base model with GM's eAssist mild-hybrid technology; it returns respectable, refined performance while earning an EPA highway number of 36 mpg. The 304-hp V-6 version is our idea of a more traditional luxury-car experience, and probably yours too. The LaCrosse is no performance car, but it does handle better than its predecessors. In Touring guise, with the optional magnetic adjustable suspension (and included V-rated performance tires and variable-effort power steering), the LaCrosse gains a more responsive feel that doesn't come at the expense of ride quality.
With space for five, as well as a back seat that's good enough for three, the LaCrosse has a level of seating comfort that's a step above compared to mid-size sedans. Interior appointments and standards of refinement in the LaCrosse's cabin are truly luxury-car caliber. Upper models also get upgraded perforated leather and ventilated heating and cooling features, along with more adjustments and memory settings; and across the lineup, Buick's 'Quiet Tuning' philosophy reflects in a tight, near-silent interior.
The LaCrosse earns some of the best safety scores in the entire GM family, with eight standard airbags and top safety ratings from both U.S. agencies. Blind-spot warning system, adaptive cornering headlamps, and rear side thorax bags are all available, as is a head-up display (HUD). This year, the LaCrosse also bolts on new safety technology that buzzes, blings, and vibrates to warn of impending danger--some of it useful, like forward collision alerts, and some with less certain payoff.
It's a premium sedan, not a luxury one--at least, that's how the 2014 LaCrosse is billed. And yet, the most expensive models can be trimmed out like Cadillacs, with Bose audio and an upgraded instrument panel. The IntelliLink touch-screen interface updates to a new edition that's essentially Cadillac's CUE minus the haptic feedback--it has 60 favorites slots and space for a thousand contacts, to go with connectivity with smartphones for hands-free or streaming audio functions, as well as access to apps for Pandora or Stitcher audio. It's advanced technology that would have been light years ahead of the archetypical Buick customer of the past--but falls right in step with the drivers taking a second look at Buick today.