2010 Buick LaCrosse car reviews

2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS

2010 Buick LaCrosse cars

Personality Lexus body with GM electronics
Why we’d buy it Quiet, luxurious, open-feeling, quick
Why we wouldn’t City mileage, control confusion, too well cushioned
EPA gas mileage 17 city, 27 highway

The new Buick LaCrosse takes its quiet, high-tech predecessor further, adding refinement and addressing flaws. A blindfolded driver, which by the way is a bad idea, could easily mistake the top end Buick LaCrosse CXS for a Lexus; it has similar sound insulation, a smooth ride that eliminates bumps and rough surfaces with ease, good cornering, and quick acceleration. But the base model competes price-wise against the Toyota Camry and its ilk.

Some say the distinctive exterior is elegant; others say it was laid on with a trowel, with unnecessary angles and faux chrome vents on the hood. The interior is a high-tech interpretation of classic luxury, with our CXS (a premium trim line) being adorned with both woodgrain and a neon-light stripe across the dashboard, the latter only visible at night. Overall, the Buick LaCrosse CXS makes its point clear: this is a luxury car despite the price.

The LaCrosse has a surprisingly quiet interior, the result of quite a bit of planning and engineering; the windows are a special laminate, the steel is designed to be quiet, and sound reduction measures were taken at various points as well. That means no subsonic booms on bumps, very little engine and wind noise, and a more pleasant driving experience. It's amazingly quiet given the inherent noise of direct-injection engines, which use diesel-like fuel pressures.

Base models have a 2.4 liter four cylinder, pushing out a V6-like 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque; the next step up is a 3-liter V6 producing 255 hp and 217 lb-ft, a nice step up. But our test model had the top-end 3.6 liter V6, with 280 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque. All are direct injected, and all take regular gas despite their high output — among the best for their displacements at each level.

A new six-speed automatic avoids the "power gap" issues of the original LaCrosse. The smooth automatic transmission gently drops a gear when acceleration is needed; it is usually in the right gear at any given time, but as with some other luxury cars (and other cars with this transmission), the pursuit of cushioned luxury takes away much of the fun factor, and can be annoying to those who prefer a more direct-feeling connection. The expression "driving through a sponge" comes to mind, and the slow shifting from Park to Reverse, Park to Drive, etc. doesn't help.

Buick LaCrosse car reviews

Acceleration with the 3.6 liter engine is swift and easy; though all wheel drive (available only with the 3-liter) would have been a nice addition. As with many modern engines, the V6 makes much more power at higher revs, and less right off idle. That said, put the pedal to the metal, and it doesn't take long to zoom up to speed; the 3.6-liter LaCrosse is fast, faster than it has a right to be with that much weight.

Gas mileage in our LaCrosse was about the same as the EPA estimates, roughly 16-17 mpg around town and 26-28 mpg on the highway. Those seeking better mileage can drop to the four-cylinder, which uses 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway; it might get better mileage if the LaCrosse didn't weigh in at roughly two tons (3,948-4,065 lb), the price of all that comfort, sound insulation, and stereo power.

An optional touring package comes with a computer-driven automatic damping system that provides sporty spring rates when needed, and cushy ones at other times, for superior cornering and comfort. The suspension easily soaked up pavement problems, potholes, rough surfaces, and the like, with broken concrete surfaces only coming through as a distant clacking. On some blacktop, the tires were rather noisy, but overall the car was very quiet. Again, the impression is one of Lexus-like refinement, but the price is far more reasonable.

Buick car

The small gauges have white backlighting and chrome markings between each number; the tachometer has old-fashioned single numbers (1, 2, etc.) rather than the more common thousands. The 140 mph speedometer is an affectation, really; perhaps the LaCrosse can hit that speed, or perhaps not, but it makes it rather hard to track ordinary speeds, given the small gauge. A large, full-color display for the trip computer sits between the gauges. On the CXS, the trip computer can show distance, average speed, gas mileage, distance to empty, or oil life. It only displays one item per screen (e.g. gas mileage), leaving lots of empty space, except at the bottom where it shows the gear and compass heading.

The oil life indicator is a standard GM technology that should have gained some national recognition for the huge amount of oil it may save over time by extending oil change intervals from every 3,000 miles to every 6,000 to 10,000 miles without, according to GM, any damage to the engine.

At night, the gauges are backlit in white, and all the controls, including those on the steering wheel, are backlit, not just a select few; subtle backlighting also illuminates the center stack, door release, and door pull area. The door pull area is not generously sized; you have to guide your hand into the hole, reaching the gap between the armrest and the curve of the door.

night backlighting

The controls are more puzzling than effective, and often the ergonomics are poor. There are unusual and odd-feeling cruise control buttons (one of which has to be pushed on the lower portion) on the left side of the wheel with an up/down wheel replacing the coast and resume buttons. The trip computer control sits on a stalk to the left of the wheel, and uses the same hardware that the GMC Terrain uses for headlights. The buttons in the center stack mix together the stereo, phone, and navigation system, with the vehicle configuration system mixed in; there seems to be little rhyme or reason, especially when the power lock control is above the shifter, next to the hazards and airbag indicator. The stereo presents can't be pushed in, as with most cars, but have to be pushed down; and the rheostat looks like a traditional dial, but turns out to be a rocker switch, which is awkward to use. The white letters on the gauges are also overly bright, compared with the other night-time illumination.

car gauges

Making matters worse is the climate control's layout, which is also hard to figure out. The seat warmers/ventilators are up in the stereo area; the steering wheel heater is next to the air conditioner; the auto button is on the passenger side, and to change the vents one has to push an up/down button over and over again. Sometimes, unconventional works well; sometimes, it's just unnecessary. Perhaps if GM would standardize, it would help, but every car seems to be different, right down to whether the headlight warning light goes on with the headlights, when the headlights are off, or when the parking lights are on; or whether the indicator lights should glow blue or amber (in the LaCrosse, they do both).

For reasons we can't image, GM has chosen to turn the a/c compressor on every time the engine is started, so the driver can develop a reflex of shutting off the air conditioning when starting in winter.

And then there's the automatic parking brake. You have to have your foot on the regular brake to do anything, and then you lift a little switch between the seats to activate the brake and push to release; it takes time and is somewhat counter-intuitive. We understand why a power emergency brake is handy for some drivers, but really, is it worth the effort and nuisance over a foot-operated emergency brake?

The electric rear shade, which rises up at the press of a button to ease life for rear passengers, is nicely designed, both in function and in appearance, but the control is roughly next to the parking brake, which seems odd.

Fortunately, the car preferences panel, integrated into the stereo screen, is well designed and it's touch screen operated. The system controls preferences such as headlight behavior, reverse mirror tilting, and the like. This panel is also used for the reverse camera, which provides a surprisingly bright, clear color view (even at night), but takes a few seconds to activate when you go into reverse, and a few seconds to go away after switching back to Drive. The "path" feature, which shows where the system things you'll end up given the position of the steering wheel, is cute but a distraction, and you can shut it off.

The navigation system itself is generally well designed, though the touch-screen keyboard is not as easy to get used to as the usual QWERTY. The system is easy to use and helps you along a little better than older designs, but it tends to hide minor streets at any but the lowest scales (even when there are no major streets around), and is a bit slow on the uptake when typing addresses in. The navigation system also has a substantial advantage over many systems, in the large screen size.

In the LaCrosse, you can turn big physical dial to zoom in and out and see the minor streets more easily; this is a convenient feature that saves awkward key-presses. The same button lets you navigate through choices on the nav/stereo/info system. It would have been better, and saver, if they'd let you set bass, treble, and such via the button, rather than going to a touch screen.

The stereo has three settings for speed-controlled volume; the LaCrosse has very little wind or engine noise, but it's still a handy feature. The stereo itself has good sound, without the over-boomy bass that becomes annoying when listening to voices; the stereo separation and clarity are both quite good. (The CXS uses a different stereo than the lesser models, so experiences will vary.)

Another nice feature is the three-level seat warmer, which warms both the bottom cushion and the back rest for both driver and passenger; the ventilators also have three levels.

In addition to the standard daytime running lights, GM makes most of its new cars stick to automatic headlight operation as an unchangeable default, so that you have four choices: switch to no lights each time you drive, switch to driving lights, or put the headlights on manually.

The center console is nicely designed but doesn't hold large objects. A classy accordian door covers the two basic cupholders; a small deep console is behind it, with two levels, depending on which buttons you press to open it.

The interior is generously sized, with good headroom and comfort in each seating position and plenty of legroom for front and rear passengers; the trunk easily swallows up large amounts of stuff. Visibility is good overall. The interior looks amazingly airy and open, given how small the window openings are; the windows are placed well to give the illusion of size from the inside.

The base model Buick LaCrosse starts at a reasonable $27,835, which is a good price given its feel and the level of standard equipment. That includes the four cylinder, six speed automatic, six airbags, stability and traction control, OnStar and satellite radio, power locks and windows, tilt/telescope steering wheel, heated rearview mirrors, automatic climate control, CD player with auxiliary jack, cruise, electric parking brake, and ambient lighting.

The CXL adds to the price, but gives you dual zone air conditioning, auto-dimming rear view mirror, wireless phone control, heated leather seats, power drive lumbar support, remote starter, power passenger seat, and universal garge door remote.

The Buick LaCrosse CXS starts at $33,765, and is the best equipped model; it comes with a standard 384-watt, eleven speaker stereo with a build in hard drive and USB port, the latter hidden in the center console with a 12 volt power outlet so you can run your iPod-like devices without dangling wires. The CXS also includes a standard 110 volt power outlet, heated and ventilated perforated-leather seats, a year of OnStar navigation, rear park assist, fog lamps, 18 inch chrome plated wheels, eight-way adjustable front seats, memory seats and mirrors, trip computer, heated leather/woodgrain steering wheel, and power rear sunshade. That's a lot of luxury items for the price, given that the car around it is in the Lexus quiet-and-luxurious class.

Our test vehicle had the $800 touring package, with bigger wheels, slimmer tires, and a suspension that had real-time damping built in for superior handling. The real-time damping suspension is probably the feature to get; though the bigger wheels don't hurt cornering, they do add somewhat to maintenance and upkeep.

Our test car also had a navigation system and backup camera, adding $2,000 to the cost, and an oversized power sunroof, for around $1,000. The total was $37,555. Options we did not get include dual video systems, built into the backs of the front seats, for the rear passengers; and a heads-up display in the windshield.

The Buick LaCrosse uses a Canadian engine and American transmission, and is built in Kansas City.

Traditional Buick and Cadillac owners should be fond of the LaCrosse; it retains the traditional straight-line performance and comfort of the lines, with a generally friendly and classy interior that's nice and soft. Lexus owners may find that the LaCrosse provides most of the Lexus experience, in a much less expensive (for the size) wrapper.