Review: 2011 Buick LaCrosse CXL 4 Cylinder
By Charles Krome
When the Buick LaCrosse was redesigned for 2010, the car immediately jumped to the head of the class of near-premium, front-wheel-drive, full-size-ish semi-luxury sedans. Especially notable was the LaCrosse’s striking exterior, with its distinctive character line and aggressive proportions, and that seemed to say the car was destined to be more than just an American version of the Toyota Avalon or Hyundai Azera. Well, after spending a week in a 2011 LaCrosse CXL, courtesy of Buick, which also provided a free tank of gas, it’s now clear that the car has more than fulfilled that destiny.
The story still starts with the LaCrosse’s exterior design. The car shows the traditional long-hood/short-rear-deck appearance of a traditional sports car—accentuated by that side character line—as well as wheel arches that extend beyond the body of the car itself and a steeply raked front windshield, so the overall impact is surprisingly athletic. Yet at the same time, the refined light treatments and the way the rear glass gently slopes down to the trunk provide a fair amount of streamlined sophistication. It makes for a much more eye-catching silhouette than found on the Buick Regal or Verano, or most of the other mainstream sedans on the road today.
Of course, that being said, it’s time for Buick to drop the portholes from the LaCrosse’s hood. They stick out, both literally and figuratively, in a manner that takes away from the LaCrosse’s clean lines, and Buick traditionalists may recall the number of holes is supposed to reflect the number of cylinders in the car’s engine—which wasn’t the case on the I4-powered CXL I drove.
As for how well that 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder does its job, I’ve got mixed feelings. Despite relying on just 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque to haul around more than 4,000 lbs. worth of Buick, the engine does its job fairly well. This is no sport sedan, but acceleration was more than adequate, and because the car is so quiet, I often found myself zipping along some 5 to 10 mph faster than I would have otherwise expected. Fuel efficiency worked out to an overall 20 mpg or so, a mark I have to call impressive when I consider how long I let the car warm up during last week’s single-digit mornings; I also let the kids watch a half-hour video with the engine running so they could test out the rear-seat DVD system (with wireless headphones) while I took photos. On the other hand, the Ecotec didn’t always sound very happy under hard acceleration, something that was particularly noticeable given how well the Buick Quiet Tuning efforts were at reducing other unwanted noise.
The CXL also featured the GM Driver Shift Control setup for manual shifting of the LaCrosse’s six-speed automatic. This is a nice piece of engineering, and I like the fact that you actually move the gear shifter itself a bit to switch gears, but it didn’t really add to the driving experience—again, this is no sport sedan. However, the suspension was very nice, so it’s easy to believe the six-cylinder LaCrosse, especially when outfitted with the HiPer Strut system, can track the corners exceedingly well despite its size. Body roll was well-limited, the ride was firm but still absorbed much of what Detroit’s rough winter roads had to offer, and braking, particularly brake feel, was good.
The Buick’s interior was another notable strength. As I’ve mentioned before, GM designers use a sort of wrap-around effect in the cabin, in which the dashboard’s design elements, like its wood trim, curve into the front of the doors. It creates a welcoming environment that makes for a sharp contrast to the 90-degree angles in something like the Lincoln MKZ. “My” LaCrosse was loaded up with goodies, and all seemed to work as advertised: The Harman/Kardon 11-speaker sound system was excellent, that rear-seat entertainment package was duly entertaining and the touchscreen controls were forgiving of my sometimes inaccurate fingertips. The short story here is that I didn’t feel like I was missing much as compared to the MyFord Touch system I experienced recently.
There also were some interesting touches, like a narrow pass-through space from the cabin into the trunk, hidden behind the fold-down middle armrest in the rear seat, and the head-up display, which projects the vehicle’s speed, etc., on the front windshield. Frankly, I’m surprised more automakers don’t incorporate this as a way to help keep drivers’ eyes on the road.
There were a few nits to pick. Many of the little items that had to move freely in the interior—the vanity mirror covers on the windshield visors, the top of the storage compartment between the front seats, that rear-seat armrest—seemed a bit flimsy, and that really stood out considering the impressive materials found elsewhere. The wood trim on the steering wheel was like a block of ice most mornings; I’d prefer the whole wheel be wrapped in leather. There’s wasn’t much room around the pedals, either, so my feet and legs sometimes felt a little cramped.
But at the end of the day, this LaCrosse came absolutely chock-filled with premium options, yet still showed a sticker price of just $37,410, including $7,605 worth of aforementioned options and a $750 destination charge. In this segment, that makes the LaCrosse a relatively high-value proposition that should be on the consideration lists of any near-premium customers—and perhaps those of some out-and-out luxury buyers as well.