Oh, GM, you so cray-cray. You’ve done it again. If the 2010 Buick LaCrosse was the ’84 Fiero 2M4 of entry luxury sedans — all the right ideas executed indifferently — this 2015 model is the ’89 GT V6 of entry luxury sedans. All the right ideas, executed well enough to get the attention of the choosy. But how much longer does this aging horse have to run before the knacker comes calling?
Five years ago, I went endurance racing in a 2010 LaCrosse and lost the race due to a fueling infraction penalty that was slightly longer than my margin of victory. This time I went endurance racing in a 2015 LaCrosse and won the whole effing thing. You can read Sam Miller’s coverage from the past weekend if you want the scoop. I assure you, however, I did not eat any BBQ chips during the actual race. That’s libel and if Sam weren’t recovering from her wall hit I’d be sending her a very strongly worded Snapchat right now. Or Kik, or whatever the kids are doing now. They might be the same thing. I am this close to becoming the guy I knew in my 8-bit days who griped about how using a video terminal had taken the challenge out of computing.
But I digress. This Buick’s pretty ancient too. Were it a Honda, it wouldn’t exist. Were it a BMW, it would be deep into its facelift. Instead, it’s just fourteen months or so into a new look and there are a few years left on the clock. Oh, well. It’s GM, what are you going to do? The annoying part is that the Lexus ES was a fairly weak product five years ago and this LaCrosse could have hit it harder than the pre-facelift car did. As with the ’89 Fiero, this is what they should have provided five years ago.
Styling: this is what it should have looked like before. The 2010 model looked unfocused, this looks predatory. The weird tall and thin proportions are smoothed out by this deep grille and revised taillamp treatment. It’s a confident look. This car as I drove it scales out at $36,650 and I don’t think you need to be embarrassed about the looks at that number. Any BMW or Audi you can get for this money looks either po’-mouthed or bite-sized by comparison. Now here’s the question that will really bake your cookies: is this better-looking or more upscale-looking than an MKZ? I’d have to fall on the “hell no” side of that argument. There’s something very bespoke-looking about the little Lincoln’s profile. This just looks GM parts-bin and the wacky character line, like Elvira’s eyebrows, isn’t improving with age.
Can’t be helped. It was styled for the Chinese market and one of the important things that our future imperial masters wish to have conveyed to the proles in traffic is this: long back seat. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s totally legit. There’s a ton of room in the back seat of this Buick. This is the kind of room that should be standard with every Cadillac, but other than the platform sibling XTS, Cadillac isn’t “coming with length” in the States. We had four people in this car for a 1,461-mile trip, two of them working on their laptops almost continually, and there were no problems. Bonus: the rear windows go all the way down. That’s a detail that somebody made sure to get right. If you carry people in the car a lot, this is a winner.
If you carry luggage, on the other hand, the LaCrosse sucks like Seka in her prime and if you pop for the eAssist your misery will be compounded further. The battery is, by my calculations, the size of a Cylon battlestation and it occupies a solid portion of a trunk that’s already pretty tiny. The only way we could make the trip work was to use one rollaway bag as a center armrest in the backseat and have Ms. Miller leave her helmet bag in her rear footwell. Each one of the four nights we spent away from home included at least two games of Tetris as I tried in vain to make the luggage fit. (Or, if you’re feeling properly geeky, this was backpack algorithm time.) How I cursed the eAssist system again and again. The 3.6 V6 is a no-charge option in this car. You might want to consider taking it.
Unless, that is, you want to save fuel. This full eAssist system, described by Motor Trend magazine in a Ritalin-overdose fit of sympathetic manu-fellatio as “the wildest of mild hybrids”, really works as advertised. The basics are simple. There’s a fifteen-horsepower motor belted on to the front side of the engine. When you’re slowing down under certain conditions, say, not on a racetrack, the motor will slow the car and charge the big battery. It then uses that power to run the accessories properly during an auto-stop and then it helps get the LaCrosse moving again.
Readers of my recent Malibu review will remember my distaste for the half-assed start-stop system it uses in place of eAssist. I’m pleased to report that the LaCrosse doesn’t do any of that stuff. Only the lack of engine noise and the drop of the tach to a 0-rpm point alerts you to auto-stop. The A/C keeps running, the stereo keeps blasting Chromeo, it’s all good in the hood. Lift your foot from the brake, or sit for more than a minute, and it starts immediately. It doesn’t feel like convention engine starting, more like the Ford/Toyota synergy drive. It just starts running with no drama whatsoever. I like it.
One gripe: why does putting the car in Park turn the engine on? If you’re in auto-stop and you slip the gearshift into “P”, it starts the engine. That’s silly. It should run the battery down then start. I don’t understand the reason for this behavior. In New Jersey, where there are signs outside convenience stores asking people to snitch on their fellow citizens for keeping the engine running, having it stay stopped in Park would be useful.
On the move, the eAssist is strong enough. It feels about as fast as a four-cylinder Accord or Camry, which is complimentary given the Buick’s extra heft and size. I never felt caught out by lack of power, even merging on the Capital Beltway or the GW Parkway. There’s no joy in this Mudville of a four-banger, but neither does it strike out when it’s time to accelerate in traffic. Overall, it’s a satisfactory drivetrain.
Normally, this is the point where I give fuel-economy numbers for the trip, but in this case I need a disclaimer. For two days this Buick was left running in the pitlane of a race while a few children and the occasional adult used it to warm up, dry off, change clothes, operate laptops, and simply avoid the massive fly infestation that has settled over NJMP like a Biblical plague. (One of two, actually; there were a lot of frogs around at night, I’m told.) It wouldn’t be fair to report the 26.7mpg average reported by the LaCrosse for the whole trip. Instead, I’ll tell you that for the first 600 miles, which included plenty of time using the auto-stop in traffic, the Buick showed a solid 31.6mpg, said number being roughly backed up by fuel fill data. I drove without much aggression, trying to let the car stretch its fuel-economy legs, but I didn’t do anything hyper-mile-ish.
During the trip, the LaCrosse was remarkably quiet, pleasant, comfortable, and enjoyable. The revised interior, featuring good-quality leather seats in the mid-grade trim I rented, is far better than it was five years back. I would stack the dynamic and NVH qualities against a Lexus ES any day of the week. It was much better than my Accord or any competitor I’ve driven, even the relatively placid Fusion. The LCD-screen instrumentation is configurable like a C7 Corvette’s and it’s very readable in all conditions. The center stack has been improved quite a bit in appearance and function, although the temperature controls look and feel cheap. There’s plenty of 12v power available and the center armrest has a rather amusing hinge that unfortunately comes apart when young people are tugging at it. This is a usable proposition for the long American road. It’s what my father expected his 1977 LeSabre Custom to be when he chose it as a company car. No excuses need be made. If I need to quibble, I’ll do it about the Bluetooth Audio function which is amazingly stupid and frequently “skips” songs as if there were a 33-rpm turntable hidden somewhere in the dashboard. Nor is the phone interface terribly competent.
Since I happened to be at a racetrack, one where it was raining, it seemed reasonable to wring the 4,100-mile LaCrosse around it for a few laps. Thanks to the deep-treaded tires, I was able to put some space on the AER cars that were using the track to shake down their rain setups. Hitting pools of standing water at 100-plus miles per hour, the Buick was remarkably stable. Cornering at the limit of the tires, there was a progressive breakaway from the front end that was signaled well in advance through the steering. Left-footing the car did very little to move the long tail around. If you want a chuckable family sedan, get a Camry SE.
I was curious to see what would happen to the eAssist system when it was driven beyond its likely usable parameters. After four hard laps, I pulled into the pits. I could smell the brakes and feel the heat wafting into the cabin from the hood, but when I came to a halt, the tach fell to auto-stop. Releasing the brake resulted in a no-drama instant start. Okay, GM, you win this one.
At thirty-six grand, this is a much better value than the Malibu at two-thirds the MSRP. It’s priced fairly, equipped properly, executed competently. I wouldn’t buy it over an Accord Hybrid but then again if I needed the room in the back I might rethink that position. If you want to buy a good car from the General, and your budget doesn’t stretch to the Corvette, stop by your Buick dealer and give the LaCrosse a shot.