The years flip forward to this past week, when I tested a 2014 Buick LaCrosse, with the Premium 1 package and more doodads than you can shake a walking stick at. No, it’s not thought of as the car for old people any more, but it does crowd into the niche of midsize luxury, where there are plenty of competitors for this fairly pricey bunch of cars. It appears to be marketed toward the middling successful executive who wants, nay needs a comfy family sedan and doesn’t want to swim those foreign (read Asia and Europe) waters. His dad had a Buick and liked it. What’s wrong with a Buick? Pretty sensible, Dad said.
The LaCrosse is Buick’s flagship, a no-nonsense car that strives, in its upper editions, to give you that sometimes elusive whole – a comfortable, quiet, well-optioned, long-distance hauler that won’t break the bank but will be presentable to those experts on automotive style, the valet parking crew. The car does have Buick-familiar style elements – the waterfall grille, the front portholes (or simulated portholes), the pretty conservative overall shape and lines – and it feels, inside, like most cars of this price range.
The particular car we had was the upscale version of the LaCrosse and it really was swimming in accessories. A base LaCrosse starts at around $34,000, but this model, the Premium 1, started at $38,810. Then there were the add-ons: two “driver confidence packages” – one, at $2,125, that included collision alerts for what seem to be all four corners of the car, lane departure warnings, high intensity headlights; and the other, at $1,745, that gave us adaptive cruise control (more about which later), a nifty glass sunroof that went up and over a rear glass sunroof, and the requisite audio/Bluetooth/navigation system without which no car dare show its face in a showroom these days. All in, the car had a retail price of $45,595.
That’s pretty hefty for any car (the average price of a new car in the U.S. is about $31,000) and so it behooves the prospective buyer of a LaCrosse to check some of its competitors – Lexus ES350, Toyota Avalon, Acura TL, Ford Fusion, Kia Cadenza, Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz C-class, among others.
Back to the Buick. On the road, yes indeed it’s a quiet car. Thicker, laminated glass and plenty of sound-deadening material help achieve this. The engine in our all-wheel-drive sedan (all-wheel-drive is an option; front-wheel-drive is standard) is the 3.6-liter V6, putting out 304 horsepower, driven to the wheels with a six-speed automatic transmission. The power is adequate, but you’re not going to get the rush you’d get from one of Buick’s sisters in the Cadillac fold. Once you get on the highway (there’s plenty of power for freeway on-ramps), you can cruise all day long at freeway speeds and not worry about being a laggard.
Speaking of cruising…. The LaCrosse has an adaptive cruise control option, which means it will keep your car at a set distance from the car ahead of you. Our test car slowed suddenly and sharply when it got close to the car ahead. When I pulled into the left lane, thereby disabling the cruise control’s radar, the car suddenly surged ahead, requiring a quick stab to the brakes. Maybe it’s designed to do that, or maybe it needs some fine tuning.
Inside, the LaCrosse feels like a luxury car – it has heated/ventilated front seats, rear parking camera, memory power driver’s seat, remote starting (on the key fob) – and the seats are adjustable to a fare-thee-well. But there were some peculiarities. For some reason, Buick has calibrated its speedometer in odd-numbered increments. Most cars’ speedos are marked, 0, 20, 40, 60 and so on, up to whatever the marketing guys have determined is this year’s aspirational top speed – 140, 160. The LaCrosse’s speedometer markings are 10, 30, 50, 70 and so on, mimicking Jaguars. Is it simply wanting to be different? Another observation: in the center of the analogue speedometer is a digital speedometer. Do we need both? And then there’s a heads-up display, which shows a digital speedo readout in the windshield, much as you would find on a fighter jet. (I have a similar heads-up display on my 2000 Corvette and while it’s an interesting novelty, after a while it gets distracting.)
So… no, it’s not a car just for senior citizens. That canard has probably gone away and it’s just as well. I think we have to realize that Buick has been around for a long time – it was founded in 1899 and is the oldest American auto company still making cars. It has seen its venerable GM brethren – Oldsmobile and Pontiac – disappear into that vast graveyard of Dead Auto Makers. Buick is the plucky survivor and, moreover, it still sells a lot of cars. (It has had wild success in Asia – there are more Buicks sold in China than in the U.S.)
The LaCrosse, then, personifies Buick in the 21st century. It maintains its position in the luxo midsize category, and it has sold more than 500,000 LaCrosses since 2009 – to young and old alike.