The transition car
The car business is in constant motion. If car companies aren't buying brands, then brands are moving about, exploring new segments or expanding their reach up or down. Hyundai is the 21st century example of spreading targets in every which way, from entry-level to luxury cars.
The old General Motors did that seemingly forever but the new, leaner and meaner GM has all but given up randomly dropping badges and leather on some cars to make them more upscale.
The Buick brand as a whole is in transition. Reaching lower down the pay scale than it ever has, Buick is in the midst of relocating itself between Cadillac and Chevrolet and lowering the average age of its buyers. So far, they've done a commendable job of it.
The LaCrosse out
In my mind, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse is the last link to the Buick of old even though the current car itself is only three years old.
This observation is certainly not based on the car's styling. Of all the Buicks, the LaCrosse is actually my favourite, followed closely by the Regal. The LaCrosse has a modern, muscular flair to it and I especially like the dip and sharp rise the headlight to taillight crease line does on the rear doors. It almost masks the massive-ness of the back doors.
The slopping roofline is also attractive but I quickly get turned off by the car's large behind. The rear overhang is a few inches too far out. With the right wheels though, it all looks right.
The LaCrosse in
The cabin is quite nice. I found but two issues with the lot, the main one being the poorly designed and thought-out interior door handles. They are largely covered by the armrest and so are practically impossible to grab when trying to close the door.
The other is the seats and the driving position. Regardless of how I adjusted the seat, I was always under the impression that I was being pushed forward. Beyond that, the nature and quality of the material and the assembly in the 2012 Buick LaCrosse are impressive. Soft-touch plastics, leather and wood flow through the indoors along the curvatures of the sculpted dashboard and door-cards.
Ergonomics are fine, although even after a week's worth of driving, I was still having issues locating some of the HVAC and audio controls.
What is particularly fine is the room afforded to the passengers. Up front, occupants can fully stretch out given the amount of leg, shoulder and elbowroom. The rear bench can accommodate three passengers; however, two will feel as though they are in their living rooms.
The LaCrosse out and about
This car is imposingly comfortable, quiet and refined. The 2.4L 4-pot is smooth and docile and never gets out of hand audibly. Accelerative power is never in short supply and the 6-speed autobox works seamlessly. With the amount of Quiet Tuning this car gets, it's no small wonder why the 2012 Buick LaCrosse is as serene as it is.
On the road, the car benefits from a well calibrated four-wheel independent suspension. Only the sharpest edges of the winter-battered roads would permeate the cabin. The LaCrosse's electric steering is tuned for plenty of assistance in the city, so much so that I was reaching the stops on each end of the rack before I knew it. Feedback from the wheel is limited, but that's to be expected.
GM's mild-hybrid system is reminiscent of Honda's well-known IMA system. eAssist carries its name well as it offers bursts of electrical assistance when driving. Total combined gas-electric output is 182 hp and 172 torques. At no time do the batteries fully take over propulsion. This simple technology is ingenious, as it endows the car with extra oomph with little or no impact on fuel consumption and it costs relatively little.
Well, that's how it reads on paper. The reality is that it does add to acceleration, but I noted no real benefit to fuel consumption. I was not impressed by my average of 10.0L/100 km in 50/50 mixed driving conditions. According to GM, it should have been below 8L/100km.
The real good stuff eAssist brings to the table is start-stop, regenerative braking and electric assist. One suggestion to improve the system would be a smaller engine and bigger batteries. But that would require more money...
I've done this only once or twice in the past and that's "award" a red light to a car. If you look at it at the top of the page, it has to do with visibility. Here's what it's about: rear visibility is impossible: it's like staring through a sunroof while going backwards. Sure, there's a backup camera but A) it's an option and B) drivers are warned not to rely solely on the camera when backing up.
Unfortunately, and this is why it's a red light, forward three-quarter visibility is also horrible. The "A" pillars are enormous and more than once did I not see pedestrians trying to cross a street!
That's all for the bitching.
At $35,195, the base 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist is a well-heeled and appointed car. To get HID headlights, back-up camera, navigation, leather and numerous other goodies as found in my tester, the price climbs to $45,335.
In this price range, the LaCrosse faces off against some serious foes including the Acura TL, Lexus ES 350 and Infiniti G37. The Buick will be better equipped, but that's about it.
As the oldest car in Buick's lineup, the LaCrosse will evolve further and transit to its rightful position. The rate at which Buick is progressing promises more good things to come.
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2012 Buick LaCrosse Specifications
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