2011 Buick LaCrosse: Introduction
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse is a mid-size premium sedan that, with the recent departure of the larger Buick Lucerne, now represents the top-of-the-line model from the nascent luxury car company. Buick's decision to go with an admittedly large but not ponderous four-door as their highest end option is a reflection of the company's new philosophy, which has turned its back on the disconnected driving experience offered by the numb suspension tuning of several of its more uninspired offerings from the past fifteen years.
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse is an interesting and unique effort that shucks of the shackles of badge engineering that have held the automaker back from finding its own role in the marketplace.
2011 Buick LaCrosse: Competition
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse occupies a special niche in the luxury arena. The LaCrosse faces no real competition from in-house rival Cadillac, as its front-wheel drive layout and overall proportions are not matched by anything that brand has to offer. Cross-town rival Lincoln challenges with the Lincoln MKZ, a similarly-sized vehicle but one which starts at a considerably higher price tag and which aspires to a more well-heeled clientele.
Ostensibly, the Buick LaCrosse is aimed squarely at sedans like the Acura TL and the Lexus ES. Each of these premium Japanese models also feature a considerable price chasm when compared against the entry-level LaCrosse, but add in the requisite options and engine upgrade necessary to make a fairer comparison and the gap narrows - although it never completely equalizes.
2011 Buick LaCrosse: Pricing and Trim Levels
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse starts out in CX trim, which carries an MSRP of $27,130. Next up is the mid-range CXL (MSRP $29,690), followed by the top-tier CXS ($33,900). All three versions of the LaCrosse can be customized via an array of different options packages and engine choices, with the CXS adding a few extras available at ordering time.
We were given a 2011 Buick LaCrosse CXS to evaluate over the course of a week's time, one which was outfitted with the optional V-6 engine, a dual-pane sunroof, the Driver Confidence package, the Luxury package and the Touring Package. This brought the MSRP of our tester up to over $38,000.
2011 Buick LaCrosse: Exterior
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse is the most visually engaging design to have emerged from the company since the two-door Buick Riviera coupe left the scene in 1999. The LaCrosse is a handsome automobile, featuring strong features that never cross the line to become brutal or menacing. The vehicle also benefits from an attention to detail that keeps the eye interested as it follows the diagonal dip of the sedan's style line that begins just under the A-pillar and continues all the way back to the rear of the car, where it gently curves above the Buick's wheel arch.
The LaCrosse CSX also strikes a balance between bling-tastic chrome and tasteful restraint, providing just enough shine to indicate its position as Buick's flagship without running the risk of blinding observers with glare on a sunny day. Even the throwback chrome portholes affixed to either side of the sedan's hood come across as a integral part of the overall design rather than a tacked-on nod to Buick's past. Strangely, however, the Buick Lacrosse CSX's jacked-up stance gives it an almost SUV look in terms of wheel gap - our Touring Package-equipped car featured 19-inch wheels that didn't even come close to filling up either the front or rear wheel wells.
2011 Buick LaCrosse: Interior
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse is a large car, but it doesn't overwhelm the senses with its overall size. This makes the exemplary amount of room available within the car that much more surprising when first opening the driver's door. Those riding out back will be even more shocked by the huge amount of legroom available, a feature hinted at by the sedan's gaping rear door opening. The LaCrosse would make an excellent choice as a long distance mile-eater based simply on its spaciousness alone. The only thing holding the Buick back is a trunk that offers less space (13 cubic feet) than several compact sedans that are currently available, include a few models offered by General Motors.
The quality of the materials used throughout the Buick LaCrosse's passenger compartment is overall a successful mix of plastic and leather. The dash offers a gentle accent arc that runs from one side of the car to the other, inlaid with wood and illuminated at night with a gentle blue glow that matches the ambient lighting found behind the door latches. A stitch pattern is carved into the dash plastic, although the gauge binnacle found immediately in front of the driver does benefit from a genuine leather wrap that actually calls for stitching.
A minor annoyance was the way the door panel integrated an arm rest that was positioned immediately over the door pull, blocking access and making it difficult to simply reach out and close the door from inside the car. The seats, which are both heated and ventilated in the LaCrosse CSX with the Luxury package, were quite comfortable, although the cooling feature was hit or miss in terms of being able to keep up with the heat of the day.
One area where the LaCrosse's interior quality falls down somewhat has to do with the number of components and switchgear that are shared between the premium sedan and other, less expensive members of the General Motors lineup. The vehicle's steering wheel is wrapped in leather, offers optional heating (which should be standard on every single vehicle sold north of the Mason-Dixon line) and comes with a beautiful exposed wood crescent at the very top. On the inside spokes of the steering wheel, however, are the same audio and cruise controls found on the entry-level Chevrolet Cruze compact. Similar examples of parts bin borrowing can be found on the LaCrosse's center stack and LCD display screen. The setup did offer far more options and a different layout than is typically found in more affordable GM models, but the overall look and feel of the HVAC and stereo interface were similar enough to be noticeable.
That being said, the Buick LaCrosse's Harman Kardon sound system was exquisite, offering a surround sound mode as well as crisp and clear lows and highs. The vehicle's bass reproduction was in fact so powerful that the EQ had to be set to compensate for certain kick drum-heavy styles of music. With the stereo off, the automobile's cabin is quiet enough to remind you that you are riding in a luxury car, but a certain level of road and drivetrain noise is allowed to penetrate the LaCrosse's cocoon in order to keep drivers aware of what is going on in the world beyond the vehicle's insulated passenger compartment.
2011 Buick LaCrosse: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse CSX that we were given to drive was outfitted with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that produces 280 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature as well as a Sport mode sent that output to the vehicle's front wheels, and fuel economy for the LaCrosse V-6 is rated at 17-mpg city and 27-mpg highway. We saw 18 miles per gallon in mixed driving with a fair amount of highway use. All-wheel drive is an option on six-cylinder versions of the LaCrosse.
The LaCrosse also offers a base 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that is good for 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy figures for this smaller motor are slightly better, checking in at 19-mpg city and 30-mpg highway, and a six-speed automatic transmission remains standard.
2011 Buick LaCrosse: Driving Impressions
In many ways, the 2011 Buick LaCrosse is meant to bridge the gap between buyers who would have in the past opted for the larger Lucerne, and those who are interested in a more responsive yet still very comfortable vehicle for their daily commute. When left in Drive, the LaCrosse offers a somewhat detached feel, especially around town at lower speeds. The vehicle's suspension system does a good job of absorbing punishment from potholes and the cobblestones we encountered while driving in Montreal's Old Port district, but while the automobile never feels as though it is on the edge of adhesion, it doesn’t exactly inspire its pilot to push it hard through the corners.
That type of driving experience is no doubt quite satisfactory to many members of Buick's traditional demographic, but given that the company is also hoping to lure younger import luxury buyers into the fold the mid-size sedan has also been given a Sport mode. On our CSX with the Touring package, this includes adaptive shock absorbers that are magnetically controlled and that can automatically adapt to driving conditions in order to provide a balance between comfort and performance. Moving the shifter over to the left of Drive engages Sport mode, which stiffens the shocks as much as possible in an effort to dial out the LaCrosse's somewhat floaty handling. The effect does not transform the Buick into a true sport sedan, but it does offer increased steering confidence as well as transmission programming that holds each gear longer than when left in Drive.
In terms of power the Buick sedan's V-6 is more than adequate, and will even twist the steering wheel if a firm grip is not kept when the throttle is floored from a stop. Passing is effortless and the six-cylinder lump never feels as though it has to work hard at any speed. It is difficult to imagine any of the above being said about the vehicle's entry-level four-cylinder engine, making the V-6 model the one to target for the admittedly heavy automobile.
2011 Buick LaCrosse: Safety
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse features a full complement of airbags, with front-seat side airbags, front airbags for driver and passenger and side curtain airbags all included on every model of the sedan. It also possible to order the LaCrosse with rear-seat side airbags.
In terms of active safety equipment, our LaCrosse CSX was brimming with goodies, including a very sensitive blind spot notification system, a head-up display that projects vehicle speed, heading, engine RPM and XM satellite radio track names. Parking sonar was also included as part of our Buick's equipment list, and of course anti-lock brakes and StabiliTrak electronic stability control and traction control are along for the ride.
2011 Buick LaCrosse: Final Thoughts
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse has a whole lot going for it. The sedan's design is genuinely beautiful especially when compared against some of the more anonymous or polarizing designs available from Lexus, Acura and Lincoln. Inside, the LaCrosse offers a calm, comfortable and equally attractive environment that proves just how much care General Motors took with last year's redesign. The availability of a head-up display, a Sport mode with a magnetically-controlled suspension system and tech features such as parking sonar and blind spot monitoring also help to elevate the Buick into the big leagues in terms of equipment and features.
The 2011 Buick LaCrosse doesn't try to be something it's not. Comfort and style are emphasized over flat-out performance, which is laudable in a segment that sometimes attempts to satisfy every single type of driver out there. Fans of large, opulent and elegant automobiles will be pleased with the LaCrosse - and even happier with its reasonable price tag.
What We Like About the 2011 Buick LaCrosse:
• Affordable pricing
• Knock-out styling
• Long list of comfort and technology features and options
• Spacious, well-appointed interior
We Aren't So Hot On:
• A somewhat detached driving experience
• Yawning wheel gap with 19-inch rims
• Switchgear shared with more affordable corporate cousins
Buick provided the car for this review. Photos courtesy of Benjamin Hunting and General Motors