One of Buick's many past marketing mantras characterized this senior GM division as a purveyor of "Premium American Motor Cars." Although that characterization has been mitigated by Buick's reliance on the Chinese market-it's arguable that without China this division might well have joined Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Saturn in the great hereafter-Premium American Motor Car could easily have been scripted to describe the 2014 LaCrosse.

Due to reach showrooms this fall, the new LaCrosse represents an extensive freshening, rather than a major redesign. Everything from the windshield forward is new; the rear fascia has been restyled; the interiors have been refurbished with numerous alterations, and there are several new safety features. But aside from retuned suspension components, new doesn't penetrate below the skin. Chassis dimensions are unchanged, as are the basic structure and powertrain offerings.

The Eyes Have It

Already one of the better looking sedans in its class, the LaCrosse gets a tasteful facelift that includes an enhanced version of its trademark waterfall grille, a more sculptured hood, active lower grille shutters to reduce aero drag at highway speeds, and new headlamp designs. The headlamp array includes optional Bi-Xenon High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights with articulating capability and LED accents. The rear fascia and decklid are also new, with an integrated spoiler and wraparound LED taillamps.

Interior upgrades are more extensive: upgraded materials, new center control stack with an 8-inch touchscreen, four new color and trim combos, fold-down rear headrests, and the next generation of Buick's Intellilink infotainment system, including "natural voice recognition." Those with unnatural voices need not apply. Arguably the most appreciated change are new seats with four-way adjustable front headrests.  They're a comfortable "relaxed-fit" design - think mature persons' jeans -- and in all but the base LaCrosse they're clad in leather.

In addition, Buick is offering a new top-of-the-range Ultra Luxury Interior Package (add $2,495, plus another $1,195 for the required sunroof). The package includes walnut-hued (Buick calls the color Sangria) semi-aniline perforated leather upholstery, ebony accents, and real wood trim.

New safety features include forward collision alert, lane departure warning, lane change alert (warns the driver of overtaking traffic up to 230 feet behind), blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert-all grouped in an optional ($2,125) "Driver Confidence Package." A second package-Driver Confidence II ($1,745)--includes the aforementioned, plus collision preparation (with collision mitigation braking), a "safety alert seat" that vibrates to warn driver of possible perils from either side or directly from the rear, and an adaptive cruise control system that can actually bring the car to a stop.

Easy Rider

As noted, there is no change under the Buick's new hood, which shelters either of two power options: a 304-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, and a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder allied with an electric motor/generator that can add 15 horsepower to total output on demand. The latter is GM's eAssist mild-hybrid system. Both power sources are mated with six-speed automatic transmissions. The eAssist system is limited to front-drive models, while all-wheel drive is an option with the V6 engine. EPA fuel economy ratings for the two engines are unchanged: impressive 25 mpg city/36 highway for the eAssist powertrain, 18/28 for the front-drive V6, 17/27 with all-wheel drive.

With V6 curb weights crowding two tons, and an mpg-oriented 2.77 final drive, LaCrosse acceleration tends to be deliberate by the standards for this class. No one could call it sluggish, but full throttle thrust isn't exactly memorable either.

Similarly, the suspension, though retuned, is heavily prioritized for creamy ride quality, whether in standard or sport mode. The electric power steering, like many, tends to be numb, although sport mode adds some effort to the equation. However, used in the same sentence, the words sport and LaCrosse are uneasy allies.

Where the LaCrosse shines is in coddling its occupants in elegant comfort over long stretches of open road. The comfort quotient is of the sort that makes the I-80 run across Nebraska something approaching real pleasure, as distinct from tedium. This is augmented by exceptionally low interior noise levels-there are noisier cathedrals-and orchestral sound systems.  The LaCrosse may not challenge any of its sports sedan contemporaries in terms of athletics, but it's hard to beat for serene cross-country motoring, especially when equipped with "active" electronic dampers.

Premium or Luxury?

Buick's marketing staff is at hard at work trying to reinvent this brand as a luxury marque, with the LaCrosse as the divisional standard bearer. The 2014 LaCrosse certainly offers a tempting array of luxo features, but its performance and pricing straddle the foggy frontier separating premium from luxury. Buick identifies the Lexus ES, the new Lincoln MKZ, and the distinctly sporty Acura TL as key competitors, but the range of sedans likely to merit co-consideration is probably much broader, including not-quite-luxury premium entries such as the Chrysler 300, Hyundai Azera, and Kia Cadenza.

Base pricing, including a $925 destination charge, ranges from $34,060 to $40,280, across four trim levels (1SB, 1SL, 1SR, 1SP). Checking all the boxes, the top trim level tops out at $49,135.

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