2008 Buick LaCrosse Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2008 Buick LaCrosse

New Car Test Drive
© 2008 NewCarTestDrive.com

The Buick LaCrosse is a quiet, pleasant-mannered mid-size sedan that handles winding roads better than you might expect. Its styling is sophisticated and modern, yet conservative. Inside is a rich, high-quality cabin with eye-catching woodgrain trim, nicely presented instruments and controls, and available leather seats with attractive gathered stitching.

For 2008, the Buick LaCrosse has been updated with fresh styling, including a new hood, grille, and front fascia.

The LaCrosse lineup offers a choice of two V6 engines, but for 2008 a powerful V8 joins the line as well: The 2008 Buick LaCrosse Super is powered by a V8 and delivers the quickest 0-60 mph time since the famed Buick Grand National of the 1980s. Buick dug into its past for the Super model name, last used in 1958. The Super is distinguished by Buick's trademark portholes and other styling cues.

The LaCrosse CX and CXL offer a soft ride, the kind traditionally associated with Buick, but drivers may be surprised by the sportiness of the CXS and Super, which offer precise steering and a relatively firm suspension with little body lean. A LaCrosse CXS handles quite impressively on winding mountain roads and can carve through a canyon with the best of the midsize sedans.

We found the V6 engines motor along smoothly and quietly on the freeway yet offer good power, growling enthusiastically under hard acceleration. The 3.8-liter V6 that comes in the CXL is a reliable, cast-iron, overhead-valve engine that gets an EPA-rated 17/28 mpg and delivers strong low-rpm torque for good acceleration in on crowded, low-revving American roads. The sportier CXS features a double overhead-cam engine that revs more freely and produces more horsepower, making the LaCrosse more fun to drive while rating 17/25 mpg. The new Super V8 turns this Buick into a modern muscle car but is refined and quiet when cruising. The Super is EPA rated at 16/24 mpg.

Electronic features abound, making the 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 CNN, Fox News, ESPN, or your favorite music; and StabiliTrak, which can help keep you from skidding off a slippery road. ABS and side-curtain airbags come standard.

Model Lineup

Buick LaCrosse CX ($23,310); LaCrosse CXL ($25,310); LaCrosse CXS ($27,310); LaCrosse Super ($31,310)

Walk Around

The LaCrosse is unmistakably a Buick, with its long nose, long slopes and simple body curves.

For 2008, the waterfall grille grows in size to resemble that of the new Buick Enclave (a cue introduced on the 2004 Buick Velite show car). The hood and front fascia are slightly revised for 2008.

At the rear, tiny rear side windows behind the C-pillars add some visual interest, while a discernible dent in the decklid ties the taillamps together and recalls the more adventurous surface development that characterized Buicks of the early 1960s. A single, slender chrome spear decorates the doors. XM satellite radio shares a single antenna with the standard OnStar system.

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 other models. Otherwise, the base CX has almost no decoration at all, beyond the bolt-on faux alloy covers for its 16-inch steel wheels.

The Super model has several distinguishing characteristics, including Buick's trademark front fender portholes (four per side, one for each cylinder), flared rocker panels, rear decklid spoiler, chrome exhaust tips, and a different lower fascia in the rear.

The LaCrosse's construction quality looks good. The body, door, and fender gaps 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 uses generous amounts of expensive, high-strength steel, including steel reinforcements in the rocker panels, high-strength steel door beams, and a double-thick Quiet Steel floor pan and firewall. There's also an interlocking door latch system, a magnesium cross beam behind the instrument panel, another cross beam behind the rear seats, and structural foam in the front fenders.


The LaCrosse cabin is roomy and comfortable and exudes a look of quality. 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 front bucket seats are comfortable with plentiful headroom and legroom. This is the standard LaCrosse configuration and we prefer it: five-passenger seating with front bucket seats separated by a center console, and a leather-wrapped floor shifter.

However, a six-passenger option is available for the CX and CXL that substitutes a front bench seat. The front bench seat is split 40/20/40 and has a flip-and-fold center back cushion that can be converted into a center console/armrest with a large storage bin and dual cup holders. You'll most likely want to use this assembly most often as a center console, as putting someone in the middle will make for an uncomfortable trip for all front seat occupants. The shifter is mounted to the steering column on six-passenger models.

Back-seat passengers will find the LaCrosse comfortable. Rear-seat legroom is generous, thanks to a relatively long wheelbase of 110.5 inches. We found that a 6-foot, 4-inch passenger can sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver with plenty of room to spare.

In front of the driver are three round instrument dials ringed in chrome and set into a deeply tunneled instrument panel. The instrument graphics light up in blue in the Super model. It's all very nicely presented, and relatively sporty looking.

The center stack is finished a mica-flecked flat black. On the Super model it's finished in silver. The center stack has a simple layout that is easy to use though plain in appearance. The trip computer and driver information center are easy to put through their menus. However, the information panel is so glossy that we found it hard to read in early morning or late afternoon light. The dashboard is decorated in a light woodgrain pattern. Super models have a darker woodgrain. Super models also get unique floormats, metal sill plates, and a seat insert pattern called DreamWeave.

Buick applied its Quiet Tuning treatment to reduce noise throughout the car. Quiet Tuning uses specially engineered parts and adds sound insulation in the engine, on the firewall, under the toeboard, inside the wheelwells and in the roof. It's a school of thinking that makes LaCrosse one of the quietest cars in the class.

OnStar, XM satellite radio, and a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away make the LaCrosse a pleasure to live with.

The trunk has a generous 16 cubic feet of cargo room. Unfortunately, a split folding rear seat is not standard, but it can be ordered. We would recommend it, though a structural beam between the cabin and trunk limits the height of items that can slide through. On the positive side, the trunk uses struts that won't crush packages. On the negative, the size of the trunk opening will make it hard to load large packages.

Driving Impressions

Buick LaCrosse buyers have two main options: the CX and CXL with a soft, traditional ride good for cruising and commuting, or the CXS and Super with a firmer ride good for sporty handling on winding roads.

The CX and CXL suspension is about 20 percent stiffer than in the old Regal and Century, with larger stabilizer bars. It works well for commuting and running errands. It isn't designed for driving hard on winding roads, however, and will wallow in turns.

The CXS handles more like a sports sedan. The steering is precise, really biting into the pavement when you want to turn. The car is not bouncing and yawing around when pushed harder on rural roads. Compared to the CX and CXL, the sportier CXS steers through a quicker ratio (13.3:1 vs. 15.3:1), featuring GM's electronic Magnasteer (rather than hydraulic) assistance. It also rides on stiffer anti-roll bars both front (32 mm vs. 30) and rear (19.4 mm vs. 17). Indeed, our impression was that the chassis has excellent roll control.

We found the CXS to be responsive on winding roads in Northern Michigan. We later pushed one hard on some tight, bumpy canyon roads outside Los Angeles and found it handled quite well there. The tires grip nicely. Even when squealing around curves, the CXS maintained good composure, not losing its poise the way older American sedans tended to. The CXS offered good transient response, meaning it could change directions quickly in hard left-right-left maneuvers. The quicker steering ratio enhances the good steering feel and turn-in responsiveness we noted in the other Lacrosse models. CXS models with optional StabiliTrak feature GM's even more sophisticated Magnasteer II power steering.

The Super is sharper yet, thanks to several mechanical upgrades, including Bilstein front shocks, a premium steering gear with lower friction, larger front brakes, and 18-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot tires. The Super's steering feels more precise on center, but it is tuned to have a light, easy feel. While there is less body lean than in other models, the LaCrosse is still rather large and heavy, so body lean is still evident. In a trip around a road course, we found that the Super leaned in turns, but quickly took a nice set to track through without a problem. The Super felt surprisingly at home on the racetrack.

For the most part, the LaCrosse rides smoothly. However, the CXS suspension suffers a bit on bumpy freeways. We noticed this on a particularly bumpy section of the I-405 freeway through Los Angeles, one of the busiest freeways in the world and one that really tests a smooth ride. Here, the CXS transmitted some road vibration into the cabin, at least by Buick standards, a trade-off for the more responsive handling of the CXS. The Super's tighter suspension and 18-inch tires transmit a bit more road feel, but was never uncomfortable over bumps. The CX and CXL offer a smoother ride on rough freeways.

StabiliTrak can improve driver control during emergency or evasive maneuvers and we highly recommend opting for it because it can help you avoid an accident. StabiliTrak includes a traction-control function and uses sensors to detect the direction the driver is steering the car; if the car is not responding adequately, it applies the brakes selectively and precisely to the left or right front wheels (something no driver can do), while reducing throttle to help realign the vehicle's actual path with the path the driver intended. This can help the driver maintain control in an evasive maneuver. Remember to steer where you want to go and the car will do everything it can to get there.

The brakes worked well, big four-wheel discs, ventilated in front, with ABS all around. We found the brakes gave good pedal feedback and were easy to modulate, making it easy to bring the car to nice smooth stops in normal driving conditions, ensuring comfort for your passengers.

All three engines have been tuned to give a nice, healthy gro

Buick's long tradition of fine sedans is well-served and continued by the LaCrosse. It's a quiet, comfortable car that measures up well against the best of the midsize sedans. Those who prefer a smooth ride and traditional Buick comfort will find it in the LaCrosse CX and CXL. Drivers who like sporty sedans will appreciate the CXS or Super, which deliver good acceleration performance, steering precision and crisp handling.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Pellston, Michigan, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and correspondent Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.

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