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.
You can enter destinations with the touch screen, or a knob mounted below the LCD.
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.
This interface lets you browse the library of songs on the hard drive.
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.
A Bluetooth phone system also comes standard in the LaCrosse, but it is not particularly advanced. It uses voice command, and offers basic calling functions, including an onscreen keypad, but it doesn't import a phone's contact list to the car.
The rear-view camera uses object detection to flash a warning icon.
The LCD on the stack also serves to show the rear-view camera display. Buick fits it with trajectory lines that respond to steering wheel input, showing where the car will go depending on the steering angle. And as a unique feature not found on non-GM cars, this rear-view camera also has object detection, flashing a warning icon when objects or people are close to the bumper.
All these cabin tech accoutrements suit the Buick LaCrosse well, as this sedan focuses purely on luxury. Front wheel drive and a very soft suspension lead to a ride that will pamper the car's occupants as each pothole and bump gets carefully absorbed and damped out. The LaCrosse has one of the best rides we've felt in a car using a strictly mechanical suspension.
That said, a mere $800 adds the Touring package, which includes a real-time damping system for the suspension, with a switch that shifts it between normal and sport modes. We didn't think much of the LaCrosse's sport capabilities with the standard suspension. Even during a quick lane change the car wallowed, that soft suspension allowing all sorts of body roll. Nothing about this car encouraged us to power it through corners.
Graphics on the instrument cluster display use a nice design treatment.
The LaCrosse CXS comes with the same direct injection 3.6-liter V-6 found in the Cadillac CTS and Chevy Camaro, an excellent mill making 280 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to make the front wheels chirp whenever we put a firm foot on the gas pedal. This engine doesn't hesitate to move the LaCrosse, but it is available at the CXS trim level only. The two lower-trim models, the CX and CXL, get the same direct-injection 3-liter V-6 found in the Cadillac SRX.
EPA mileage for the LaCrosse CXS is 17 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, a large spread made possible by its six-speed automatic, which offers a few tall gears to maximize economy at freeway speeds. In our testing, we came in at just over 20 mpg, with city and some mountain driving taking a toll.
The six-speed automatic has a manual mode, but as the LaCrosse isn't intended to be a sports car, we largely left it alone. Unlike the transmission in the Cadillac CTS, this one didn't aggressively downshift when we hit the brakes.
We were more than impressed by the 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS. Its exterior styling, cabin trim, electronics, and ride delivered a very good luxury experience. In fact, Buick treads into Cadillac territory with the LaCrosse, at least on the luxury side. We particularly like the maps and traffic avoidance in the navigation system, along with the sound quality from the Harman Kardon audio system.
The engine offers the right amount of power for the car, and the transmission shifts smoothly. Mileage is only average, though. During maneuvers, our car wallowed, but the optional dynamic chassis might correct this issue. The car also looks reasonably unique, and should stand out amid all the other full-size sedans on the road. Another nice design element are the graphics used in the instrument cluster display and on the center stack LCD.
|Model||2010 Buick LaCrosse|
|Powertrain||Direct injection 3.6-liter V-6|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/27 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, USB drive, hard drive, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||384 watt 11 speaker Harman Kardon surround sound|
|Driver aids||Rear view camera with object detection, blind spot detection, head-up display|
|Price as tested||$35,955|