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2018 Buick Lacrosse Review

2018 Buick Lacrosse Review
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The 2018 Buick LaCrosse is a proper flagship, a refined and comfortable sedan with only a few quirks.

A sedate, polished sedan, the 2018 Buick LaCrosse offers full-size room without the yacht-like driving experience of yore. It offers plenty of compelling reasons to skip far pricier luxury cars thanks to its refined personality, attractive style, and a new mild-hybrid powertrain.

The LaCrosse, available in base, Preferred, Essence, Premium, and Avenir trim levels, sees a host of changes for 2018 after being redesigned last year. A new hybrid powertrain is now fitted as standard. It pairs a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder to an electric motor charged by a small lithium-ion battery pack. Unlike a full hybrid—say, the Toyota Avalon Hybrid—the LaCrosse cannot drive on electric power alone. Instead, the system provides a fuel-saving boost. A 3.6-liter V-6 engine, carried over from last year, is now optional, but it’s now mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission instead of last year’s 8-speed.

Topping the lineup is a new Avenir trim level, which is more about an upmarket appearance than actually piling on additional luxuries.

Additionally for 2018, Buick has made all-wheel drive available on more trim levels.

Though there’s a lot new this year, the LaCrosse’s fundamentals are unchanged. It’s Buick’s flagship sedan, a big four-door with room for five full-size adults and their gear—at least for short stints, since the back seat isn’t quite as good as it could be. But don’t think of the LaCrosse as a spiritual successor to the boat-like Roadmasters of yesteryear. It’s light on its feet for a big car and it offers a terrific driving experience, plus it’s loaded with high-tech features like an advanced infotainment system and a wide array of active-safety tech.

Pretty inside and out, the Buick LaCrosse has the look of a proper flagship sedan.

With its curvy shape and simple, elegant interior, the 2018 Buick LaCrosse stands apart from the crowd.

The LaCrosse mostly manages to look smaller than its dimensions would otherwise suggest thanks to a generally streamlined look. A prominent grille up front gives way to swept-back headlights. Around the side, the LaCrosse’s wide rear haunches provide a muscular look that could almost suggest that it’s a rear- instead of a front-wheel-drive sedan. At the tail, a pair of artfully executed lamps wrap attractively from the fenders into the trunk. Only a trio of curious fake portholes integrated into the LaCrosse’s front fenders let it down.

Inside, the LaCrosse is clean and almost unadorned with its high center console and nearly symmetrical dash. Controls are grouped together with no excess of switches or buttons, which helps simplify the experience. A large LCD screen in the instrument cluster offers lots of information, even if it isn’t quite as well-integrated as we’ve seen in some rivals.

One asset to the LaCrosse is the wide array of interior shades available on most models, including hues from cold to warm to pitch black.

A strong V-6 engine makes the Buick LaCrosse a joy to drive.

The 2018 Buick LaCrosse is now offered in several flavors, from mild to not particularly wild. We like its ride and handling balance, as well as it strong V-6, so we’ve given it a 7 out of 10 here.

What we haven’t yet driven is the LaCrosse’s new mild-hybrid powertrain, which the automaker calls eAssist. This year, it’s standard on all front-wheel drive LaCrosses. The eAssist is Buick-speak for a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Unlike full hybrid setups, the LaCrosse eAssist can’t be driven on only electric power. Instead, the electric motor and battery pack provide a little boost that both saves fuel and adds grunt. The system is rated at a decidedly mild 194 horsepower and 187 pound-feet of torque and it is exclusively mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Once get our hands on a LaCrosse with the new eAssist powertrain, we'll update this space with our impressions.

Optional on all but the base LaCrosse—and standard with all-wheel drive—is a carryover 3.6-liter V-6 rated at 310 hp and 268 lb-ft. This year, it’s mated to a new 9-speed automatic rather than last year’s 8-speed. Again, we haven’t driven the 2018, but last year’s model provided strong power from any speed, even with a full load of passengers aboard.

What hasn’t changed is the LaCrosse’s stiff chassis and quick, accurate steering. It’s not a sports car, but it can be hustled through a curvy road with confidence. The LaCrosse comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, but 20s are optional and they’re paired with a user-adjustable variable suspension that can be stiffened up or softened at the tap of a button. In our testing, we found the base suspension and 18-inch wheels to provide the nicest ride-and-handling balance, but you’ll want to try out both before signing on the dotted line.

Thanks to extensive sound deadening, the LaCrosse is remarkably quiet even over the notoriously loud, water-wicking pavement we experienced during our initial drive in the Pacific Northwest.

Comfort & Quality
The Buick LaCrosse isn't as roomy as it could be, but it is well-finished and has a big trunk.

The 2018 Buick LaCrosse is finished to a high standard inside, but its back seat doesn’t offer quite the stretch-out room of a few key rivals.

Both front seats are eight-way power-adjustable on all versions of the LaCrosse. Base and Preferred trims are swathed in convincing synthetic leather, while all other trim levels feature perforated real leather. Premium models go a big step further with four-way power lumbar and a massaging feature for the front seats. All models are long-haul comfortable, but flip on the massage and heating functions and you may not want to leave the driver’s throne.

It’s not quite the same story in the back, however. A low roofline cuts into head room and leg room doesn’t quite match some rivals, although there’s at least enough hip and shoulder girth for three adults to use up all the available space.

The LaCrosse’s 15.0 cubic foot trunk isn’t especially large for its class, but it is well-shaped with a large opening. There’s better storage space inside, particularly in the bottom part of the high center console, which can hold a purse or a tablet.

All models feel sufficiently dressy inside with lots of soft-touch plastics, but the earth tone leather choices on higher-spec LaCrosses are gorgeous. Only some matte-finish plastic panels scattered around the center console serve as reminders that the LaCrosse isn’t priced like a similarly sized genuine luxury car brand’s offerings.

The Buick LaCrosse nearly aces every crash test, but we wish some of its advanced tech was available at a lower price point.

The 2018 Buick LaCrosse has performed very well in crash tests, but unfortunately the automaker restricts advanced safety tech to only the top trim level.

We’ve given the LaCrosse two points above average for its strong showings in the IIHS and the NHTSA’s testing. It would get one more if only Buick didn’t make buyers go fully loaded to get automatic emergency braking that’s standard on many rivals now.

The LaCrosse starts off well with eight standard airbags and a stiff crash structure, which helped it earn top marks from the NHTSA: a rare five star score in every category. The IIHS agreed, giving the LaCrosse a “Good” rating in every instrumented crash test, however the IIHS faulted the LaCrosse for the effectiveness of its headlights, giving them a “Poor” rating.

Only the LaCrosse Premium can be ordered with the Driver Confidence Package 2, which includes adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. And the automaker even restricts blind spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts to only the Essence and Premium models.

Given that many cars half the LaCrosse’s price now come standard with this tech, it’s surprising that Buick forces buyers to spend more than $10,000 above the LaCrosse’s starting price to get automatic emergency braking.  

Be prepared to spend if you want a loaded Buick LaCrosse, but all models are well-equipped.

The 2018 Buick LaCrosse is available in four trim levels that range from well-equipped to downright luxurious. However, some odd quirks make it worth spending some time sorting through the options list before you sign on the dotted line to make sure you’re getting what you want.

We’ve given the LaCrosse two points extra for its high standard equipment content and its terrific infotainment system, but it loses one for the head-scratching way the base model is separated from the LaCrosse Preferred. That pushes it to a 6 out of 10 overall.

To start, the LaCrosse runs a reasonable $30,940 including a mandatory $925 destination charge. For that money, buyers get convincing synthetic leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, power front seats, and an eight-speaker audio system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

From there, the Preferred trim runs about $4,000 more, but it only adds satellite radio a power-adjustable steering wheel, and the choice of more paint colors. It’s a head-scratcher for sure.

The LaCrosse Essence seems to be the sweet spot, at least in our eyes. It’s outfitted with leather upholstery, heated front seats with driver’s side memory, and a few other items. It can be further upgraded with Bose audio, navigation, and a moonroof, among other extras. The Essence is also newly available with all-wheel drive, albeit only with the V-6 engine.

Next step on the lineup is the LaCrosse Premium, which piles on a heated steering wheel, a head-up display system, massaging seats, lane departure warnings, and active lane control. Only the Premium can be equipped with automatic emergency braking, an important feature that we think should be available on all other trim levels.

A new range-topping LaCrosse Avenir builds on the Premium with some exclusive interior and exterior design cues, but it also offers automatic emergency braking and the adaptive suspension as options—so it's not a one-stop shop for those looking for a fully loaded LaCrosse.

Buick’s infotainment system is one of our favorites for its ease of use and clear screen, even though there is not a tuning knob. It offers simple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, but those inclined to pop for the navigation system will find clear maps and tablet-like functionality. Buick also includes OnStar with a 4G LTE antenna that, for a monthly fee after a free trial period, features niceties like a concierge service, automatic crash response, stolen vehicle tracking, and a wi-fi hotspot.

Fuel Economy
A new mild-hybrid powertrain helps the 2018 Buick LaCrosse sip less fuel.

A new mild-hybrid option should make the Buick LaCrosse more efficient for budget-conscious buyers looking for a mid-size sedan.

The EPA rates the LaCrosse eAssist hybrid at 25 mpg city, 35 highway, 29 combined. That's good enough for a 7 out of 10 on our efficiency scale.

That's an improvement over the base model last year, and the V-6 models this year. Without all-wheel drive, the EPA rates the V-6 at 21/30/24 mpg. With all-wheel drive that figure slightly drops to 20/29/23 mpg.
All models feature a start/stop system that cuts off the engine at a traffic light and then automatically fires it back up again as soon as the driver’s foot leaves the brake pedal. This system is better integrated in the LaCrosse than in many rivals, meaning the manual on/off toggle isn’t something many drivers are likely to press.  

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