2012 Buick LaCrosse Hybrid - FROM $30,170
With the 2012 LaCrosse, Buick has a fully competitive luxury sedan that doesn't nip at the heels of the big dogs, but instead can now run with the pack.
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse gains a new gasoline-electric hybrid model dubbed "eAssist." The only four-cylinder LaCrosse offered, it promises improved fuel economy but with only a modest price increase. Other changes this year include a more powerful V6 engine and a new trim level structure.
For much of the last decade, Buick's sedans held little appeal beyond those consumers still nostalgic about the traditions of this General Motors nameplate. But two years ago, Buick introduced its redesigned -- and much improved -- LaCrosse. Boasting modern styling, an elegant interior and impressive driving dynamics, the LaCrosse quickly became one of our more favored entry-level luxury sedans.
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse gets even better thanks to a new hybrid powertrain. Serving as the LaCrosse's entry-level model (last year's base four-cylinder has been discontinued), the "eAssist" combines a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a mild hybrid system to boost fuel economy to 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. While these numbers are still well shy of what you'll get from the full hybrid Lexus HS 250h, the LaCrosse hybrid is roomier and doesn't come with as big of a price premium either.
Aside from basic variations in trim level, the interior of the 2012 LaCrosse stays the course, meaning you'll find an elegant cabin with sweeping lines and rich surfaces, all set off by the generous use of LED accent lighting. The serene, roomy cabin is filled with useful features and amusing toys ranging from a rearview camera to a dual-screen video entertainment system. In fact, the only significant complaints we have are the small trunk and reduced visibility caused by thick roof pillars.
Even though we're pretty impressed with the LaCrosse, there are a number of strong alternatives we'd suggest buyers also consider, including the Acura TL, Hyundai Genesis and Lexus ES 350. You could also check out the Chrysler 300 and upper trim levels of the Ford Taurus and new Volkswagen Passat. Ultimately deciding among all these likable models becomes a personal decision, but we can tell you the well-rounded 2012 Buick LaCrosse is a fine choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
For 2012, Buick has revamped the LaCrosse model lineup, replacing last year's three relatively uncomplicated trim levels with no fewer than seven different variants.
Base models come nicely equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, full power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a power driver seat and partial-power front passenger seat, split-folding rear seatbacks, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, OnStar, Bluetooth, and a seven-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. Next step up would be the Convenience model (1SD), which adds a power lumbar adjustment for the driver seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and remote ignition.
Spring for the Leather model and you get foglamps, heated mirrors with built-in turn signal repeaters, leather upholstery, heated front seats and a full power front passenger seat. The Premium 1 version adds rear parking assist, an auto-dimming driver-side mirror and driver seat memory settings. The Premium 2 (1SP) ups the ante with the 3.6-liter V6, keyless ignition/entry, perforated leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated leather- and wood-trimmed steering wheel and a power rear window sunshade. A Premium 3 model includes 18-inch chromed alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a 120-volt household-style power outlet and an 11-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system.
Rounding things out is the top-of-the-line Touring model, which features 19-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive suspension, xenon headlights, a blind spot warning system, a rearview camera, a head-up display, digital music storage and a navigation system.
Some of the features found on the upper trim levels can be added to the lower trims as options. Other notable options include a sunroof, rear side airbags and a rear seat video entertainment system with dual headrest-mounted screens.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse is offered with one of two new engines. For buyers interested in maximizing miles per gallon there's the new eAssist mild hybrid powertrain, which pairs a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with an 11-kilowatt electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. This setup sends 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels by way of a six-speed automatic transmission.
In Edmunds track testing, a LaCrosse with eAssist made the 0-60 mph dash in 9.2 seconds: a rather leisurely performance. Still, this powertrain is about efficiency, not speed; aided by clever aerodynamic improvements like automatically controlled shutters in the front grille, it delivers impressive EPA estimates of 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined.
Buyers in search of additional thrust can opt for a new, more powerful version of last year's 3.6-liter V6 that now puts out 303 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered here, but buyers do have a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Despite the added power for 2012, the V6's fuel economy numbers remain virtually unchanged at 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 16/26/20 with all-wheel drive.
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse's list of standard safety features includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability and traction control, front-seat side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and the OnStar telematics system. Rear-seat side-impact airbags and a blind-spot alert system are available as options. In Edmunds brake testing, a LaCrosse with the 3.6-liter engine and 19-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in 127 feet -- a bit longer than average. A LaCrosse with eAssist and 17-inch wheels turned in a much stronger performance, stopping from 60 mph in 115 feet. That's excellent for this type of vehicle.
In government crash tests, the LaCrosse scored five (out of a possible five) stars overall, with five stars awarded for both frontal- and side-impact tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it their top "Good" rating in both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Slide behind the steering wheel of the 2012 Buick LaCrosse and you'll find yourself surrounded by an interior made up of graceful curves and upscale materials. Even after the sun sets, the cabin's flowing lines are emphasized by soft blue ambient lighting that adds a classy touch.
If there's a weakness in this artful design, it's that the controls aren't quite as straightforward and intuitive as some traditional Buick buyers might like. Just the same, we think the abundance of buttons and knobs used to control the audio, climate control and navigation systems is something most folks should eventually get used to.
As you'd expect in a luxury sedan, the LaCrosse's cabin is long on comfort. Seats are supportive and there's plenty of leg- and shoulder room even in the backseat. The available heated steering wheel and heated and ventilated front seats are a nice touch.
The LaCrosse's trunk is on the small side, however, with just 13.3 cubic feet of cargo room. Space is even tighter in models equipped with the new eAssist powertrain, where the hybrid battery pack reduces capacity to less than 11 cubic feet. A smallish opening can also make loading larger items problematic.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the 2012 Buick LaCrosse is the driving experience. The steering feels precise, and handling is significantly better than you'd expect without sacrificing the plush ride quality one expects of a luxury sedan.
The additional horsepower that the engineers have wrung out of the V6 makes this engine even more attractive. More importantly, the new eAssist hybrid powertrain is much better suited to this application than the old four-cylinder, providing decent acceleration, very respectable fuel economy and highly refined operation.
Other items worthy of note here include the quiet interior that adds to the upscale feel. Visibility can be a problem, however, making the available blind-spot warning system and rearview camera worthwhile investments.