Redesigned last year, the Buick LaCrosse has ushered in a new era for Buick, one that emphasizes modernity and efficiency. This midsize sedan's handsome styling perfectly balances traditional Buick cues like the vertical bars of the grille and the swooping character line of the body with thoroughly contemporary detailing. And the car's elegant appearance is accompanied by surprisingly adept driving dynamics. It's enough to make you forget all about the nautical-size luxo-barges in that big book of Buick history on your coffee table.
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse has pared down its engine choices this year, as the 255-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 has been discontinued while the 182-hp 2.4-liter inline-4 and the 280-hp 3.6-liter V6 go forward. Models with the four-cylinder get a new, electric-assist power steering system to prepare for a future hybrid powertrain.
Few cars from GM look as right for the future as this one, yet there are consequences, as the four-cylinder engine is overtaxed by the package's 3,800 pounds, while the thick roof pillars restrict rearward visibility (the optional rear parking assist is a must for this car).
Overall, we're impressed by the 2011 Buick LaCrosse. Of course there are other good choices in this segment, such as the 2011 Acura TL, 2011 Ford Taurus, 2011 Hyundai Genesis and 2011 Lexus ES 350, and it could come down to what style or driving characteristics suits you best. But with its combination of classy looks, quality construction and solid driving dynamics, the LaCrosse is writing a new, more memorable chapter in that coffee-table book of Buick history.
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse is offered in three trim levels: CX, CXL and CXS.
The base CX includes 17-inch steel wheels, a power driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, full power accessories, OnStar and a seven-speaker audio system with a CD/MP3 player, an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. Options for the CX include 17-inch alloy wheels and a Comfort and Convenience package that includes dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming mirror, Bluetooth, power lumbar adjustment for the driver seat, a power front passenger seat and remote engine start. A premium 11-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system with an iPod/USB interface is also available.
Stepping up to the CXL nets all of the standard and optional CX equipment plus 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, heated mirrors, heated front seats and leather upholstery. Available on the CXL is another Comfort and Convenience package that includes rear parking sensors, driver memory settings and auto-dimming sideview mirrors. A Driver Confidence package includes adaptive xenon headlights, a blind-spot warning system and a head-up display. There's also the optional Luxury package that includes a heated leather/wood-grain steering wheel, ventilated front seats, a power rear sunshade and keyless ignition/entry.
Individual option highlights include a sunroof, chrome wheels, a navigation system (with rearview camera and digital music storage), a rear seat entertainment system (with dual display screens) and the Harman Kardon audio system.
The CXS trim level includes 19-inch alloy wheels and everything above except the navigation system, power sunroof, Driver Confidence package and rear entertainment system, which all remain optional. A Touring package is optional for the CXS and includes different 19-inch wheels and adaptive shock absorbers.
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse boasts an elegant and contemporary interior. The front seats are enveloped by a graceful dashboard arc that stretches from door to door, and the tastefully integrated simulated wood accents contribute to the decidedly upscale feel. At night, passengers are bathed in a soothing blue glow from the ambient lighting. The center stack controls are certainly more complicated than the simple controls found in past Buicks, but operation of the audio, climate control and navigation systems should be easy enough to decipher for those used to more modern cars and electronics.
Despite its generous cabin space, cargo capacity measures just 13 cubic feet, significantly smaller than the trunks of competing sedans. The trunk is fairly deep, but the lack of height and width may be problematic for bulky items.
For CX and CXL trims, a 2.4-liter inline-4 with 182 hp and 172 pound-feet of torque is the standard engine. Optional is a 3.6-liter V6 that churns out 280 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque. The CXL is available in either front- or all-wheel drive -- a plus for those in snowy climates. The CXS is only available with front-wheel drive and comes with the V6, as does the AWD version of the CXL. All LaCrosse models feature a six-speed automatic transmission.
In our instrumented testing, a LaCrosse with the 3.6-liter engine accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds -- respectably quick, although still about a second slower than a few rivals such as the Acura TL and Hyundai Genesis. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 19 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined for the four-cylinder LaCrosse and 17/27/20 for the V6. The AWD version rates 16/26/20.
From the driver seat, the 2011 Buick LaCrosse exhibits an enjoyable blend of luxury and engagement. The cabin remains blissfully quiet without becoming a sensory deprivation chamber, as there's just enough wind and road noise to remind you that you're not sitting on your couch. Considering all the nautical Buicks of the past, the LaCrosse's handling ability is a surprise. The car responds confidently to inputs and is certainly more engaging to drive than the Lexus ES 350. Rear visibility, however, is compromised by the car's high rear deck and thick roof pillars.
As for power, the 3.6-liter V6 is the obvious choice. We'd steer clear of the four-cylinder engine, as it's overtaxed by this car's substantial weight and has to work so hard that real-world gas mileage will likely suffer.
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse features standard front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, OnStar communications, stability and traction control, and antilock disc brakes with brake assist. Rear-seat side airbags are also available as an option. In Edmunds brake testing, a LaCrosse CXS came to a stop from 60 mph in 127 feet -- a bit longer than average.
The LaCrosse has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures. According to 2010 ratings (which aren't directly comparable to the new ones) the LaCrosse scored five (out of five) stars in all frontal- and side-impact tests. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Buick scored "Good" ratings (the highest possible) in that agency's frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
For 2011, the Buick LaCrosse discontinues the 3.0-liter V6 and gains six free months of OnStar's Directions and Connections plan. Also, the four-cylinder model gets a new electric-assist power steering system.