Buick LaCrosse leads GM's campaign to attract younger buyers

The 2014 Buick Lacrosse is based on the same architecture as the widely praised 2014 Chevrolet Impala. (Al Vanderkaay/Buick/MCT)

(MCT) -- While Chevrolet and Cadillac have charged forward to help lead General Motors' post-bankruptcy revival, Buick has undergone a renaissance as well, an effort that has worked to bring a younger clientele into the premium brand.

Helping to lead that effort is the latest generation of the LaCrosse sedan, introduced for 2010 and now updated with new styling cues, technology and amenities for 2014.

One of the primary goals of GM in remaking the LaCrosse for 2010 was to create a vehicle that would appeal to a much-younger audience than Buick traditionally attracted - the over-50 crowd.

The newest designs are keyed to attract young executives, giving them Buicks that they can enjoy and even get excited about owning. With that goal in mind, the LaCrosse seems to be right on target. The car, based on the same architecture as the widely praised 2014 Chevrolet Impala, brought positive comments wherever I took it during my recent weeklong test.

It also proves that Buick hasn't abandoned its former core customers. The car also catches the eyes of older consumers, while also appealing to people in their 30s and 40s.

This vehicle's stunning exterior and superb interior craftsmanship prove that GM can build cars with the best of the Japanese and European premium automakers. Driving it is just as much fun as many of those competitors, as well, especially with the optional V-6 engine in our test vehicle.

The LaCrosse is a full-size premium sedan that was introduced to help build on the success of Buick's popular large crossover, the Enclave.

Among the LaCrosse's features for 2014 are front- or available all-wheel drive, a variety of new technological options, and a choice of either the base eAssist light hybrid with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine and 182 horsepower, or the 304-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6, a version of the six-cylinder used in the Chevrolet Camaro.

Both are connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.

For 2014, LaCrosse prices begin at $33,535 for the base front-drive sedan with the four-cylinder, and range as high as $40,285 for the Premium Group 1 model with all-wheel drive.

Our tester was the Premium 2 model ($39,755) with front drive, the highest trim level for the LaCrosse without all-wheel drive. The Premium 2 model isn't offered with the all-wheel drive.

Other trims are the Leather Group front drive ($35,610); Leather Group all-wheel drive ($38,615); and Premium 1 front-drive ($39,210).

Among new features for 2014 are advanced safety technologies and enhanced in-vehicle connectivity, GM says. There are available wing-shaped LED daytime running lights and LED wrap-around taillights (included on our tester); new seats; a redesigned central instrument panel and console; and Buick's next-generation IntelliLink infotainment system, with natural voice recognition.

Other styling changes include a new front fascia, sculpted hood and larger waterfall grille; active grille shutters that close at highway speeds to reduce drag; new headlights; and a new rear deck lid with integrated spoiler.

There's also a new Ultra Luxury Interior Package, which was included on our vehicle. It brings Sangria Opus leather seats, real wood trim on the doors/console/instrument panel, leather-wrapped center console and armrests, a suede headliner, and a four-spoke leather steering wheel.

Our tester also came with two safety technology packages - the Driver Confidence Package 1, with forward collision and rear cross-traffic alerts, side blind-zone alert, lane-departure warning, adaptive high-intensity-discharge headlights, a head-up display and fog lights; and the Driver Confidence Package 2, which added adaptive (radar) cruise control and automatic collision preparation.

Other options included the very cool panoramic sunroof, which extended from the front to over the rear seat, and the special Midnight Amethyst Metallic exterior paint.

With freight and options, our tester's sticker totaled $48,735, putting it up into the price class of some of the European bluebloods. But this was a very well-equipped, luxurious car with loads of modern safety and convenience technology.

The interior is quite spacious and comfortable. The front bucket seats included eight-way power adjustment on both sides, and both were heated and ventilated. A memory system holds settings for two drivers for seats and mirrors.

We would like to have had more cubbies for our personal devices - i.e., smartphones and such. There were two 12-volt outlets up front, and a third on the rear of the center console, along with a 115-volt power outlet, accessible to rear passengers.

The second 12-volt outlet up front was inside the center console under the armrest, along with the USB and auxiliary audio ports. Many newer vehicles have moved these to an open tray area in front of the shifter to make them more easily accessible, and also to provide a place to keep a phone or two while driving, instead of having to stick them into the cupholders as I did in the LaCrosse.

While there are two cupholders up front, the only ones in the rear are in a pull-down center armrest that eliminates the middle seating position. There are front and rear door pockets, but they're not big enough to include bottle holders. Map pockets are included on the backs of the two front seats.

There is plenty of knee and leg room for the rear bench seat, and three adults can sit back there rather comfortably.

Cargo space is less than most cars in this class - 13.3 cubic feet with the V-6 engine, and just 10.8 cubic feet with the four-cylinder because of space lost to the battery for the eAssist system.

A rearview camera system is included, and next year (2015), all Buick models will have this as standard equipment, GM says.

Our LaCrosse also came with the Safety Alert seat, which vibrates with pulses when a collision threat is detected.

All trim levels come with Buick's QuietTuning, which is designed to reduce or block outside noise and vibration. That helped make our vehicle very quiet at highway speeds.

Standard safety gear includes eight air bags, electronic stability control with traction control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, tire-pressure monitoring, and the OnStar system.

Our vehicle also had snazzy 20-inch alloy wheels - the first time wheels this large have been offered on the LaCrosse. Other wheel sizes are 17, 18 and 19 inches.

Electric power steering is standard with the four-cylinder engine and the front-drive V-6 models.

GM says the eAssist system was designed to increase the fuel economy of the LaCrosse four-cylinder engine by about 25 percent. EPA ratings are 25 mpg city/36 highway/29 combined.

Ratings for our V-6 front-drive tester were 18 city/28 highway/21 combined, but we averaged about 23.8 mpg, with slightly more highway than city driving. Ratings are 17 city/26 highway with the V-6 and all-wheel drive.

The eAssist system comes with the same automatic stop/start technology found in full hybrids, which cuts off the gasoline engine when the car comes to a stop. The engine restarts automatically and quite smoothly when the gas pedal is pushed to get going again. But while the car is sitting still - which can happen frequently during city driving - the engine remains off.

Starting from scratch, the electric motor gives the car a kick that accounts for some of the fuel savings; electric motors provide all of their available torque (pushing power) at startup, whereas a gasoline engine needs to build up to higher revolutions to develop the most torque.

The other place where the electric motor helps is during acceleration at highway speeds, giving the car a quick boost for overtaking and passing. The gasoline engine provides 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque on its own.

The electric motor gets its power from a 115-volt lithium-ion battery, which is recharged while the car is moving, using, in part, so-called regenerative braking. That makes use of the car's inertia while coasting to generate electricity.



-The package: Full-size, four-door, five-passenger, mild-hybrid four-cylinder or V-6 powered, front-or all-wheel-drive sedan.

-Highlights: Updated for 2014, this is Buick's premium midsize sedan, available with a variety of high-tech options and intended to appeal to a more youthful audience than the traditional Buick sedans of the past. It gives GM a strong competitor against the leading Japanese and European premium sedans.

-Negatives: Lack of convenient storage cubbies for portable phones and audio devices up front; limited trunk space, especially on four-cylinder models.

-Engine: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder eAssist; 3.6-liter V-6.

-Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

-Power/torque: 182 horsepower/172 pound-feet (I-4); 304 horsepower/264 pound-feet (V-6).

-Length: 197 inches.

-Curb weight: 3,757-3,896 pounds.

-Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

-Trunk volume: 10.8 cubic feet (four-cylinder); 13.3 cubic feet (V-6).

-Side air bags: Front seat-mounted, roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows, standard.

-Electronic stability control: Standard.

-Fuel capacity/type: 15.7 gallons (four-cylinder); 18 gallons (V-6), unleaded regular.

-EPA fuel economy: 25 mpg city/36 highway (I-4); 18/28 (V-6, front drive); 17/26 (V-6, AWD).

-Base price: $33,535

-Price as tested, including destination charge: $48,735

-On the Road rating: 9.3 (of a possible 10).