Buick Lacrosse CXS

Aug. 18, 2005
"It's beautiful," gushed my 82-year old stepmother when she first laid eyes on the Buick LaCrosse.

"It's a little bland," retorted my better half somewhat later. The truth is (if there is truth to the subjective matter of taste) the Lacrosse has a modern understated look that speaks quietly of its power, intelligent design, and refinement. True, the car doesn't scream "Look at me," but everyone doesn't want an ostentatious vehicle.

But the LaCrosse's quiet ride and crisp performance is outstanding, which is more important. To my uncalibrated ears, the car drives with barely a whisper. If the tachometer was not reading 700 rpm at idle, you wouldn't know the engine was running.

The company says a QuietTuning initiative was aimed at hushing noise from the body, powertrain, and suspensions. For instance, GM engineers applied acoustical laminate on the windshield and front side glass and QuietSteel laminate on the front of dash-body area. Expanded baffles in roof pillars block those noise paths. Melt-on sound deadener is used throughout the lower body structure, while another sound absorbing material is applied throughout the engine and passenger compartments.

The company says improvements also come from a power-steering system retuned for improved response and a more precise on-center feel at high speeds. An aluminum engine cradle and mounting system also help quiet the powertrain.

The upgraded suspension on the CXS model we drove has larger stabilizer bars and more responsive handling. I concur. Cruising at 80 mph on uncluttered freeway is as effortless as 30 mph on city streets.

Quiet does not mean low power. The 3.6-liter V6 sports variable-valve timing and pumps out 240 hp at a max torque of 225 lb-ft. That is more than enough for jetting off the line. The new engine is all aluminum with dual-overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Fully variable intake and exhaust valve timing delivers 90% of engine peak torque where it's most useful, between 1,500 and 6,000 rpm. A 3.8-liter V6 with two valves per cylinder is standard on two less-expensive models. It's an older design but refined over the years to generate 200 hp and 230 lb-ft torque.

The interior oozes understated efficiency. The instrument panel and consoles are handsome and uncluttered. A two-tone gray was accented with an attractive wood trim. Interior room is also generous. My 6-ft 3-in. son sat in the back with legroom to spare.

The controls deserve comment. Some cars have so many gadgets and functions that most go unused. The Buick, however, has just enough. You can also look at the console and figure out exactly what everything does without the owners manual. And I've been won over by controls on the steering wheel. What a great way to keep your eyes on the road and still adjust radio and cruse-control speed.

And here's a feature that should be on all cars: the instantaneous mpg meter. On hard acceleration, the meter dips down to 5 mpg and below. That was so disconcerting I'd let up on the gas. But on the highway, the meter often hovers in the mid 30s and the natural reaction is to see if you can get it higher. What a great feedback device.

Safety features include the standard and expected dual-stage frontal air bags. Our CSX also had high-performance, lower-aspect-ratio tires with a specially formulated tread pattern. The suspension had three levels of traction control, including the company's StabiliTrack stability-enhancement system. Without snowy streets, this feature when untested. StabiliTrack device reportedly applies braking to recover control when it senses a loss of control.

The CSX also sported the Ultrasonic Rear Parking assist. It detects objects behind the vehicle and sounds a warning. It's useful even backing into parking spaces. But I wish it had a simple readout that displayed distance to the object.

The remote starting system still puzzles me. Who needs it? Perhaps a Minnesotan can shed some light on its usefulness.

All in all, the LaCrosse is a refined and pleasant automobile. It's a little pricey at $32,160. Its EPA ratings for the 3.6-liter engine are a respectable 19/27 mpg, but the 3.8-liter engine does a bit better at 20/29. That would be my pick.

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