The popularity of a vehicle, or more accurately a brand, has a lot to do with perception. When we see a certain car on the road, who do we imagine is behind the wheel? And whether or not we relate to that vehicle depends upon how much we can relate to the person we expect to see driving it. That can be good or bad, but anyone can agree that changing those perceptions and stereotypes can be challenging.
Take Buick, for example. My grandmother had a Buick Eighty-Eight, which she bought in 1988 and kept for nearly 20 years until it had little over a whopping 50,000 miles on it. And when she decided to buy a new car, all she knew is that she wanted “a white Buick.” So, that shaped my perception of the Buick brand. It’s the car Grandma drives.
In recent years, Buick has fought to counter this image by bringing on Tiger Woods, Shaquille O’Neal and Peyton Manning as spokespersons. Is it working? Well, since 2007, every manufacturer has seen its average buyer get older. Every one, that is, except for Buick, whose buyers’ age has dropped from 62 to 59. But, the brand still has the second oldest demographic in the business, after Lincoln.
So, what about the Buick LaCrosse, an attractive four-door sedan with lots of niceties with a relatively bargain starting price of just over $30,000. I would say that it’s a pleasant vehicle, nicely appointed, but I don’t expect to see many Gen X’ers or younger folks driving up in a nice new one any day soon.
Stylewise, the LaCrosse is attractive on the outside, if not terribly inspiring; I didn’t see any heads turn as I drove by. The interior has an interesting flowing design scheme that gives the impression of a continuous swoop carrying from the doors, to the dash and through the center console. It’s functional, and the interior is plenty roomy, but the effect was a little claustrophobic, in my opinion. All materials are high quality and attractive, however, and controls are intuitive, not requiring a trip to the owner’s manual – a rarity in the luxury arena.
On the road, I was pleasantly surprised again. The cabin was quiet, as expected, but the LaCrosse provided more road feel and less of the “floating down the highway” sensation than I anticipated from a Buick product. And that’s not a bad thing. My Touring edition was equipped with the larger 303-horsepower V-6 engine; the standard 182-horsepower four-cylinder could potentially feel a little underpowered in comparison. However, the larger engine does diminish fuel economy, dropping it from 25 mpg city/36 highway on the base engine to 17/27 with the V-6.
And there are an abundance of options to choose from here; five trim levels and eight packages, including optional all-wheel drive, pretty much enable buyers to configure their ideal sedan.
The base LaCrosse starts at $32,555 while the Touring tops out at $40,135. For the money, the top of the line model comes equipped with all of the expected accouterments for a luxury sedan, including heated and ventilated front seats, Harman/Kardon entertainment package, navigation system, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and more. I liked the fact that even the base model is well equipped, and desirable options are added as you go up in trim, without having to check off option boxes that launch the sticker price into the stratosphere. In fact, the only two options on my tester were rear-seat mounted airbags ($350, which probably should be standard) and the Crystal Red exterior color ($325).
Overall, the Buick LaCrosse is a good value, but is unlikely to present a major challenge to luxury leaders like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and others. It’s a nice vehicle, but seems unlikely to have a major impact on young buyers’ impression of the brand.
Power and Price: 182-horsepower four-cylinder, starting at $32,555
303-horsepower V-6, starting at $36,180
Price as tested: $$40,790
Transmission: Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (city/highway): 25/36 (four cylinder); 17/27 (V-6)
Safety Ratings: Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety; Five Stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration