Ditching the plastic woodgrain appliques that have been key in Buick interior design for fifty-some years is more important than you’d think. The brand, revitalized by the China market, got its LaCrosse full-size sedan more or less right when it replaced the AARP staff car, the Lucerne, for the 2010 model year. Since then, Cadillac and Chevrolet have joined Buick in using the long-wheelbase Epsilon II architecture. Cadillac uses it for the XTS (the replacement for the front-wheel-drive DeVille/DTS), and Chevrolet used it to finally put its W-body Impala to rest (except for the fleet-only Impala Limited), a car so old that if it were a consumer, it would fit neatly into the Lucerne buyer demographic.
So the bottom line is that the 2010 LaCrosse interior, and indeed the whole car, was pretty good, a major leap forward for the brand, and the 2014 Buick LaCrosse interior is even better, if a bit ’70s-garish in our test car’s Sangria leather interior spec. The interior wood even comes in two varieties, Kyoto Maple or Cellini, depending on the interior hue chosen. The real stitched leather is a higher grade, and such features as a standard eight-inch, center dash touchscreen; a safety-alert seat; blind-spot monitors; LED running lights; and the latest generation Intellilink are a sign that Buick once again is a real, dyed-in-the-wool premium brand, a claim that has been under question since the Reagan administration.
The 2014 Buick LaCrosse benefits from the wholesale improvements in American-car chassis dynamics that have raised all boats since the ’70s. The LaCrosse doesn’t wallow. There’s good body control and a firmish ride, although we’d chalk that up to our test car’s nineteen-inch wheels (twenties are available). The car was perfectly comfortable on southeastern Michigan roads, and when throttle came to push, push it did. Understeer gets pretty serious when you tackle a turn in a way no Buick buyer, regardless of age, would ever intentionally do. The 3.6-liter V-6 is more than adequate for this car, but with only a mid-cycle refresh, the LaCrosse is saddled with a six-speed automatic transmission. Although it was cutting edge a few years ago, it seems Dynaflow-inadequate compared with the V-6 rear-wheel-drive Chrysler 300’s eight-speed automatic.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder/eAssist light hybrid powertrain remains a no-cost option. The V-6-powered 2014 Buick LaCrosse is available with optional all-wheel-drive. Our tester was a front-wheel-drive model.
Steering is crisp and precise. GM engineers are having pretty good luck developing electronically assisted power steering, although feel and feedback are very much wanting. Just try to slalom the LaCrosse through any of the numerous traffic circles that are finally showing up on American soil, and you’ll feel the car’s heft; a combo of massive understeer and notable body roll.
Buick’s problem, then, comes down to this: that rather handsome new Chevy Impala that’s built off the same architecture pushes GM’s value brand into near-premium territory. In fact, if you look past the volume Impala LT to the LTZ model, you’ll be hard-pressed to figure out why the Buick version is more premium — making the Buick’s real wood interior trim (which the Chevy doesn’t have) that much more important. Our LaCrosse has a bottom line of $47,295 (Impala LTZs can be optioned up well into the $40s).
It’s true that the LaCrosse is one of the quietest sedans you can buy. Buick has made a big deal of that for more than half a decade, but GM, understandably, couldn’t resist putting the insulation tricks and acoustic glass in the higher-volume Chevy, which must compete head-on with the Ford Taurus and the Toyota Avalon while restoring the brand’s reputation for delivering more car than you’d expect for the money.
The solution for Buick seems obvious. Rear-wheel drive. Yes, this is a favorite lost cause of this car critic. Cadillac is reverting to mostly rear-wheel-drive cars (not crossovers, where it matters far less). Chevy uses RWD for its performance cars, including the ultra-low-volume $45,000 Super Sport sedan. Buick should use the Cadillac Omega RWD platform for a halo that would compete against high-spec Chrysler 300Cs and Lexus GS models. Then, perhaps the brand should use a version of the Alpha platform (Cadillac ATS, next-gen Chevy Camaro) to replace the Regal and LaCrosse with something between the two in size. It could make a dandy Opel flagship as well.
All of that is a bit off-subject, true. But the fact is, real wood isn’t enough to distinguish a big 2014 Buick LaCrosse premium sedan and a loaded Chevy sedan. For the consumer, the only decisions to make are: which design do you prefer, and which dealers offer better prices?
2014 Buick LaCrosse
- Base Price: $39,735 (1SP)
- As Tested: $47,295
- Engine: 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
- Horsepower: 304 hp @ 6800 rpm
- Torque: 264 lb-ft @ 5300 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Drive: Front-wheel
- L x W x H: 197.0 x 73.1 x 59.2 in
- Legroom F/R: 41.7/40.5 in
- Headroom F/R: 38.0/37.3 in
- Cargo Capacity: 13.3 cu ft
- Curb Weight: 3896 lb
- EPA Rating (city/highway): 18/28, 17/26 mpg (FWD/AWD)