2005 Buick LaCrosse Review

2005 Buick LaCrosse - Fresh without being radical .


The new Buick LaCrosse sedan is a pet project of General Motors' product czar and car buff Bob Lutz, who delayed introduction of the car for more than a year until he thought it was suitable for production.

The LaCrosse is the first car totally developed under the colorful Lutz, who joined GM three years ago after top management stints at Ford and Chrysler.

Buick had to be careful with the LaCrosse because it replaces Buick's venerable Century and Regal sedans, which had combined sales of 204,493 units in 2002, but only 117,956 units last year. Unfortunately for Buick, many Century/Regal loyalists are in the over-60 crowd and don't represent a "sales growth group'' for Buick, which would like far more customers in their 30s and 40s.

Lutz thinks Buick's future is important to help revitalize GM; it's been depending more on its consumer finance and mortgage unit, General Motors Acceptance Corp., rather than vehicle operations to get profits -- and has been losing market share.

When GM ruled the U.S. market from the 1950s to the 1970s, Buick traditionally was a revered make positioned closely behind top-dog Cadillac in the GM pecking order. The GM game plan was to move customers up from a Chevrolet to a Cadillac as their lives progressed, although many stopped at Buick because they thought a Cadillac was too ostentatious -- and really not that much better than a top-line Buick.

The aged Park Avenue is the top-line Buick, but the less costly LaCrosse is expected to be a much higher-volume model. The result of the long wait for the LaCrosse is a smoothly styled sedan that looks much like the Regal and Century, which are reliable, unexciting cars with high quality marks.

Quality of the LaCrosse promises to be even better, and it generally seems more expensive than it is. That's a good thing because many older Buick buyers are cost-conscious.

While slicker and better than the Regal or Century, the LaCrosse isn't the kind of exciting car that draws younger customers to showrooms, as does the new Chrysler 300.

"But Buick really didn't want a car with a radical new design because such an auto wouldn't appeal to loyal older customers,'' said auto analyst Ray Windecker, of American Autodatum in Michigan. "Buick knows the LaCrosse won't be exciting to auto buff magazine journalists, but that's OK with it.''

Car magazines have given the LaCrosse moderately good reviews. None has called it exciting, but most Buick buyers don't read car magazines, anyway.

The LaCrosse comes in three trim levels, but delivers two different driving experiences: One experience is provided by the $22,835 CX and $25,335 CXL versions, which have an old-style 200-horsepower V-6 and Buick's traditional soft feel.

The other experience is provided by the $28,335 European style CXS, which has a modern dual-overhead-camshaft V-6 and such things as a sporty "Gran Touring'' suspension and 55-series tires on 17-inch wheels, versus smaller 16-inchers and narrower 60-series tires for the CX and CXL.

The LaCrosse seeks to satisfy old-line Buick loyalists with the CX and CXL and attract younger (thirtysomething) new ones with the CXS.

Buick calls the front-drive LaCrosse "all new,'' but that's not true of any version of the car. The CX and CXL use the third-generation version of GM's 3.8-liter pushrod V-6 and ride on the familiar "W'' platform also used by the Pontiac Grand Prix. The CXS has GM's more modern 3.6-liter V-6 with 240-horsepower.

Both engines work with a responsive four-speed automatic transmission, although a more modern five-speed unit would be preferred.

Estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg city and 29 highway with the 200-horsepower V-6 and 19 and 28 with the more potent engine, which has variable valve timing for better throttle response.

The LaCrosse provides seating for five with front bucket seats -- or for six with the CX and CXL if they have a $195 "flip-and-fold'' front center seat suited for children. There's good room up front for two 6-footers, but not much room to spare in the rear with the front seats pushed back more than halfway.

The LaCrosse has impressively precise body fits and a very quiet interior, except for some highway wind noise. Mostly high-quality materials are used in the interior, which has nifty instruments with chronograph styling and aluminum bezels. However, there's also marginal-looking fake wood trim.

Densely clustering the small sound and climate system buttons won't endear the LaCrosse to older buyers accustomed to large controls, although younger buyers probably won't mind.

The trunk is large with a low opening and nonintrusive lid hinges on hydraulic struts. The hood also has such struts, instead of an old-fashioned prop rod, and the tidy engine compartment has easily reached filler areas.

The base CX is fairly well equipped, with such items as air conditioning, AM/FM/CD player and a power driver's seat, windows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry. The CXL adds leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control and a split-folding rear seat. The CXS adds anti-lock disc brakes and traction control.

The CX and CXL provide pleasant transportation, but steering, ride and handling of the CXS are considerably better, as are acceleration and braking -- although one wonders why Buick didn't give this version more supportive bucket seats. The variable-rate power steering of the CXS has a sharper feel, and its suspension has thicker anti-sway bars to reduce body sway in curves. The CSX also is offered with a $495 stability control system.

LaCrosse options include upgraded sound systems, power sunroof, satellite radio, chrome alloy wheels and a remote engine start -- a first for a Buick.

Safety options include $395 curtain side air bags, although front torso side air bags aren't offered.

The LaCrosse -- particularly the CXS -- is a good step forward for Buick, which will follow it with other new cars in 2006 and 2007.



Euro-style CSX model. Smooth styling. Quiet. Good fit and finish.

Unexciting lower-line versions. Wind noise at highway speeds. Front seats need more lateral support.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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