Whether it deserves the title or not, the 2010 Buick LaCrosse, with its brash new styling, fresh hardware and European bona fides, is the first "new Buick" of the "new GM." Shame about that whole old-folks image thing.
There are things we enjoy about the new LaCrosse, things we hate and things that leave us furl-browed as we try to reconcile the package with its price point and place in the GM universe. The LaCrosse is a beautiful car in person, borrowing proportion from the much-lauded 1993 Lexus GS which was penned by Giugiaro. The interior is handsome too, with sweeping lines, modern styling and enough ambient lighting to shake a cane at. Though it's got the looks, your enjoyment of the LaCrosse is a direct function of your age and the trim level you choose.
A Buick-loving octogenarian will absolutely adore the basic CX, this entry trim comes with a 3.0 liter, 255 HP direct injection V6 hooked to a standard six-speed automatic, 17-inch wheels, AM/FM/CD, A/C and very, very cushy muppet-soft cloth interior. It's a simple car, without unnecessary and complex gadgetry, good feel to buttons, knobs and switches and very capable when it comes to performance. Acceleration is strong, smooth and actually enjoyable. The transmission is well sorted with shift points exactly where you'd expect and none of the hunting you dread. We even managed 30 MPG during highway cruising. The interior is so quiet you can hold conversations at 100 MPH without even hearing the engine. Laminated acoustic glass, liberal use of sound deadening material and careful engineering of powertrain mounts make Buick's slang term to describe cabin noise, "coffin-quiet," accurate, despite the foreboding overtones for aged customers. What we were pleased to find in even the base LaCrosse is a suspension capable of insulating without isolating. It certainly soaks up bumps and coarse road surfaces, but the car is also easy to handle at any speed. It's confident and easy to drive faster around a clover-leaf than your Grandpa's slowed reactions will allow. The CX's hydraulic steering is comfortably overboosted and on-center feel is a bit numb, but so are the buyers' hands.
Stepping up to the mid range CXL, where Buick expects to see the bulk of its sales, you get magnetically assisted power steering, an optional Haldex all-wheel drive system with electronic limited-slip differential and significantly upgraded interior appointments. Cloth seats move to leather, a super basic radio readout goes to a navigation and entertainment screen, 17s become 18s and, overall, you get more of the pampering. Think of this as the choice for tech-savvy 60-somethings. The wood on these cars is quite impressive or, rather, we should say fake wood. Magnification may be necessary to confirm the screen-printing. It's really quite remarkable. What isn't remarkable is the center console storage space. For large cars in a luxury segment, the cubbies and storage in the LaCrosse are pretty terrible. There's a small shallow bin at your elbow with a USB port and a 12V power point, as well as a small shelf, but nothing big enough to store your fanny pack full of medication in. There are expandable map pockets, which we'd never thought a necessity and now know are not. The cupholders pop out to reveal a storage space good for... well, nothing really. A couple bottles of prescription drugs smuggled over from Canada perhaps, but nothing else.
Punching into the lucrative "middle manager in his 50s" demographic, you have the big-daddy CXS with the 3.6 liter V6 making 280 HP, the variable orifice dampers good for real-time damping adjustments (optional on the CXL), optional 19" wheels and heated and cooled seats. You get a bigger price tag and more equipment, but not a lot more car. Acceleration, though stated as 6.5 seconds instead of the 3.0 V6's 8.0 seconds, doesn't feel appreciably faster. The real time damping system doesn't really real time damp much better than the stock system. The gauge cluster can be had with a full-color info center, but other than provide eye-candy, it doesn't provide additional information. The sky-view sunroof is nice, but it can be had on the CXL as well.
The most nagging problems with the LaCrosse are the nagging problems with Buick in general. What is the point of the car and the brand? It sits betwixt the working-class, but honest, Chevy product lineup, where the slightly smaller Malibu offers an arguably better value proposition and the upper crust Cadillac brand, which is sportier, more aggressive and filled with slick technology. The Buick feels like the ignored middle grandchild between the two brands. It can't be too affordable or it's peeing in Chevy's pool and it can't be too luxurious or Caddys become overpriced.
The middle ground is a bewildering place, and it shows in the LaCrosse's execution. The interior is quiet, yes, but not without its flaws, material choice are occasionally mediocre, with the dreaded GM flat gray and beige plastic making an unexpected reappearance. There are hard plastic panels at knee points where there should be soft; rubberized plastic across the dash where it should be leather and a bizarre application of real stitching into fake leather to simulate a French seam which isn't even there. Everything inside is very pretty, until you look closely at it. The whole car makes you scratch your head, especially when you look at the price tag. Our entry CX with a base price of $27,085 was optioned out to $30k while looking inside and out like a rental car special. The powertrain and chassis was still lovely, but wrapped up in a box of meh-spec materials. Our AWD CXL started at $31k and was optioned out to an eye-watering $40,205; the CXS we tested was a darling to drive and came with a base price of $33K but crossed the options finish line around $39,195, somewhat dear for a FWD-only ride. There are an unbelievable number of entry luxury cars in the segment, ranging from the Hyundai Genesis to the Lexus ES, we see a great amount of potential in this platform, but we're afraid without a strong statement of purpose, the LaCrosse will wallow in a market filled with strong contenders.