A luxury car should have a big V-8 engine, rear-wheel-drive, an air suspension and a cabin showing off fine wood and metal craftsmanship. The 2015 Buick LaCrosse checks off none of these boxes.
Yet it still feels a cut above cars from its sibling brand, Chevrolet. The large cabin offers plenty of head and legroom in front and back. Front seats can be had with integrated heating and cooling. Driver assistance features like a head-up display and adaptive cruise control take the edge off long trips. The ride quality is very comfortable and the car is very, very quiet.
For Buick, and similar brands, the auto industry came up with the term "premium," or even "near-luxury." Reflecting this segment, the LaCrosse base price starts at $34,560, but the model Buick loaned me featured the top Premium 2 trim and options that brought the total to a lofty $46,240.
The LaCrosse, Buick's largest sedan, features a high roofline, making for very easy access to front or rear seats. The rear seat area is particularly spacious, offering excellent legroom even with the front seats pushed back. All but the most base level LaCrosse comes with leather-covered seats, and Buick even offers an Ultra Luxury package that adds real wood trim in the cabin.
The LaCrosse I drove came with a direct injection 3.6-liter V-6 engine, a reasonably efficient mill producing 304 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque. With its six-speed automatic, the EPA ratings come in at 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I would really have preferred Buick's eAssist hybrid power-train, which combines a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a 15-kilowatt electric motor, turning in 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
Despite that power plant, with notoriously noisy direct injection, the LaCrosse ran very, very quiet. The six speed automatic transmission was geared and programmed to let the engine run below 2,000 rpm while the car was cruising at steady speed. Excellent sound deadening for the cabin meant the air conditioning generally drowned out any engine noise. At one point I parked the car and walked away, forgetting to push the engine stop button, not noticing it was still running. It is that quiet.
Dead easy driving
As for the LaCrosse's driving character, I found it boring, but I don't mean that in a bad way. The car rode well and proved responsive, driving so easily that I really didn't have any issues with it.
The V-6 engine allowed for good acceleration, enough power for confident merging and passing. However, it didn't snap my head back or tear off the front wheels when I floored it, instead picking up speed in a less threatening manner.
The steering wheel turned easily, but didn't suffer from too much play. The wheel response was good and immediate. Likewise, the suspension reacted well when I made sudden lane changes, damping out any excessive motion and settling back quickly once I had completed the maneuver. Over rough pavement, the suspension more than competently damped out bumps, leading to the best level of comfort short of having an air suspension.
Although the LaCrosse is definitely meant for comfortable cruising instead of thrashing around mountain corners for drag racing for pink slips, it does feature a Sport mode. When I pulled the shifter back to Sport, the transmission program became more aggressive and adjustable valves on the suspension dampers increased stiffness. The LCD instrument cluster even ditched the digital speed read-out for virtual analog speedometer.
However, none of these changes were particularly aggressive, or even very noticeably affected the LaCrosse's driving character. I very much doubt the typical LaCrosse driver will explore Sport mode more than once. The shifter's sport position also allows for manual gear selection, which might come in handy for engine braking on grades.
Optional Driver Confidence packages on this LaCrosse fitted it out with a camera, radar, and sensors for a blind spot monitoring system. The forward-looking radar enabled an adaptive cruise control system, which made driving even easier on the freeway. I was able to set the speed, and let the car handle braking for slower traffic ahead, not touching the pedals for many miles of travel.
A forward-collision alert system flashed a warning on the windshield when I approached slow or stopped traffic too quickly, and also buzzed my butt with what GM calls its Safety Alert Seat. The seat also buzzed when I drifted across lane lines. This type of warning may seem bizarre and a little too intrusive, but it certainly got my attention better than any audio or visual alert I've seen in a car.
The head-up display had a lot of useful information to show me. It always shows a digital read-out of vehicle speed, and adds useful indicators like the current cruise control speed and route guidance instructions. I was amused to find that I could set the center LCD, the instrument cluster LCD, and the head-up display all to show what song I had playing on the stereo.
While I very much like the information presented by the head-up display, I did not like how high the image showed on the windshield. Its controls let me adjust the height, but I never could bring it down to the lower edge of the windshield. At best, the image rode in the lower third of my view, which I didn't think was optimal.
The center LCD, an 8-inch touchscreen, showed Buick IntelliLink. This infotainment system combines stereo, hands-free phone, and navigation systems. I liked the user interface, which starts with a home screen showing icons for the major functions. However, I found the system to be sluggish, requiring me to jab buttons multiple times to get a response.
Voice command worked better, and was extremely comprehensive. With it, I could ask for specific radio stations or music from onboard media sources. It let me make calls by saying a contact's name and easily enter addresses or search the points-of-interest database in the navigation system.
I liked the navigation system in the LaCrosse, which included nicely formatted maps with excellent resolution. In perspective view, the maps showed rendered buildings and other 3D landmarks. Buick keeps the destination input process easy, and route guidance was very easy to follow. The system included traffic, and the ability to automatically route around traffic jams. However, its traffic coverage was not very comprehensive, only covering freeways, and skipping some of the highways and streets I've seen in other systems.
The stereo included the typical audio sources for a modern car, such as a USB port for drives or iOS devices, and Bluetooth streaming. Surprisingly, the LaCrosse lacked HD radio. Pandora is integrated with IntelliLink, and there is satellite radio.
IntelliLink includes a weather app, showing the weather forecast for the car's current location. However, unlike many other cars that include weather and traffic data, the LaCrosse did not have a fuel prices app or the (less useful) stocks or sports scores apps.
Buick being a GM brand, OnStar is present, allowing a range of telematics features such as remote door unlocking, first responder notification in case of an accident, and stolen vehicle recovery. And, courtesy of OnStar, the LaCrosse is one of the first production cars to come with a built-in 4G/LTE data connection. Along with enabling OnStar services, this data connection powers a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.
I connected a Nexus 7 tablet to the hotspot and ran a bandwidth test. Repeatedly, the LaCrosse turned in average speeds of 12 megabits per second, definitely fast enough for online video sources. Buick notes that the car's data antenna is more robust than that of a typical smartphone, so you're likely to maintain a connection in spots where your phone's data might drop.
While the data rate for the hotspot is nice, the car doesn't really take advantage of this connection. For example, the weather and traffic data integrated with the IntelliLink system comes in through satellite radio rather than the data connection. The Pandora app relies on your smartphone's data connection, instead of direct feed from the data connection. In particular, I would like to see Buick implement online destination search in the navigation system using this data connection.
Comfort is king
The 2015 Buick LaCrosse offers quite a bit of comfort, room, and an easy driving character. The size of the cabin might be enough to win over many prospective buyers, as it almost seems to compete with SUVs here. Contributing to comfort is the quiet, smooth ride. At the same time, the suspension proved very competent during typical traffic maneuvers.
Direct injection certainly helps the V-6 engine's efficiency, but the six-speed automatic transmission comes up a short compared to the eight- or nine-speed transmissions from competitors. Having driven the four-cylinder, eAssist version of the LaCrosse, I found that power train adequate for the LaCrosse and capable of much better fuel economy.
The driver-assist features are a good addition to the LaCrosse, and necessary, considering the competition. Given the range of sensors available on the LaCrosse, I am surprised Buick doesn't include automated parallel parking.
The version of IntelliLink in the 2015 LaCrosse falls short of the. That version includes what GM calls App Shop, letting drivers add apps in the same way as on a smartphone. The LaCrosse's IntelliLink was much more limited in what features it offered, although I did like the look of the navigation system. Voice command worked very well and offered a lot of control over the system, but the poor response of the touchscreen was a disappointment.
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|Powertrain||Direct injection 3.6-liter V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||18 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based streaming, Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, iOS integration, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||Bose 11-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, head-up display, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$46,240|