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New Car Review: 2005 Buick LaCrosse

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Meet the new LaCrosse – and the new Buick

By: Walter Hager

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Buick

Everyone is catering to the young crowd these days, even car companies. General Motors’ Buick division is no exception and two of its oldest nameplates - Century and Regal - are getting the axe because of it. Even the venerable Park Avenue will be replaced in a few years. After years of marketing their vehicles to the 50-and-over crowd, Buick is now hoping to attract affluent buyers under 50. The 2005 LaCrosse was built to do just that.

The LaCrosse is new from the ground up except for two noticeable features. First, it can still be recognized by the traditional Buick grille. Second, it retains the tried-and-true 3.8-liter “3800” Series-III V-6. From that point on everything changes.

Let’s start with the interior, which has been a GM shortcoming for many years. Over the past few years, they have made great strides to update the interiors in their new vehicles, and the LaCrosse is a great example. Gone are the old rubber knobs and switchgear in favor of a modern and well laid-out dashboard. All buttons and knobs on the dash are high-quality and have a precise feel to them, and the whole front panel is surrounded by just the right amount of burlwood to give it a luxurious look. Fit-and-finish is also impressive inside and out, as there were no misaligned panels or trim pieces. A high-quality interior is one of the things that GM’s CEO Bob Lutz promised in the LaCrosse and they didn’t disappoint. Taller passengers might be disappointed, however, in the lack of ample headroom in the rear seat. But you can also use that as an excuse to sit up front and drive. Other notable features include OnStar, dual-zone climate control and MP3-capable audio system. One of the hidden features may be the bin in front of the center armrest. It can serve as a full storage bin or flip the gate to midway and it becomes a cup holder. Step outside and the sophistication continues into the exterior styling. The LaCrosse’s styling is classy and contemporary with modern dual round headlights instead of the traditional square lights.

On the road, the car’s interior noise levels are very low and are comparable to a Lexus or Infiniti. This can be attributed in part to a feature called QuietTuning. Designed by Buick, this process incorporates three strategies – reduce noise at its source, block the noise path, and absorb cabin noise. I’m sure the whole process took engineers quite a while to accomplish but it paid off. The LaCrosse is quiet and poised whether you’re on the highway or cruising around town, and all but the worst bumps are quietly absorbed.

When it comes to engines GM is known for still using overhead-valve pushrod V6’s and V8’s. While there’s nothing wrong with that, everyone else is going to overhead-cams and variable valve timing. Buick’s decision to use the award-winning 3.8-liter pushrod V6 is a good one, however. This cast-iron engine is a Buick-original that has been continually improved for over 30 years and has a great reputation for performance and reliability. But if Buick is going to propel itself into the new age of luxury cars it needs a sophisticated engine, right? That’s why GM created an all-new “high-feature” VVT V-6. This engine is all-aluminum and incorporates variable valve timing (VVT) for both exhaust and intake, a first for any GM engine. The system gives the V6 a broad flexible torque curve with 90% of the torque available between 1,600-5,800rpm. Another advantage of VVT is reduced emissions and improved fuel mileage, where you can expect about 19-mpg/city and 28-mpg highway. Although the old-tech 3800 V6 is a superb engine, the 3.6L VVT V-6 allows GM to incorporate some of today’s advanced engine technology and eventually put the old 3800 to rest. For many GM fans, that will be a sad day indeed.

Available trim levels are the CX, CXL, and CXS. The CX starts out around $23,500 and features cloth seats and premium ride suspension. At mid-pack is the CXL which comes with leather seats and an available six-way power passenger seat for $26,000. The high-end CXS has all the goodies like sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels, and the high-tech 3.6-liter VVT V6. This model will set you back about $29,000. That might seem like a lot of dough, but it equals out when compared to other cars in its class like Accord or Camry.

So, now comes the big question - will Buick be successful in attracting younger buyers to their showrooms with the new LaCrosse? I say definitely. We’re probably not talking teens here, but buyers in their 30’s and 40’s who appreciate traditional American luxury. The LaCrosse is vital for both GM and the American auto industry at a time when Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are increasingly winning over American car buyers. Once you drive the LaCrosse you might agree that this is the luxury import-fighter that we knew Buick, and GM, could build.