Normally, driving a car with a stonking V8 engine powering the front wheels is like watching Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh make out. It's so wrong on so many levels. Can you squeal like a pig? Just so. Will that pig's snout dart about like an amphetamine-crazed truffle-sniffer? Uh-huh. But here's the kicker: what if it doesn't? And what if you, uh, like it? Does that make you a deviant pistonhead? No, it makes you a closet fan of the quietly nutty, deeply cool Buick LaCrosse Super.
The LaCrosse Super is not cool in the traditional sense– as in sex-on-wheels or race-car-for-the-road. It's got that James Dean/Steve McQueen thing happening: effortless, been there done that, I don't need to show you shit (but I can and will). Alternatively, you could say the Super Buick has a large dose of that ineffable "WTF did you buy THAT for?" appeal.
There is no flash. The Super's sheet metal offers clean, feline haunches, graceful proportions, a porthole or eight and some dual stainless steel exhausts– with chrome tips! Everything is round and fluid to a
rental car lot fault. There is so little drama in the design that nothing grabs your attention. It flies completely under the radar; no bad thing for lead foots.
Some say the Buick LaCrosse is ugly and cross-eyed. I'm not going to argue. Why spoil the hushed vibe inside the Super's cabin? Buick has touted its QuietTuning technology– but not loudly enough. Baffles, foam filler, sandwich windows and exhaust note-sculpting create a tomb-like still. Insert octogenarian Buick drivers remark here. And it's true: noise reduction isn't exactly a sexy selling point. It's got to be like tenth on most shopper's list (right after change holder). But the aural placidity certainly creates an impression of quality.
Unfortunately, first impressions don't last. This is a Potemkin cabin; the Super only looks sumptuous. The burled wood is buried under more plastic than a fetishist at a PVC party. Gary Wright fans will rejoice in the abundant DreamWeave leather, but the good stuff went to Lexus. As with most GM products of the past quarter century, the plastics are harsh and brittle. (Yes, it's important.)
On the positive side, the Concert Sound III nine-speaker audio system will have you believing Sean Hannity is in the back seat (making out with…?) And there's a lovely set of buttons across the center of the dash that are as easy to manipulate as BMW's iDrive (after you take the 10-week course). But push those buttons and the whole housing moves ever so slightly. It squeaks ‘weak.'
Not so the Super's 5.3-liter 300hp (323 ft.-lbs. of torque) V8 engine. As a good little TTAC reviewer, I jumped on this rolling couch's throttle, making the tires squeal like a guest on Hardball. And yet, no torque steer. The LaCrosse Super goes like Hell– zero to sixty in a reported 5.7 seconds– directly forward. No steering wheel squirm to rattle the ice in your Manhattan.
I know, I know: every single review of this car bemoans the LaCrosse Super's massive torque steer. But, like so many GM products, The General's lieutenants have sorted this shit out– after the press pool party was over. It's a shame…
In the corners, the LaCrosse Super is plenty fast and not much fun. A large front wheel-drive car is always going to be less of a hoot than a rear wheel-drive sedan. And yes, discerning drivers will certainly feel the difference in the curves. But the big Buick's biggest bugaboo has been beaten. Floor it, tighten your biceps and nothing. Buick achieves this without any obvious tricks (i.e. fatter tires on the front). The unobvious ones: closer-fitting gear teeth on the steering rack, tighter bushings, a stiffer torsion rod controlling the variable-effort power assist, and a tweaked Stabilitrak system.
Buick's magnetic steering is not what I would call track worthy, or feelsome, or engaging, or reassuring, or fun. It works well in enough. For parking or emergency lane changes, the amount of effort you don't need is astounding. If this is a deal breaker, buy a Subaru WRX STI. Same price, same power. (Cough. Different driven wheels, different weight.) While you're working up a sweat, the guy in the LaCrosse will give you a half smile.
Clearly, Buick's fastest-ever car (150mph top end) makes no sense. How many of the GM faithful want a vehicle that costs $3470 less than a Cadillac CTS V6; a prestige product that offers the same horsepower, a six-speed tranny, slightly better mileage, no need for premium fuel and fewer tumbleweeds blowing through the dealership? Or how about a cheaper, rear wheel-drive Pontiac G8? Or anything else, really. Not to mention the fact that the LaCrosse is a lame duck, slated for 2010 replacement. I mean, how many ways can you say depreciation?
The Super is super though: a stealth near-wealth machine that makes a coherent case for itself. Providing you're sick or senile. Or, preferably, both.