In recent years, we entertained serious doubts about GM's competence in building cars. Cadillac seemed like the only division with its head on its shoulders, rather than someplace else. But the 2010 Buick LaCrosse has laid all these doubts to rest.
All this time, as we were criticizing GM management and wincing at the bailout, the company was developing a very good luxury car under the Buick marque. Admittedly, a lot of what goes into the new LaCrosse was pioneered in the Cadillac CTS, but that just shows the company is getting smart and efficient.
Its own car
We were pleased to find that the LaCrosse is not a rebadged anything, but is actually a unique body style for Buick. That brand hasn't defined itself with strong design language, but the LaCrosse could be a good start. It is a large sedan with a roofline stretching back toward the trunk--somewhat like a Lexus ES or GS.
Fake vents sit on top of the hood, rather than on the fenders, as they do on the Buick Lucerne, which is a good move, as every beater on the road now sports stick-on versions of the same.
Inside the car, soft plastics cover the dash, and wood trim makes a gunwale effect. A color display in the instrument cluster uses good-looking graphics to show trip, navigation, and audio information. With the navigation option present, our car had a touch-screen LCD mounted high in the stack.
The interface for the cabin tech uses a combination of the touch screen and a large knob mounted below it. It wasn't always clear when to use the knob vs. the touch screen, but the latter was the quickest way to make a selection.
The navigation system's maps--high-resolution with distinct colors--are stored on the car's internal hard drive, making route calculation and map-refresh quick. These maps are not as detailed as some competitors', but the lack of extras, such as 3D rendered buildings, does not hinder navigation.
The system also incorporates traffic information, showing typical flow and incident data on the maps. But where this system stands out more than others is in its proactive warning whenever it sees bad traffic on the road ahead. Cars from other automakers give you a warning only if route guidance is active.
As has become typical with cars using a hard-drive-based navigation system, the LaCrosse has onboard music storage. It can rip CDs and copy MP3s to its hard drive, using track tags to populate its music library with album and artist names.
Not typical is the radio buffering function, which pauses radio broadcasts for up to 20 minutes. This feature lets a driver pause the radio, turn the car off, fill up the tank, then get back in and start the radio broadcast where it left off. We could not make the radio pause function work with the car moving, so it seems Buick makes the feature available only when the car is parked, which is also when it is most useful.
Other audio sources include satellite radio, an auxiliary input, and a USB port. In our car, the USB port worked with USB mass storage devices and older iPods only, refusing to recognize an iPhone plugged in with an iPod cable. We are not sure why this problem occurred, but before purchasing any car, make sure that it works with your personal electronics.
We really wished we had the maximum number of audio sources on this car, because the sound from the Harman Kardon audio system was exceptionally good. Piano trills and guitar chords were all reproduced with such clarity that it amplified the emotional content of songs. Bass wasn't particularly strong, and the system leaned slightly towards the shrill, but overall it was a joy to listen. Harman Kardon accomplishes this magic with 11 speakers and a 384-watt amplifier, producing 5.1 channel surround sound.