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 new LaCrosse comes standard with a mild hybrid system, giving its four-cylinder engine a boost.
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.
The stereo in the LaCrosse uses 11 speakers and a 384-watt amp to deliver a well-balanced sound. Unlike some systems that contribute their own qualities to audio reproduction, the Harman Kardon system seems content to produce very clean sound.
With IntelliLink, voice command lets you choose music from an iPod, but with the navigation option you have to use this touch screen.
Listening to tracks from the band The Civil Wars, the simple guitar, piano, and vocals came through with very good separation, the instrumentation remaining distinct. The system produced more heavily layered tracks with good clarity, as well. Its big fault was heavy bass. With tracks from the band The XX, some ridiculously strong bass tones caused the door panels to rattle and the sound to distort.
I had been very eager to test the cabin electronics in the LaCrosse, as this is one of the first Buick models to feature the new IntelliLink infotainment system. Along with enhanced voice command that lets you ask for music playback by artist or place hands-free calls by contact name, IntelliLink also includes app integration. It launches with Pandora and Stitcher.
But in bad either/or option planning, IntelliLink is not available with the navigation system. And CNET's review car came with the latter option.
The navigation system in the LaCrosse, which evolved from that found in the Cadillac CTS, is very good. The maps are bright and easy to read, showing in perspective or plan view. It renders some landmark buildings in urban areas and overlays traffic data on major roads. And what I particularly like is that it pops up traffic warnings for problems on the road ahead, even when it does not have a programmed destination.
The touch screen had good response times for all the infotainment functions, but voice command, lacking the IntelliLink system, is very limited. It did not let me enter addresses to the navigation system or really control anything in the car except the Bluetooth phone system, and with that it would only let me place calls by number, not name. Most of the voice command functions connect to OnStar.
The heads-up display shows car and engine speed.
Given the size of the engine, LaCrosse drivers are not likely to be blowing speed limits, but as an added measure, a heads-up display projects the car's speed on the windshield. Along with that, it shows turn-by-turn navigation information and even the currently playing audio track from a connected iPod or USB drive. This display uses GM's ugly electrofluorescent blue, but the information it shows is handy.
With its low price and excellent fuel economy, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse is a contender for CNET's Editors' Choice Award, but the fact that navigation and IntelliLink are mutually exclusive on the option sheet holds it back. With the navigation system present, voice command and phone support is primitive. With IntelliLink, you can't have navigation. Buick will assuredly update its navigation system for IntelliLink in the future, but it is not happening in this car.
The LaCrosse earns very high points for its engine, the direct injection, and mild hybrid system leading to stellar freeway fuel economy. And even the average is extremely good for a car of this size. Of course, you pay for it with slower acceleration. The LaCrosse's power steering system and transmission also represent solid technology.
|Model||2012 Buick LaCrosse|
|Power train||Direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 11-kilowatt electric motor, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||25 mpg city/36 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||31.3 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based navigation system with traffic data|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Harman Kardon 384-watt 11-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rear-view camera, heads-up display, blind-spot detection|
|Price as tested||$37,195|