All LaCrosse models have standard front airbags and offer optional front/rear side airbags and side-curtain bags. One year of OnStar Safe and Sound Service that includes automatic notification of emergency services whenever an airbag deploys also is standard across the line.
While the CX and CXL carry the venerable cast-iron 3.8-liter OHV, here rated at 200 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque, the CXS gets GM's global 3.6-liter modular DOHC six that cranks out 240 horses, 230 lb-ft of twist, and delivers up 60 mph in under eight seconds. This high-tech all-aluminum gem features variable valve timing on both cams to optimize efficiency. A smooth-shifting automatic transmission backs both engines, but it's a four-speed unit in a class where five is the norm. Appropriately reinforced to handle the added muscle, the CSX unit also uses a lower final drive ratio.
Behind the Wheel
Thoroughly competent and unexpectedly engaging, the LaCrosse makes the most of its comprehensive platform tweaks. A new aluminum front cradle impressively decouples the powertrain from the passenger compartment, and creates a stiffer, better-isolated foundation for the steering and suspension. As a result, the LaCrosse, particularly the CXS, has a reassuringly confident feel, whether trekking down an interstate or reveling in the joys of a favorite back road. Turn-in is pleasantly brisk, body roll well controlled, and the low-profile tires strike a commendable balance between grip and compliance.
Conventional power steering in the CX/CXL gives way to a quicker-ratio MagnaSteer unit in the CXS. As usual, it's the system is better at providing distinctly artificial effort than any actual road feel. On the braking front, newly upgraded disc/disc binders couple improved stopping power with a short pedal stroke and firm feel. The CXS also adds ABS paired with traction control, and offers optional Stabilitrak--which makes its first-ever appearance on a mid-size Buick.
The new twin-cam V-6 delivers quick throttle response; and at 19/28 mpg city/hwy ratings from the EPA, sacrifices only one mpg in each duty cycle to the pushrod 3.8-liter engine. Full-throttle charges elicit a note of audible urgency, but in cruise mode, low-level tire thump and drone are the most noticeable items.
Clean styling, genuine refinement, and rewarding driving experience aside, the LaCrosse is still a vehicle best appreciated by those with fairly conservative automotive tastes. Even attractions like the new 3.6-liter V-6 and Quiet Tuning technology can't fully offset class-lagging weaknesses like a four-speed automatic and the absence of a navigation package. All three LaCrosse variants also fall below average in IC's Total Cost of Ownership value ratings. Troubling news, given competition that ranges from the new, 280-hp Toyota Avalon in the near-lux realm to Pontiac's Grand Prix clan on the sport side--not to mention perennial market leaders like the ubiquitous Accord and Camry.
Buick's attempt to redefine its born-in-the-USA bloodline deserves kudos. But even at CXS level, the LaCrosse appeals to a largely post-boomer buyer who demands a well-crafted, but inherently domestic, product.