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Buick LaCrosse, 2012: supple ride, precise steering for new look in old brand

The full-size Buicks sedans of the 1950s through the early 1970s were stylish, comfortable and had powerful V-8s. They were well-suited to older drivers who bought most of them and mainly drove them on America’s ruler-straight roads.

The 2012 LaCrosse sedan is now the largest Buick, although it’s smaller and lighter than those old gas-thirsty Buick land yachts. It comes with front-or all-wheel drive, whereas the old large Buicks had rear-wheel drive.

Prices for the new LaCrosse range from $29,960 to $38,270, with all-wheel-drive models starting at $34,070. Even the base LaCrosse is fairly well equipped with comfort, convenience and safety features. A long options list contains a $1,195 power sunroof.  

The auto world is changing fast, but it still may surprise older large-model Buick loyalists that the LaCrosse has a rather small four-cylinder engine. It’s a 2.4-liter 182-horsepower dual-overhead-camshaft unit with a new “eAssist” feature, which adds an electric motor that lets the gas engine shut down at stoplights.

The eAssist feature optimizes fuel economy using an on-board lithium-ion battery and motor-generator. It provides an electric boost of up to 15 horsepower during certain driving conditions. The electric motor seamlessly starts the car when your foot leaves the brake pedal.

I tested a 2012 four-cylinder LaCrosse with eAssist and found it provides decent 65-75 mph times and briskly merges into fast freeway traffic, although it’s no fireball, I could feel the four-cylinder working hard during fast acceleration, but couldn’t hear it.

The LaCrosse weighs 3,835 pounds and thus is faster and more comfortable with the available 303-horsepower revised 3.6-liter V-6, contained in an option package. The V-6 doesn’t come with the eAssist feature.

Thanks to eAssist, the LaCrosse delivers a commendable, estimated 25 mpg in the city and 36 on highways. Helping fuel economy are front grille "aero shutters" and under-body panels to lessen wind drag.

The V-6 is no gas hog, but delivers appreciably less at an estimated 16 to 17 mpg in the city and 26 to 27 mpg on highways.

Both engines shoot power through a responsive six-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual-shift feature.

So what’s it like to drive the solidly built LaCrosse? As with the Buick Regal sedan, this car feels almost European, with a firm-but-supple ride, precise steering with the right amount of power assist, responsive handling and linear brake pedal action. It’s no BMW, but is more fun to drive than, say, a Lexus ES350.

Open the hood, using its twin hydraulic struts, and it can seen the engine is set far back for better weight distribution, which helps handling. However, some fluid filler areas are a little hard to reach because they’re behind the engine.

The inviting LaCrosse interior has a large front console that eats space. But front seats are supportive, the fairly large controls are nicely placed and there are a good number of storage areas. The rear-seat area is spacious, but forget about putting three occupants there because the seat has a hard center  best occupied by a large fold-down armrest that contains two cupholders.

The power rear windows conveniently lower all the way to allow rear occupants to better grab food in drive-through lanes at fast-food outlets.

The large trunk has a rather high sill that doesn’t facilitate loading or unloading luggage. But split rear seatbacks flip forward and fold flat to increase the cargo area.

Buick has changed admirably with the times, as shown by the new LaCrosse.

Pros: Stylish. Roomy. Good Performance. Supple ride. Nice handling. Fuel-stingy four-cyclinder with "eAssist" feature. Available in all-wheel drive.

Cons: Only suited for four adults. Hight trunk sill. Space-eating front console.

Bottom Line: Who would have thought we'd see a big Buick four-cylinder?

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.

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