They come from around the world to duke it out in the US of A: mid-size sedans from Germany, Japan and South Korea. Each arrives armed with a unique selling point: German engineering, Japanese quality and South Korean value. Their upbringings differ but their mission is the same: capture the hearts and minds of Middle American car buyers– and keep them. The clear winner in this automotive Battle Royale is the American consumer, who’s never enjoyed so much quality and choice for so little money. Meanwhile, once stalwart American brands and models are falling by the wayside, as their “foreign” competition continues their ceaseless campaign for mid-market hegemony. One such victim is the Buick LaCrosse CXL.
Appearances deceive; for Buick has mad coach building skills. The LaCrosse blends feminine curves and masculine edges with continental flair. Buick's ovoid adaptation works at every angle that the last Ford Taurus failed: gentle creases accentuate the toned quarter panels, while the rakish c-pillar puts the Ghost of LeSabres Past to rest. Witness the minimalist approach to body cutlines, a lost art in these days of excessive plastic ornamentation. (Never mind the dorky fender-mount GM badge: five minutes with a hairdryer and they’re a memory.) The LaCrosse' true visual appeal lies in its perfect proportions: badges, lights, trim, glass and sheetmetal all know their place, harmonizing like a barbershop quartet on ecstasy.
Fine proportioning continues within, as economy of line ensures that the LaCrosse’s interior elements complement each other perfectly. Unfortunately, the cabin makes no bones about Buick’s state of the union: this economy is deep in recession. It’s littered with portal trimmings befitting a Chevrolet. Comically placed wood accents are about as convincing as Buick's tagline, and attract jewelry abrasions like a magnet. The Buick’s standard six-speaker audio system delivers mega bass and crystalline treble for front seaters, and nothing sonically stunning for backseat bombers. The tiller's stiff leather wrapping begs Calgon to take it away, away, away.
All is not lost. Peep the wood and chrome accents surrounding the LaCrosse’s headlight controls: the vinyl, chrome and woodgrain dash proclaims “tres chic” (even if the slick console sits on a house of cards foundation). Seating is standard Buick decadence, with the handy addition of fold-flat, pass-through, split-decision rear seats. Pop the finely chiseled decklid and there’s room for both golf bag and golfer. Once properly stowed, the lid's double-linked hinges and zero-leverage grab handle ensures a clean palm print on dirty sheetmetal will finish the job.
While the trunk fails high school physics, torque multiplication is the favorite subject of ye olde 3.8L V6. The 90-degree six-pot provides pure pushrod satisfaction. The powerplant’s 230lb-ft of torque assures gratuitous grunt from the git-go, while 200 horses whip the LaCrosse CXL to redline at a moment’s notice. Yes, but– with only four speeds in play, the LaCrosse needs all the Grand National heritage it can muster. The mill’s trashy tenor at high revs quickly kills Buick's luxo-muscle image. Although the CSX' 3.6-liter VVT DOHC engine stables an 40 extra horses, it's still not enough to lift the Lacrosse’s acceleration above more-than-merely-adequate.
Put the moves on the LaCrosse CXL and it’s clear this Prom Queen won't tango. The car’s steering system walks the line between responsive and relaxing, but moderate understeer and nautical body roll are a total buzz kill. When it’s time for the "fun" to stop, monumental nosedive threatens to trip the airbag sensors. The cushy dampers and mundane Goodyear donuts make it clear the LaCrosse CXL is aimed at elderly drivers who prefer a quiet library to a discotheque (that’s a club to you and me). Which brings us straight to “Quiet Tuning.”
The Buick on the QT delivers a smooth ride and a hushed ambiance (marred only by the pissed-off 3.8L's presence at part throttle). It's quiet fo-sho, but that’s not what you call “sizzle” in the highly-competitive, mid-size sedan market. In fact, cruising down the freeway in the CXL, two words seemed to distill the experience: rental car. It’s easy on the eyes, sports a proven powertrain and possesses the kind of dynamically challenged demeanor that takes the trouble right out of a "troublemaker.”
As Bob Elton reported, Buick dealers are currently shifting a handful of new cars per month. “Value Pricing” or not, there’s no question that superfluous LaCrosse inventory will finds its home in the rental car market. Meanwhile, Hyundai is busy selling conservatively styled, value-added sedans aimed squarely at Buick's niche. A country that's been a democracy all of 19 years makes rides that hand David Dunbar Buick's legacy its collective ass. Sorry, but today's market needs more than a pretty face and reasonable reliability. The LaCrosse is a solid, good-looking dog– that won't hunt.