2012 Buick LaCrosse
If you’re up on the latest TV ads, you’ll know that Buick has been attempting a rebranding of sorts. Faced with a bemusing influx of sporty rebadged Opel products like the Regal sedan, GM’s longtime AARP favorite is now attempting to convince America that it’s all about driving excitement. But those more advanced in age have no need to panic, because the 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist exists. Big, gentle, and naptime-quiet, the LaCrosse is everything the brand used to stand for — a Buick for people who like Buicks. That its battery-boosted powertrain returns 29 miles per gallon in mixed driving is an unexpected cherry on top.
Ironically, the LaCrosse wasn’t even designed for the US market. See those elongated rear doors and the limousine-like compartment they conceal? All that stuff is there to make the commutes of chauffeur-driven Chinese bigwigs a little more comfortable. That’s right: the LaCrosse is built for China, where there’s an abiding affection for Buick as we used to know it. This, then, is our accidental Buick, a retro-plush cruiser from an emerging market halfway around the world. Rebranding efforts notwithstanding, it’s also the best car in Buick’s fleet.
What's to Like
The LaCrosse has a blissfully soft and serene ride on practically any surface, yet it’s surprisingly confident in corners. Fuel economy is impressive with the eAssist hybrid powertrain. We like the curvaceous dashboard design, and materials quality is quite good. Our test car’s trip computer and large infotainment display were both rendered in crisp graphics and fonts. The backseat has as much real-world legroom as an S-Class
or 7 Series
What's Not to Like
Big-footed drivers may find that the obtrusive brake-pedal arm interferes with normal brake operation. The transmission sometimes clunks and lurches unbecomingly. Power from the eAssist inline-four is underwhelming. The trunk is barely wide enough to hold a standard set of golf clubs — a significant faux pas given this car’s likely audience. Exterior styling is somewhat bland.
So well-insulated is the LaCrosse that there’s precious little difference between 40 mph and 80 mph from behind the wheel. No wonder there are three speedometers (analog gauge, trip computer, head-up display) — you’ll need every last one if you want to keep your driving record clean. The ride is glide-o-matic; indeed, it’s so compliant that we consider the LaCrosse’s cornering composure a remarkable engineering achievement. Believe it or not, the LaCrosse tucks into curves like a smaller car, evincing respectable body control and steering precision. It’s hardly a sport sedan, of course, but any athleticism is a welcome surprise in this segment. Add it all up and you’ve got an unusually well-rounded dynamic skill set. The LaCrosse isn’t just good at being a Buick; it’s a gratifying car to drive.
Engine and Drivetrain
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist is powered by a 2.4-liter inline-four rated at 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. Although GM insists that the LaCrosse is “not a hybrid,” there’s also a small 11-kilowatt electric motor that both provides a modest power supplement and enables the “auto-stop” system, which shuts the engine down when the car is at rest (and the air-conditioner is off). The system operates pretty smoothly and contributes to the eAssist’s laudable fuel economy. Less convincing is the acceleration, which suffices in most part-throttle situations — yes, that extra electric power is noticeable — but disappoints at full whack. The mandatory six-speed automatic transmission doesn’t exactly help the cause, suffering as it does from both lurch-itis and audible gear whine. Most LaCrosse drivers will probably never use the transmission’s manual mode, and neither should you, as downshifts are downright clunky.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
The EPA rates the LaCrosse at 25 miles per gallon in urban driving, 36 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. Dual-mode hybrids like the Fusion and Camry are up around 40 mpg combined these days, and the LaCrosse doesn’t look very good in that company. Compared with conventional large sedans, though, the LaCrosse is a certifiable fuel-sipper; 29 mpg is an excellent achievement for a hefty hauler like this one. Just bear in mind that you can get a Fusion Hybrid
or Camry Hybrid
for the price of a LaCrosse if fuel economy is a top priority.
Features and Technology
The LaCrosse eAssist starts at around $30,000 for 2012, but our “Premium I Group” test car came loaded to the tune of $36,685 including destination. What you don’t get for all that coin is push-button start. But let’s focus on the positives, of which there are many. Dual-zone automatic climate control? Standard. Sharp-looking trip computer graphics? Standard. Bluetooth and USB connectivity? Standard, with extra points awarded for intuitive navigation between and within music folders.
Speaking of navigation, our LaCrosse had that as well, and while the system itself is unusually sluggish in processing destination inputs and such, it’s well worth the extra $1,345 just for the wonderfully crisp high-resolution touchscreen it brings to the party. Lesser LaCrosses, if you’re curious, roll with GM’s old-school turquoise dot-matrix readout. Our test car incongruously used this, er, technology for the optional head-up display.
Overall, the LaCrosse’s cabin just might be GM’s best all-around effort among current products. The dashboard design is sleek and modern, with margins that flow gracefully (if not always precisely) into the door panels. We cursed the mandatory chrome trim, which took direct sunlight and multiplied it by a thousand, but were otherwise impressed by the materials and craftsmanship. Well, mostly impressed: there are some rough plastic edges if you feel around. Also, the lithium-ion battery pack in the LaCrosse eAssist’s trunk shrinks the already modest 12.8-cubic-foot standard capacity to a remarkably narrow 10.9 cubes.
The LaCrosse’s biggest ergonomic gaffe is one you might not notice unless the term “clodhoppers” hits close to home. Big American feet will likely find the metal brake lever where the rubber pedal ought to be. Not ideal for a panic situation, to say the least.
The LaCrosse is smooth and sleek in a generically Chinese way. For all we know, it’s sex on wheels over there, but here it strikes us as rather forgettable—apart, that is, from the distinctive zig-zag character line running down its flanks. “Inoffensive” is the euphemism we’d choose.
Market Segment and Pricing
The $29,960 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist competes in the traditional large-sedan segment, but its fuel-efficient powertrain adds an unusual wrinkle. The redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry
is an interesting budget-friendly option, delivering nearly the same fuel economy in base four-cylinder form or superior fuel economy as a hybrid, with quicker acceleration either way. But the Camry is technically a class below the LaCrosse, and other large sedans like the Hyundai Azera and Toyota Avalon
have big V-6 engines that can’t touch the eAssist’s fuel economy. If you can part with a few mpg, though, those models deserve consideration, as does the formidable Chrysler 300
with its new eight-speed automatic.
What We Think
The LaCrosse is a great Buick in any form, and the eAssist model breaks new ground by merging traditional Buick virtues with lofty fuel economy. We’d be tempted by the extra-cost 3.6-liter V-6, as authoritative acceleration is one lovable Buick trait that’s absent from the eAssist. But in any case, if you’re looking for a classic highway cruiser, the LaCrosse just might be the best modern interpretation you’ll find.