By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 8/19/2011
When Buick's all-new LaCrosse debuted for 2010, it was praised for exterior and interior
design and refinement and has sold well as a result. Now, for the 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, comes the first application of GM's energy-efficient eAssist "mild hybrid" technology as the standard LaCrosse powertrain. Essentially a major upgrade to the system offered in some 2007-09 GM vehicles, eAssist couples a small motor-generator to a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine to provide power assist for launch and acceleration, along with regenerative braking, which morphs the motor into a generator during deceleration to replenish the battery.
If a fairly affordable entry-luxury sedan that can hold its own against much pricier imports is what you might like, this stylish and refined American Buick may be the answer.
If GM's once-moribund but fast-rising Buick brand does not ring your chimes, you might prefer a comparably-priced domestic Lincoln or Chrysler, or a Japanese Lexus, Infiniti or Acura.
The biggest change in the 2012 LaCrosse is standard eAssist, which marries an 11 Kw (15-hp) electric motor to a 182-hp 2.4-liter Ecotec four driving a six-speed automatic transmission. It's good for a 20-percent improvement in EPA highway fuel economy and an impressive 32-percent boost in city economy over the 2011 four-cylinder LaCrosse. If you prefer horsepower to hybrid power, a lighter and more powerful (than last year) 303-hp 3.6-liter V6 is a no-cost option.
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist driving experience is essentially transparent. With the addition of electric boost, the LaCrosse accelerates more briskly than the 2011 four-cylinder version, though not as strongly as the 303-hp V6 alternative, and it drives absolutely normally. We found the steering precise, the brakes strong, the handling surprisingly agile, and eAssist acceleration more than adequate, even in hard driving, though the engine can get a bit (Buick atypically) raucous at high loads and wide-open throttle. You barely notice the engine shutting down during stops (the tachometer needle drops to an "auto stop" position) or restarting – without the shudder typical of some hybrids – when the brake is released. A hill-assist feature retains brake pressure to prevent rollback during uphill launches with the engine shut down, an ECO gauge helps optimize efficiency, and a central instrument panel graphic shows electric power flow from battery to front wheels during boost and back during deceleration.
What's not to like about a mild-hybrid powertrain that dramatically increases fuel efficiency while enhancing performance and pleasability without adding much to the price?
It displays speed, navigation instructions, audio status (including song names as they begin playing) and other key information out there over the hood in your line of sight, and its brightness and vertical position are easily adjusted. The best we've seen.
Inside the nicely-crafted cabin, warm wood, smoked chrome accents and ice-blue ambient lighting in the instrument panel, console and door-handle pockets create a comfortable, upscale environment. Complimenting the exterior, the flowing design theme wraps around the instrument panel into the doors, and the high-grade leather has handsome contrasting stitching. All major buttons and controls – including those on the leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel – are conveniently large, well-marked and intuitive to use. Most notable is the LaCrosse interior's almost eerie quiet thanks to Buick's "QuietTuning" process of systematically reducing, blocking and absorbing interior noise.
GM previewed its future passenger-car-styling on the 2009 Buick Enclave, a Buick look that continues through the midsize 2011 Regal and the upcoming 2012 Verano compact. On the 2012 Buick LaCrosse, that look features a big, bold waterfall grille, a sculpted side "spear" sweeping from the wraparound headlamp to taillamp design and a roofline that curves gracefully into a short rear deck. Thanks to electronically-controlled lower grille shutters that close at higher speeds to push air over and under the car and strategically-placed underbody aero panels, the eAssist LaCrosse is slightly more aerodynamic over the standard car.
To keep the starting price down while replacing the previous base four-cylinder with the costlier eAssist propulsion system, a few items that should be standard – remote start, a set of universal home remote buttons – turn up on the options list. That said, a full-color driver information center, OnStar (with a one-year subscription), XM Radio, a manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels and both Bluetooth and USB connectivity are standard, plus such important safety features as traction and stability control, brake assist and six airbags.
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse's extensive options list includes high-intensity-discharge headlamps, "Side Blind Zone Alert" to help spot vehicles hiding in your blind spots, a (terrific) head-up display, heated and ventilated perforated leather-covered seats, power-adjustable lumbar support for the driver (but not the primary passenger), a heated steering wheel, premium audio, GPS navigation, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a power rear sunshade and even a 110-volt power outlet for charging your phone or computer. All are available either stand-alone or in packages.
Standard eAssist (also on the 2012 Buick Regal and coming soon on the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu and other models), provides a 15-hp on-demand boost to the 182-horsepower four and shuts off its fuel during off-throttle coasting and deceleration, yet both engine and motor/generator keep spinning, ready to provide smooth, immediate power when needed. The motor-generator helps bring the engine to a smooth stop when the car stops, then smoothly restarts it when you lift off the brake. When you're off the throttle, regenerative braking charges the 115-volt lithium-ion battery to power the car's electrical systems with recaptured energy instead of fuel. The 303-horsepower direct-injected, DOHC 24-valve 3.6-liter V6 is flex-fuel capable and pleasingly muscular with front-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive. Both drive through GM's latest six-speed automatic transmissions.
2.4-liter four-cylinder (with eAssist)
182 horsepower @ 6,700 rpm
172 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,900 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/37
3.6-liter V6 (Flex-fuel E85 capable)
303 horsepower @ 6,800 rpm
264 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5,300 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/27
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse wears a starting sticker of $30,820 (including $860 destination) with either an upgraded 303-horsepower V6 or the much more fuel-efficient new eAssist "mild hybrid" system. That compares to $37,205 for the full-hybrid 2011 Lexus HS 250h, $35,520 for the full-hybrid 2012 Lincoln MKZ and $40,220 for the conventional V6-powered 2012 Acura TL – all of which are smaller cars. Yet the LaCrosse eAssist competes well in EPA-rated economy at 25 mpg city, 37 highway vs. 35/34 for the Lexus HS, 41/36 for the MKZ Hybrid, and 18/26 for the Acura TL. Kelley Blue Book estimated residual values are not yet in for the 2012 LaCrosse eAssist, but the 2011 models (prior to eAssist) are estimated to retain 27-28 percent of their value after five years.