Review: 2014 Buick LaCrosse

We put Buick\'s updated-for-2014 flagship to the test.

Innovative when introduced in 2009, the Buick LaCrosse heralded new beginnings for General Motors. It has weathered on these past few years, avoiding pitfalls that have included economic downturns, government bailouts, and other general economic malaise.

Along the way, Buick is doing land-office business in China and holding its own right here at home. But the brand decided that changes were in order for the 2014 model year, updating the sedan with revised styling inside and out along new safety and infotainment technologies.

Are those measures enough to keep Buick's flagship fresh? We spent a week with the 2014 LaCrosse to find out.

What is it?

The Buick LaCrosse is a midsize premium sedan based on General Motor's Epsilon II long wheelbase architecture. It features room for five adult passengers and their things, although some may find the things aspect a bit of a tight fit. Available with a choice of standard engines, buyers can opt for a 3.6-liter V6 or an eAssist mild hybrid powertrain, which is comprised of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and an 11-kilowatt electric motor.

Our tester was powered by the V6, which sends 304-horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. It also featured Alloy 19-inch wheels that are sprung by real-time dampers with sensors that constantly read road conditions and make corrections in milliseconds. They work in conjunction with Buick's HiPer strut front suspension to help in reducing torque steer.

Speaking of steering, the speed-sensitive electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering system is in place to minimize power-sapping use of the hydraulic works under the LaCrosse's hood. It too can adapt to changing speeds and driving conditions.

The LaCrosse comes in four trim levels. Ours was the Premium I, which included among other things, StabiliTrak stability control, four-wheel anti-lock brakes with Intelligent Brake Assist and the Bose premium 11-speaker audio system that runs in conjunction with an updated-for-2014 version of Buick's Intellilink infotainment system with an eight-inch touchscreen.

The 2014 season also brings technological advances that assist in both comfort and safety. New items include an adaptive cruise control system, lane change alert and cross traffic alert, all of which are linked to a safety alert seat that vibrates to warn the driver of a crash.

For those residing in the Snowbelt regions of the country, Buick offers an optional all-wheel-drive version of the LaCrosse V6.

What's it up against?

The Buick resides in a big space that skirts the fence between mid- and large cars, so naturally there are many contenders from which to choose. They include the Chrysler 300 and its cousin the Dodge Charger, the Acura TL, Kia's Cadenza, Hyundai's Azera, and the Lexus ES350, to name just a few.

Buyers should look at all and create a short list that appeals to their sense of style as well as the thickness of their wallet.

How does it look?

With the original version of the LaCrosse looking like a 1996 Ford Taurus, it was high time for change when the second-generation model arrived in 2009. So radical a departure from Business as Usual, as far as Detroit was concerned, it heralded the arrival of a new way of thinking, and was generally the start of a series of very successful offerings from General Motors.

For 2014, the basic design continues onward with a few nips and tucks to help keep the LaCrosse relevant in a market that is constantly in flux. Among those nips are a change to the front grille and fascia, a new hood and variable grille shutters, which aid in aerodynamics. Further updates include the addition of LED lighting for a more contemporary appearance, and the addition of an integrated rear decklid spoiler.

Not major by any stretch, it is the plastic surgery equivalent of what Jennifer Aniston might get versus those surgical enhancements as seen on Joan Rivers.

And on the inside?

We have enjoyed the LaCrosse's interior from the first time we tried the second-gen version in 2009. It has only continued to improve. Our tester was equipped with a driver-customizable instrument cluster that could be configured to display navigation, audio, telephone, or vehicle information. The available eight-way front seats with heating and ventilation did double-duty during a Florida winter, keeping us cool in the daytime and warm at night. That they offered good support throughout our time in the vehicle was a bonus.

The new IntelliLink system offered an experience which featured great audio from the 11-speaker Bose system as well as touch and voice activated operation of the navigation, Bluetooth and radio system. The Buick's voice recognition software continues to improve and was not as balky as some of the operations found in its Cadillac cousin's CUE system. The other thing we noticed was a reduction in the number of actual controls to operate the system, which results in the interior's new and cleaner look.

Speaking of the audio system, it now works to further Buick's Quiet Tuning feature. Utilizing white noise, it "listens to,” then adds to the undesirable ambient noise so that they cancel each other out. The end result is an extremely quiet cabin that totally enhances the LaCrosse's drive time experience.

Legroom in the rear seating area was generous thanks to the extended wheelbase platform of the LaCrosse. But it does come with a price: As a result of the configuring of the same, cargo capacity has taken a hit in the form of a slightly undersized trunk. If you are a hauler of big, bulky items, you might want to take up some comparison-shopping.

But does it go?

Our Buick LaCrosse offered leisurely, but competent acceleration from a standing start, with the General estimating that we would see sixty miles per hour in less than seven seconds. But if we forget this is a boulevardier-style of vehicle rather than a high-performance hustler, we would be missing the point.

Power from the 3.6-liter came on progressively with little fuss until we decided to try a hard squeeze of the skinny pedal. It's only at that point that we noticed anything resembling outside noise trying to penetrate the cabin. The six-speed automatic transmission offered smooth, if not necessarily quick shifts, and even offered the option to place the gearshift lever in manual mode for a little row-it-yourself action. The trouble was that the rowing was in the form of operating a toggle switch mounted awkwardly on the left side of the shifter "knob.” If the option to manually shift is going to exist, we say do it in the form of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The EPA estimates that this nearly 3,900-pound sedan will be good for 18 city / 28 highway, with 21 combined miles per gallon.

The electric power-assisted steering offered a firm, but boosted means of direction, with the adaptive dampers helping to smooth out the ride regardless of the type of road surfaces we encountered during our excursions. Not sporting by any means, we had to pinch ourselves to remember that the Buick LaCrosse is all about cruising.

That is truly where this new generation of Buick shines.

Leftlane's bottom line:

Buick continues to refine its LaCrosse flagship into one of the best - and quietest - luxury cruisers around. Small cargo capacity not withstanding, it manages to coddle passengers around town or across country with room to stretch out. Just ask Shaquille O'Neal.

2014 Buick LaCrosse Premium I base price, $38,810. As tested, $44,400.

Driver Confidence Package 1, $2,125; Driver Confidence Package #2, $1,745; Buick Audio System, $795; Destination fee, $925.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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