During the course of two generations, the Buick LaCrosse has been a large, five-passenger sedan. That's really where the similarities end, though, as they are radically different cars indicative of much different eras for the Buick brand.
The first LaCrosse was the epitome of old Buick, in more ways than one. Bland to look at, blander to drive and with a cabin filled with subpar materials, it was a decade behind the times. Its large size and simple controls at least made it popular among senior car shoppers. The current-generation LaCrosse, however, is a far more modern, stylish and overall impressive automobile that is not only one of the better full-size sedans you can buy, but even gives certain luxury-branded large sedans a run for their money. Regardless of your age, it's definitely worth consideration.
Current Buick LaCrosse
The Buick LaCrosse is a large sedan that blends modern styling and surprisingly accomplished handling with traditional Buick traits like light-effort steering and a cushy ride. The base engine consists of a mild-hybrid setup dubbed "eAssist" that pairs a 2.4-liter 182-horsepower four-cylinder engine with an 11-kilowatt electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. Fuel mileage estimates for this roomy sedan are impressive, at almost 30 mpg combined. A 3.6-liter V6 with 303 hp is also available. A six-speed automatic is the lone transmission choice either way. Front-wheel drive is standard, though V6 buyers can also opt for all-wheel drive.
There are four trim levels: base, Leather, Premium 1 and Premium 2. Even the base is well equipped, with 17-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, OnStar, Bluetooth, a USB/iPod interface and smartphone integration. Moving up through the trims provides an ever-growing standard features list -- a rearview camera, heated and ventilated front seats and xenon headlights among them -- culminating in the Premium 2, which counts 20-inch wheels and a navigation system among its standard niceties. Packages are available that add options that include blind-spot, lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems.
In reviews, we've been impressed by the LaCrosse's appealing dual nature. Those looking for a traditional, plush Buick ride will be pleased. At the same time, so will those looking for a more engaging full-size sedan, as the LaCrosse is surprisingly nimble and sure-footed given its size. It's not a sport sedan, but it is on par with the Lexus ES 350, and gives up nothing in ride comfort. Spirited acceleration makes the 3.6-liter V6 the obvious choice for those who demand some old-fashioned grunt from their big sedan, though the high fuel efficiency of the eAssist powertrain makes its sluggish acceleration a lot easier to tolerate.
The LaCrosse also impresses in non-dynamic respects. The backseat is roomy and comfortable, and the front seats offer firm support that's more German sedan than American land yacht. The dashboard design is sleek and sophisticated, and materials quality is good except for some rough plastic edges and superfluous chrome here and there. Buick's Intellilink electronics control is dominated by a large touchscreen that does a fairly good job of controlling infotainment tasks both simple (changing a radio station) and complicated (entering a navigation destination). One of our few complaints involves the 13-cubic-foot trunk, which is unusually small for this segment. The hybrid's trunk shrinks even more -- down to 10.8 cubic feet -- to accommodate the battery pack.
Used Buick LaCrosse Models
The second-generation LaCrosse debuted for 2010 and was offered in base CX, midlevel CXL and top-of-the-line CXS trim levels. Initially, there were two V6 engines offered: a 255-hp, 3.0-liter V6 and a 280-hp, 3.6-liter V6. Later that model year, a 182-hp, 2.4-liter inline-4 became the base engine, but it's quite underpowered and we'd avoid it. The smaller V6 was dropped the following year and the four-cylinder version gained a new electric power steering system. The eAssist hybrid replaced the base four-cylinder for '12.
These LaCrosse models sold prior to 2014 had slightly different exterior styling and Buick's previous-generation interior electronics controls that featured a great many buttons and could be confusing to use. Intellilink's smartphone integration features as well as electronic safety features like lane change alerts and rear cross traffic alerts were also unavailable prior to '14.
The first-generation Buick LaCrosse was produced for the 2005-'09 model years. Its basic platform was similar to that of a few other General Motors products, including the Pontiac Grand Prix. Its highlights were available six-passenger seating (with a front bench seat), a large trunk and a soft, isolated and quiet ride.
There were three trim levels for most of the original LaCrosse's run: CX, CXL and CXS. The Super model joined the lineup in 2008. The CX and CXL were powered by GM's venerable 3.8-liter, 200-horsepower V6, while the CXS got a 3.6-liter V6 good for 240 hp, and the Super was motivated by a 5.3-liter small-block V8 providing 300 hp. All engines routed their power to the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission.
The CX came with basics like air-conditioning and full power accessories, while the CXL stepped up to leather upholstery, automatic climate control and more upscale exterior trim. The CXS added the peppier V6, 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a quicker steering ratio and a split-folding rear seat. The top-of-the-line Super featured a broad-shouldered V8, a sport suspension, unique front and rear styling and dual chrome exhaust outlets.
In reviews, our editors found the first-generation Buick LaCrosse to be a mixed bag. On the plus side, the car offered Buick's traditional soft, quiet ride, and acceleration was fine, particularly with the Super's V8, a rarity in a front-drive luxury car. The gauges were easily read, and storage space was ample thanks to the roomy 16-cubic-foot trunk.
However, we thought the soft seats unsupportive on longer drives, and found the car's faux wood trim and standard "mouse fur" upholstery a bit hokey. Furthermore, there was an abundance of cheap plastics on the center console, and the backseat offered rather tight accommodations for a car this size. As you might expect, the LaCrosse was "LaConfused" when driven through corners with any gusto, displaying significant body roll and lazy steering response. The four-speed automatic was another liability, as competing cars typically offered more efficient five- and six-speed units.
Notable changes during the original Buick LaCrosse's run began in 2006, when head-protecting side curtain airbags and antilock brakes became standard on all models. The Super joined the lineup for 2008, while Bluetooth was added (and the CXS model dropped) for 2009, the last year of production.