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Disruptive has become a popular and positive term for companies or technologies that change old ways of thinking. It is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Buick. But the 2012 LaCrosse may just be the car that earns Buick the disruptive accolade.
The LaCrosse is a full-size luxury sedan with just as much comfort in the back seats as in the front. Its rounded roofline gives it a spaceship look. A contour line down the side accentuates the rear fender in unnecessarily aggressive styling. The interior uses a cohesive gunwale design trimmed in wood circling the cabin.
But there is a surprise under the hood. A little 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine drives the 2012 LaCrosse's front wheels. Traditionally, cars of this stature use a V-8 driving the rear wheels.
This four-cylinder engine happens to use direct injection, helping it achieve 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. And added to that engine is Buick's eAssist mild hybrid system: an 11-kilowatt electric motor and a 15-kilowatt lithium ion battery pack. The electric motor never drives the wheels by itself, but adds boost for acceleration and enables an idle stop system.
But is that enough power for a big, 3,835-pound sedan?
Well, it won't win any drag races. Stomping the gas pedal does not chirp the front wheels, and leads to a leisurely pull forward. But it feels as fast as most economy cars, and did not present any issues when merging onto the freeway or taking off from a light. The power is adequate.
The big difference between the LaCrosse and a big V-8 sedan is that, rather than never getting the gas pedal more than halfway down, in the LaCrosse you have to step into it more, using its full range.
The upshot to this modest power is generally excellent fuel economy. The EPA tests for the LaCrosse resulted in 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. Watching the trip computer during sustained freeway cruising, with speeds around 65 mph, the car was actually holding around 40 mpg. But in the city the limitations of the mild hybrid system made themselves apparent, as fuel economy rapidly dropped into the mid-20s. The final average for CNET's car during our review period came out to a spectacular 31.3 mpg.
The idle-stop system, which shuts down the engine at traffic stops, did not interfere with the driving experience. I could feel the engine cranking up as soon as I took my foot off the brake. And even when I got on the gas pedal quickly the car was ready to go, the electric motor obviously contributing to the initial acceleration.
Just about every luxury car these days pretends to have some element of sport, but not so with the LaCrosse. Along with the front-wheel drive and modest power, the car is not much for handling. Taking it around a freeway cloverleaf, the body swayed over, and it was clear that I would not be pulling any tire-squealing antics without serious consequences.
The electric power steering is tuned for a luxury feeling, meaning the wheel is a little too easy to turn. But at speed on the freeway it shows good resistance, so the car does not require constant correction. The suspension feels a bit springy when the roadway gets rough, but the car does not oscillate after a bounce. There are certainly cars with more comfortable rides, but not in this price class.
Buick focuses its efforts on sound damping the cabin, and does a good job of it. Cruising over freeways and city streets, there was limited audio intrusion from the surroundings, giving the cabin a cocooning effect. That sound damping made the Harman Kardon audio system shine all the more.