Pros: Luxury appointments and impressive standard features; good fuel economy

Cons: Twitchy steering; base 4-cylinder lacks performance

What's New: Standard Buick IntelliLink across lineup; available XM Travel Link; electric power steering on all models

Combining European styling with modern luxury touches and excellent fuel economy, all of Buick's new and redesigned nameplates are largely unrecognizable from the dated brand most Americans still remember. Stodgy and mild no longer have a place in the Buick vocabulary, and arguably there is no better example of that than with the 2013 Buick LaCrosse.

When the LaCrosse received a major overhaul in 2009, it was billed as the first car of a new generation of Buicks that were meant to attract a younger buyer. For Buick, that means 40- and 50-year-olds. For the most part, the strategy has succeeded and, with the addition of both the new Verano and Regal to the lineup, as well as the continued success of the Enclave, Buick's efforts have been rewarded with incredible sales growth.

For 2013, the LaCrosse gets just minor tweaks, but the changes further increase its appeal to younger buyers. The Buick IntelliLink touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone integration is now standard across the lineup. Travel Link, an XM service that provides helpful information such as refueling locations and pricing and movie times, is now available too.

The 2013 LaCrosse is an excellent choice for luxury shoppers seeking fuel economy and value. Yes, it has a few foibles, but they are by no means deal breakers, especially among the car's target market.

Good Fuel Economy Comes Standard

Rising fuel economy regulations have forced automakers to come up with new ways of making cars more efficient without losing the performance customers demand. The major strategy GM has adopted to attain what seem to be mutually exclusive goals involves a light electrification system dubbed eAssist.

As the first vehicle across all of GM's brands to receive its eAssist package as standard equipment, the LaCrosse represents a vanguard of sorts. GM has said its eAssist strategy will spread across much of its passenger vehicle lineup in the years to come.

The eAssist system mates a large starter motor/generator combo to a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine and pairs it to a big battery in the trunk. The combination of these two elements allows the vehicle to capture electricity through regenerative braking and use that electricity to provide assistance to the gas engine during acceleration. The large starter motor also allows the vehicle to shut off the engine when slowing down and stopped, and to start back up immediately when needed.

The system can return some impressive numbers, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating it at 25 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. During a week of driving on approximately 70 percent highway and 30 percent city roads, our test car returned about 29 mpg. Considering a large part of that driving was with a fully loaded vehicle carrying luggage for four people and usually seating three adults and two children, the result is all the more impressive.

The auto start-stop feature of the eAssist system performed flawlessly, and the engine turned on and off faster and more unnoticeably than on full hybrids such as the Toyota Prius or Ford Fusion Hybrid. The only clue that the system was working came when the tachometer dropped below zero into a section of the gauge that read, "auto stop."

Although the mileage from the base eAssist system is very good, the drivetrain felt as if it were occasionally struggling to keep up in heavy Northeast Thanksgiving traffic, where short spurts of fast acceleration can be helpful in staying out of harm's way. Even with the car's smooth, 6-speed automatic transmission, it produced a high-pitched whine and strained to meet my demands when my foot was mashed on the gas pedal. The results were acceptable but not optimal.

For customers less concerned about economy and more concerned with more responsive acceleration, Buick offers a 3.6-liter V6 upgrade, but the V6 drops fuel economy substantially to 17-mpg city and 27-mpg highway.

Although the LaCrosse starts at a base price of $32,535, our test car came equipped with the Touring package, which pushed its price to just more than $40,000. The options included adaptive high intensity headlights that articulate to follow curves in the road, a blind spot warning system, ultrasonic parking assist, heads-up display, navigation, a backup camera, heated seats, fog lamps, an 11-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, a 120-volt 3-prong power outlet and 8-way adjustable driver and passenger seats.

The V6 engine is a no-cost option available on even the base LaCrosse. All-wheel drive is available too. It requires the V6 and is optional with the Leather package and higher trims. The all-wheel-drive LaCrosse starts at $36,910.

Interior Hits and Misses

While the interior of the 2013 LaCrosse is generally well designed and pleasing to look at, a week of hauling a family around gave us insight into its strengths and weaknesses. One of the car's best features is how well the engineers handled noise and vibration. In fact, the car was so quiet--even on poorly maintained highways--that the road sometimes faded away as an afterthought. With the engine off at every stop sign and red light, the quietness was even more noticeable in city driving.

Although the seats are generally comfortable for long rides, they could benefit from a bit more bolster for front passengers' hips and thighs.

There are also some minor details that we hope to see Buick address in the next generation. For one, the front cupholders are so high that the driver and front passenger constantly hit cups with their elbows. Also, in a classic case of design trumping functionality, the front door handles are partially covered by a design element that sometimes makes grabbing the handle a bit frustrating.

The center console LCD screen is also positioned such that the driver's right hand obscures a portion of it, causing the driver to crane his or her neck for a glimpse.

In an effort to attract a younger, more tech-savvy buyer to the brand, Buick's smartphone integration is very good and relatively intuitive. Connecting an iPhone to the system worked flawlessly, and the Bluetooth audio phone connection was clear and easy for incoming callers to understand, even at highway speeds. Standard IntelliLink adds value for the 2013 model year.

Safety Packed, but Steering Is Twitchy

The 2013 LaCrosse comes standard with six airbags, stability control, traction control, ABS and daytime running lights. The available $1,440 Driver Confidence Package on our test car provides some additional safety features that make the package an appealing value. They include a heads-up display, articulated front headlights and a blind spot warning system.

The heads up display not only provides a quickly accessible speed reading but is also capable of showing navigation directions and satellite radio information. The adaptive high intensity discharge headlights provide great nighttime visibility in shadowy turns. On several occasions in heavy holiday traffic, the blind sport warning lights on the side rearview mirrors provided critical information without the need to look away from the road ahead. Even without those additional safety features, the LaCrosse received a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a "Top Safety Pick" designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Although it has some good safety credentials, the modern LaCrosse has unfortunately inherited the steering of the old Buick. It's twitchy at high speeds, and our passengers called it nearly nausea-inducing on more than one occasion. Slight steering corrections led to amplified and noticeable jerkiness at freeway speeds. Although it wasn't ever a big enough problem to cause a safety concern, the effect became tedious during long drives.

But even with its relatively minor foibles, the 2013 LaCrosse is a solid effort. Combined with its modern Buick siblings, it's no wonder the Buick brand is experiencing some of the fastest and strongest growth in the industry. Loaded with luxury features at a less-than-luxury price, the 2013 Buick LaCrosse is a great value and should be on the test drive list of any shopper looking to buy an Acura, Lexus, Lincoln or even a high-end Camry.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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