Overview

The 2005 Buick LaCrosse replaces both the Regal and the Century as Buick's midsize sedan, representing 50 percent of Buick's annual car sales. Buick says it has the competition, specifically the Ford Five Hundred, Dodge Intrepid, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry, beat on a number of fronts, including quietness and overall refinement. This is a car that was well on its way to completion when GM vice-chairman and product guru Bob Lutz joined the company, and charged the Buick team to delay the program one year, get the car right, and then introduce it. It's pretty clear that the wait, and the extra effort and money invested into the program, were worth it.

LaCrosse is not an all-new car by any means. It's built in Canada on GM's W-car intermediate platform, one of the oldest in the GM chassis inventory. But about 80 percent of the parts and systems underneath are new, along with new interior and exterior designs.

The LaCrosse has a rich, high-quality looking interior with attractive woodgrain trim, nicely presented instruments and controls and available leather seats with nice-looking gathered stitching. Buick's Quiet Tuning has made the new LaCrosse one of the quietest, most pleasant cars to ride and drive in among the entire class.

The LaCrosse rides smoothly and quietly, but its steering is much more precise than previous models and it turns into corners crisply with little body lean. The V6 engines offer good power, growling under acceleration, but smooth and quiet when motoring along, and the transmissions work flawlessly.

New features make a well-equipped LaCrosse a safe, all-weather family car with nice conveniences. Among them: a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away, great on cold winter mornings; OnStar, which will dispatch emergency crews to your precise location if you have a wreck and don't respond to operators' calls; XM Satellite Radio to pick up FoxNews, CNN, ESPN and other broadcasts; and StabiliTrak, which can help keep you from skidding off a slippery road.

Model Lineup

The LaCrosse comes in three models. The CX ($22,835) is the base model and it comes with cloth upholstery and manually operated air conditioning. The LaCrosse CX is powered by a cast-iron 3.8-liter overhead-valve V6 engine that was first introduced in Buicks back in 1979, the continuously improved and now rated at a modest 200 horsepower. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are optional.

The middle model, the CXL ($25,335), comes with leather upholstery, automatic climate control, ABS, and quite a list of additional standard equipment. The CXL also uses the 3.8-liter engine.

The CXS ($28,335) is the performance car of the family, with GM's new high-feature 3.6-liter V6 with modern double overhead cams and variable valve timing develops about 240 horsepower. The CXS gets its own suspension and steering system, 17-inch tires and wheels, and a raft of additional touches like driving lights under the front bumper.

The LaCrosse is available with five- or six-passenger seating: either bucket seats with a center console and shifter or a 40/20/40 bench seat with the shifter on the steering column. Standard features include tilt wheel, remote keyless entry, power driver's seat, programmable power locks, power windows, and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD system. All models come standard with OnStar including a one-year subscription.

Options include side curtain air bags ($395), StabiliTrak chassis control on the CXS model only ($495), XM Satellite Radio ($325 with one-year free subscription), power sunroof ($900), remote starting ($150), heated front seats ($295), 17-inch chrome wheels ($695), and a chrome package ($295). A Gold Convenience option package ($1,150) is offered with a leather steering wheel with redundant climate and audio controls, a universal transmitter, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated outside mirrors, six-way power passenger seat, rear park assist, and rear reading lamps. Two cast aluminum wheels are available, one 16-inch and one 17-inch.

Walkaround

LaCrosse is unmistakably a Buick sedan, with its trademark vertical bar waterfall grille, long nose, long slopes and simple body curvatures. They've added a tiny third side window behind the C-pillar to add some visual interest. About the only new design theme is at the rear, where there is a discernible dent in the decklid that ties the taillamps together. There is a single, slender chrome side spear on the doors and body in lieu of anything sportier.

The base LaCrosse CX comes with 16-inch wheels and bolt-on faux alloy wheel-covers and has almost no decoration at all. Body, door, and fender gaps are noticeably smaller than on the Regal and Century, and the new aero headlamps are said to be 35-percent brighter. CX models can be identified by a grained graphite-color finish on the rocker panels underneath the doors, while other models have these panels in body color.

GM's aging W-car architecture has been torn apart and put back together to improve the LaCrosse's ride and handling by several orders of magnitude. The old steel front cradle has been replaced by a lighter, stronger, stiffer extruded aluminum one that holds the engine, transaxle, steering and suspension tighter, controls powertrain rocking, and weighs 20 pounds less.

Buick says the new car is designed with more high-strength steel content than Regal and Century, a magnesium cross-car beam behind the instrument panel, another cross-car beam behind the rear seats, steel reinforcements in the rocker panels, interlocking door latch system, high-strength steel door beams, and a double-thick Quiet Steel floor pan and firewalls, all added in the name of crash safety and quietness. Altogether, Buick says, about 40 additional pounds of sound deadeners have been added to the car, including structural foam in the front fenders.

Interior Features

The Buick designers were given a much longer wheelbase, two inches longer than the old Century and Regal. And all of it was dedicated to back seat legroom. My 6-foot, 4-inch frame can sit behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver with plenty of room to spare now.

The LaCrosse interior is altogether new and different from the cheapie Regal and Century rent-a-car interiors. There are fewer but larger individual pieces, built to closer tolerances, for a richer, higher quality look inside. The instruments and controls are presented in white on black, and each of the three round dials in the deeply tunneled instrument panel has a chrome ring around it. Very nicely presented, sportier-looking than previous instruments, with small-diameter chrome-ringed knobs arrayed around the dashboard.

The center stack is done in a mica-flecked flat black, with a trip computer and driver information system that's easy to put through its menu, though the information panel is so glossy that it's hard to read in the morning or afternoon light. The entire dashboard is decorated with a very good imitation woodgrain material. The new front bucket seats in the five-passenger model are clad in leather in the CXL and CXS versions, with a new silk-impregnated vinyl on the seat side panels that emulates leather in look and feel, and a new type of stitching.

Buick makes quite a point of talking about Quiet Tuning, a program of eliminating, tuning out, absorbing, covering up and masking noise sources all over the car, a combination of substituted parts and different types of added sound insulation in the engine, on the firewall, under the toeboard, inside the wheel wells and in the roof. Taken together, the system has made the new LaCrosse one of the quietest, most pleasant cars to ride and drive in in the entire class.

New optional features available on the LaCrosse that were never available on the Century or Regal include a remote starting system that will work from up to 500 feet away, OnStar, XM satellite radio, and StabiliTrak, and if we were ordering a LaCrosse, we would add all of these excellent systems to make a truly complete, safe and all-weather family car.

Driving Impressions

We drove all of the LaCrosse models at the car's introduction in northern Michigan. Both of the available V6 engines have been tuned to give a nice, healthy growl on full throttle, but disappear into the background in high-gear cruising.

The standard 3.8-liter engine is rated at 200 horsepower and 225 foot-pounds of torque, a cast-iron V6 that's been fitted with electronic throttle control (ETC), a stiffer crankshaft, an underhood silencer, new pulleys, new power steering, and a structural oil pan all in the name of less mechanical noise. With all of its new parts, the 3.8 is the same gutsy V-6 it's always been, with good torque on demand, smooth, quiet operation, and 29 miles per gallon on the highway in the new car.

The new 3.6-liter, the so-called high-feature V6, with double overhead cams and electronic throttle control has quite a bit more horsepower and torque, revs more freely, but comes only in the CXS (at a $3,000 price penalty). The final numbers are expected to be 240 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 230 foot-pounds of torque at 3200 rpm, and 28 mpg.

The transmissions in all three versions worked flawlessly. All models use GM's high-capacity 4T65-E transaxle, which has only four forward speeds, not five or six as in some of the newest designs.

The base suspension used in the CX and CXS has been stiffened at the rear about 20 percent more than the outgoing Regal and Century, with a larger stabilizer bar. The more powerful CXS gets the Gran Touring suspension with stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars, as well as Magnasteer electric power steering. The optional StabiliTrak suspension package comes with Magnasteer II power steering.

We found the CSX more sporty to drive through the trees on an autumn day in northern Michigan. The steering has the same good feel and turn-in power as in the other LaCross models, but the ratio is quicker. In all three models, the suspension rides more quietly and smoothly, and the steering precision is of a much, much higher order than the Century or Regal, really biting into the pavement when you want to turn, with terrific body roll control.

Three different traction control systems are offered: CX and CXL versions use a speed-based system that works with engine torque and fuel cutoff. this helps eliminate front wheelspin when accelerating on slippery surfaces for more stable control. The performance CXS uses GM's full-range electronic traction control, which selectively applies the brakes at one ore more wheels as needed to restore traction. GM's optional StabiliTrak system improves driver control during emergency or evasive maneuvers. StabiliTrak uses sensors to detect the direction the driver is steering the car and if the car is not responding adequately, it applies the brakes selectively and precisely to the left and right wheels and reduces throttle to help realign the vehicle's path with that being steered by the driver.

The 11.7-inch ventilated front and 10.6-inch solid rear disc brakes with ABS are brand-new Delphi brakes, larger, stiffer and more powerful than before. On our middle CXL model, they worked just fine to haul the car's 3500 pounds down from supralegal speeds whenever a sudden 90-degree corner popped up, with a brake pedal feel and deceleration curve that feels like Mr. Lutz ordered it to his personal specifications.

Summary

Buick's long tradition of fine sedans is served and continued very well by the new LaCrosse. It is a very quiet car that surprises the new driver with its steering precision, road manners, and handling crispness. The interior has been given extra attention since Bob Lutz ordered a re-do, and that, too, has paid off handsomely.

We don't know that the LaCrosse will compete directly with the Accord and Camry, but it is certainly a worthy competitor for all the American-made competition in the $30,000 sedan class.

Jim McCraw filed this report from Pellston, Michigan.

Model Line Overview
Base Price (MSRP)
$22,835
Model lineup:
Buick LaCrosse CX ($22,835); LaCrosse CXL ($25,335); LaCrosse CXS ($28,335)
Engines:
200-hp 3.8-liter ohv 12-valve V6; 240-hp 3.6-liter dohc 24-valve VVT V6
Transmissions:
4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (Standard):
front airbags
Safety equipment (Optional):
side curtain airbags
Basic warranty:
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSRP):
Buick LaCrosse CXL ($25,335)
Standard equipment:
air conditioning, dual-zone automatic; air filtration system; leather upholstery, front bucket seats w/driver's side 6-way power adjuster & 2-way power lumbar; defogger, electric rear window; cruise control; driver information center with compass, warning messages, personalization features; OnStar with 1-year Safe & Sound service; tilt/telescopic steering column; leather-wrapped steering wheel; split-folding rear seats w/center armrest; theft deterrent system, Pass-Key III; dual illuminated vanity visor mirrors; manual day/night rearview mirrors; delayed exit/entry lights & theatre dimming; lights, ashtray, glovebox, trunk, instrument panel, courtesy & engine compartment; remote trunk release; carpeted front/rear floor mats; retained accessory power; cargo convenience net; AM/FM/CD 6-speaker sound system; steering wheel mounted audio controls; power windows w/driver's express-down; power door locks w/lock-out protection; sport suspension, 17-inch tires and wheels
Options as tested:
Sunroof ($900); XM Satellite Radio ($325); chrome-plated wheels ($650); Gold convenience package ($1150); remote start ($150); StabiliTrak ($495)
Destination charge:
660
Gas Guzzler Tax:
N/A
Price as tested (MSRP)
$29,665
Layout:
front-wheel drive
Engine:
3.8-liter ohv 12-valve V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm):
240 @ 6000
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):
230 @ 3200
Transmission:
4-speed automatic overdrive
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:
19/28 mpg.
Wheelbase:
110.5 in.
Length/width/height:
198.1/73.0/57.4 in.
Track, f/r:
61.7/61.5 in.
Turning circle:
40.4 ft.
Seating capacity:
5
Head/hip/leg room, f:
39.4/55.3/42.3 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:
37.2/54.6/37.6 in.
Cargo volume:
16 cu. ft.
Payload:
N/A
Towing capacity:
1000 lbs.
Suspension F:
independent, MacPherson strut
Suspension R:
independent, tri-link, coil springs
Ground clearance:
6.5 in.
Curb weight:
3568 lbs.
Tires:
P225/55R17
Brakes, f/r:
vented disc/solid disc with ABS in.
Fuel capacity:
17.5 gal.

Jim McCraw

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