Inside is a rich, high-quality cabin with attractive woodgrain trim, nicely presented instruments and controls, and available leather seats with nice-looking gathered stitching.
Electronic features make the well-equipped LaCrosse a safe, all-weather family car with nice conveniences. Among them: a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away, great on cold winter mornings; OnStar, which will dispatch emergency crews to your precise location if you have a wreck and don't respond to operators' calls; XM Satellite Radio to pick up Fox News, CNN, ESPN, or your favorite music; and StabiliTrak, which can help keep you from skidding off a slippery road.
LaCrosse was introduced as a 2005 model, replacing both the Century and Regal. For 2006, ABS and side-curtain airbags have been made standard on all models.
Buick LaCrosse CX ($22,935); LaCrosse CXL ($25,435); LaCrosse CXS ($28,435)
CX models can be identified by a grained, graphite-color finish on the rocker panels underneath the doors, while this panel is body color on CXL and CXS. Otherwise, the base CX has almost no decoration at all, beyond the bolt-on faux alloy covers for its 16-inch steel wheels.
Construction quality looks good. Body, door, and fender gaps on the LaCrosse are all noticeably smaller than on the previous Regal and Century models. And LaCrosse's headlamps are said to be 35-percent brighter.
To improve crash safety and reduce noise, Buick used generous amounts of expensive, high-strength steel, a magnesium cross beam behind the instrument panel, another cross beam behind the rear seats, steel reinforcements in the rocker panels, an interlocking door latch system, high-strength steel door beams, a double-thick Quiet Steel floor pan and firewall, and structural foam in the front fenders.
Rear-seat legroom is generous, thanks to a relatively long wheelbase of 110 inches. My 6-foot, 4-inch frame can sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver with plenty of room to spare.
Interior quality and appearance are enhanced by reducing the number of individual trim pieces, which makes everything fit better and gives the cabin a richer, higher grade look. The instruments and controls are white on black, and each of the three round dials is wringed in chrome and set into a deeply tunneled instrument panel. It's all very nicely presented, and relatively sporty looking.
The center stack is finished a mica-flecked flat black, with a trip computer and driver information system that's easy to put through its menu. However, the information panel is so glossy that it's hard to read in early morning or late afternoon light. The entire dashboard is decorated with a very good imitation woodgrain.
Buick uses its Quiet Tuning program to reduce, tune out, absorb, cover up and mask noise sources all through the car. Quiet Tuning uses specially engineered parts and adds sound insulation in the engine, on the firewall, under the toeboard, inside the wheel wells and in the roof. Buick's Quiet Tuning has made LaCrosse one of the quietest cars in the class.
Optional features upgrade this car to a cut above, making for a truly complete, safe, all-weather family car. Among them are a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away, OnStar, XM Satellite Radio, and StabiliTrak; if we were ordering a LaCrosse, we would add all of these excellent systems.
Both of the available V6 engines have been tuned to give a nice, healthy growl on full throttle, but disappear into the background in high-gear cruising.
The standard 3.8-liter engine that comes on the CX and CXL is smooth and quiet and is rated to get 29 miles per gallon on the highway. It's a gutsy V6 that generates strong torque, meaning you get good acceleration performance without having to rev it up much. This is an older cast-iron V6, but it's been thoroughly upgraded internally to reduce mechanical noise and features electronic throttle control. It's rated at 200 horsepower at 5200 rpm, and 230 pound-feet of torque at 4000.
The newer 3.6-liter V6 that comes on the CXS revs more freely and produces more power despite its smaller size: 240 horsepower at 6000 rpm. Its torque curve is also flatter, peaking with 225 pound-feet at 2000 rpm, but delivering 90 percent of that peak between 1500 and 6000 rpm. What that means is that you've always got good, strong power on tap in any situation. Mash the gas pedal and she goes. A thoroughly modern engine, the 3.6-liter features all-aluminum construction, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder with continuously variable valve timing, and electronic throttle control.
All three LaCrosse models come with a four-speed automatic transmission. It works flawlessly.
As mentioned, the LaCrosse handles quite well. The steering is quite precise, really biting into the pavement when you want to turn. It has terrific body roll control, meaning it's not bouncing and yawing around when pushed harder on rural roads. The suspension used in the CX and CXS is about 20 percent stiffer than in the old Regal or Century, with larger stabilizer bars, so the LaCrosse handles better than those cars.
We found the CSX more sporty to drive on winding roads in Northern Michigan. We later pushed one of these cars hard on some tight, bumpy canyon roads outside Los Angeles and found it handles quite well. The grip from the tires is tenacious. Even when squealing around curves, we found it maintained good composure, not losing its poise the way older American sedans tend to do. It offered good transient response, meaning it could change directions quickly in hard left-right-left maneuvers. In short, it could do all the things shown in the Buick commercials. The steering has the same good feel and turn-in power as in the other Lacrosse models, but the ratio is quicker. The CXS gets a special Gran Touring suspension with stiffer front and rear stabilizers, as well as Magnasteer electric power steering. The optional StabiliTrak suspension package comes with more sophisticated Magnasteer II power steering.
For the most part, the LaCrosse rides smoothly, though we admit being a little disappointed in the ride quality on L.A.'s Interstate 405. It's a bumpy section of one of the busiest freeways in the world that really tests a smooth ride. Here, the LaCrosse suffered some vibration and the ride quality wasn't nearly as smooth as we think a Buick should be. This is perhaps a trade-off of the responsive handling.
Three different traction control systems are offered: CX and CXL versions use a speed-based setup that works with engine torque and fuel cutoff. This helps eliminate front wheelspin when accelerating on slippery surfaces, providing more stable control. The CXS comes with GM's full-range electronic traction control, which also selectively applies the brakes at one or more wheels as needed to restore traction.
StabiliTrak includes a traction-control function and also improves driver control during emergency or evasive maneuvers. We highly recommend getting the optional Stabili
Buick's long tradition of fine sedans is well-served and continued by the LaCrosse. It's a quiet car that impressed us with its steering precision and handling crispness. The interior has been given extra attention and that has paid off handsomely.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Pellston, Michigan, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.