The cars we loved.
For anyone missing the good old days of the American automobile, they can take a little comfort in knowing that the “American car” type is making something of a comeback. The new Taurus and Impalla mark a resurgence of the big car that is neither luxurious or sporty.
The somewhere in the middle car was enormously popular up through the 90’s until Japan and later Korea learned to build a better Caprice. Buick, the last of GM’s near luxury brands in America was known for building some of the most posh near luxury cars to have rolled out of America’s factories. Along with Oldsmobile, GM seemed to have the market cornered on big comfortable modestly priced cars.
The Buick enthusiast from 1984 would be alarmed to know that nearly all of Buicks products in 2014 are based on some European counterpart. Of it’s three sedans, only one of them is free from any European (Opel) association. Built on the versatile Epsilon II platform, the LaCrosse was one of the first cars to jumpstart Buick’s about-face in the years just before GM faced bankruptcy.
Even though it’s classified as mid-sized (larger cars like the Impala are on the same platform), it’s Buick’s largest car. The Park Avenue, once the largest Buick for years was discontinued in 2005. Australians enjoy a larger Buick based on the Holden Caprice, but the Lacrosse is is big as it gets in America without moving up to Buicks SUV line. As such it still offers the practical and comfortable attributes Buick buyers expected in the past and the virtues of performance and sleek design buyers want today. The Kansas City, MO built Lacross comes in two flavors, despite coming in various trim levels over the years (CX, CL, CXL etc.)
The base models feature a 2.4L DOHC 16 four cylinder engine good for about 180 hp. 15 of that horsepower comes curtsy of a small electric motor in what has to be one of the most low-key hybrids on the market. As the volume seller, it pushes the Lacrosse’s efficiency ratings into economy car range with up to 36 mpg. At close to 9 seconds to reach 60 mph, the base Lacrosse is a comfortable highway cruiser with surprising mileage, but no GNX or Regal GS for that matter.
The other version is closer to what traditional Buick loyalists would expect. While there is no V8, there is a 24 valve 3.6-liter V6 that makes 303 hp. With that engine and the 6-speed automatic that all Lacrosse have, the top model can reach 60 in a sports car like low six second range. For those who really want to pretend to be at the help of a performance car, there the requisite steering wheel mounted shifter is available, but the Lacrosse makes no qualms about not being your father’s turbo powered Gran Nationals of the past.
There is a considerable amount of technology available in the Lacross that would have been the stuff of Star Wars dreaming in 1984. Heads up displays, touch screens and a sleek center console put controls for window and door locks within easy reach. The interior is impressive and easily matches the quality of those in Lexus or Acura. Despite its quality and technology, sales have been steadily dropping in the last few years.
A version of the Lacrosse sold in China on the other hand is selling double the units in America. The Chinese sales infusion may be the only reason Buick keeps the Lacrosse around. The Chinese very much like the ideal of an American car and their notion is closer to the Buick enthusiast of the 1980’s than the current market in America is. We were spoiled by Acura, Lexus and Infiniti in the ’90s and never looked back.
The Chinese have found the ideal American car in the form of the Lacrosse. It will be interesting to see if a new model in America becomes more Lexus like or retains the idealized American virtues of a big sedan with plenty of room and comfort with modest style.