Buick LaCrosse CXL Review

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
buick lacrosse cxl review

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.

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  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Dec 17, 2008

    The LaCrosse is a not a bad car but could have been better. The exterior is the best part except for the Lexus copied little headlights and the too small grille(somewhat remedied for 2008). The interior is a mixed bag. The door panals are too plain along with the seats. And who came up with the way too light gray and tan cloth seat material in the CX models? Charcoal and dark blue should be available. Some interior components feel high quality and some are positively cheap. The dash vents feel real solid and everything lines up and feels strong. But the still fake woodgrain seems to wear off the console and the gear shift lever would have been better made of leather. The silly bar of chrome that stretches from one side of the dash to another is treacherous in the sunlight so watch your eyes. Buick at least fixed the dumb white guage needles for 2007 and instead went to far more readable red. Back seat legroom follows the example of other W-body GM models with very limited legroom with the front seats back more than half way. There is a rear seat center armrest but why is a split folding rear seat an extra cost option on a luxurious Buick? Buick would have been better off just offering the 3.6 liter Global DOHC V6 instead of the outdated thrashy 3800 pushrod motor that still has the same 200 HP rating it had in 1996 in the Regal. And the old 4T65 4 speed automatic with it's huge chasm between first and second gear has no place in a car this expensive. As it is the Impala offers better value for me with the more powerful 3900 V6, larger trunk, flip and fold rear seat and sportier driving dynamics and look.

  • Mr. Gray Mr. Gray on Jan 31, 2009

    I drove one of these for a short time and I hated it, but that's because I love cars and I love driving. As young as I am, I felt weirdly out of place in its over-automated, wood-grain, completely silent interior. My first thought was, "This is an old guy car." The LaCrosse doesn't feel like a car to me at all. It feels like some kind of space pod that floats along strangely while isolating you from the outside world, entirely disconnected from the space-time continuum. Being powered by a V8 (or was it a V6? I couldn't tell.) , one would hope to be thrilled by screaching tires and a vicious roar, but I found myself wondering if the vehicle was being propelled by some completely silent, alien-made, dylithium crystal-fueled warp engine. Turn the key and then try to find the answer to the question, "Is it on?" I'm not saying this car is a total loser. If you like absolute silence and computer-assisted comfort while you drive, this car might work for you. For those of us who like to feel as if we're still on planet Earth, don't bother.

  • Ollicat I have a Spyder. The belt will last for many years or 60,000-80,000 miles. Not really a worry.
  • Redapple2 Cadillac and racing. Boy those 2 go together dont they? What a joke. Up there with opening a coffee shop in NYC. EvilGM be clowning. Again.
  • Jbltg Rear bench seat does not match the front buckets. What's up?
  • Theflyersfan The two Louisville truck plants are still operating, but not sure for how much longer. I have a couple of friends who work at a manufacturing company in town that makes cooling systems for the trucks built here. And they are on pins and needles wondering if or when they get the call to not go back to work because there are no trucks being made. That's what drives me up the wall with these strikes. The auto workers still get a minimum amount of pay even while striking, but the massive support staff that builds components, staffs temp workers, runs the logistics, etc, ends up with nothing except the bare hope that the state's crippled unemployment system can help them keep afloat. In a city where shipping (UPS central hub and they almost went on strike on August 1) and heavy manufacturing (GE Appliance Park and the Ford plants) keeps tens of thousands of people employed, plus the support companies, any prolonged shutdown is a total disaster for the city as well. UAW members - you're not getting a 38% raise right away. That just doesn't happen. Start a little lower and end this. And then you can fight the good fight against the corner office staff who make millions for being in meetings all day.
  • Dusterdude The "fire them all" is looking a little less unreasonable the longer the union sticks to the totally ridiculous demands ( or maybe the members should fire theit leadership ! )