Buick, the brand, is on a roll. Conquest sales are up, meaning there are far more people who are new to buying any GM car coming into dealerships and walking out with a new Buick. Building cars like the 2014 Buick LaCrosse and steadily improving quality and customer satisfaction is working to attract new customers.
For the 2014 model year, Buick's biggest American sedan receives a mild face-lift and a revised interior with some new color choices and content. Outside, the front and rear end get a little crisper, with LED taillights that evoke the style of the Hyundai Equus; that's not a bad thing, as both the Equus and LaCrosse are attractive cars. Up front, a new grille and headlights keep things fresh and attractive. The overall look is still clean but chunky: This is a big car and there's no disguising that.
Inside, this latest LaCrosse is more refined than before. Material quality, which was good in the 2013, is even better in the 2014 thanks to the addition of an Ultra Luxury Package. The Sangria deep red leather and instrument panel trim with genuine dark ash wood and charcoal carpets look fantastic in this age of "greige" interiors, and they're a welcome improvement on the still-available (and still odd) Choccachino brown-and-blue trim option.
Even more notable inside the new LaCrosse is the clean redesign of the center console and gauge cluster. Modern Buicks had been suffering from an overabundance of flat black plastic buttons, but the new LaCrosse shows that GM has been listening to customers' complaints with a simplified console that regroups and redesigns everything into a much more usable, user-friendly design. Seventeen hard-to-read buttons have been pared down to just seven. Climate controls and seat heater/cooler buttons have been moved into touch-sensitive panels, which is a slick way to disguise features that are missing in lesser trim models without having to resort to using button "blanks."
The Buick IntelliLink multimedia system in the center console works well and is one of the simpler systems to use on sale today. However, its touch-screen is positioned a little high and forward, requiring a bit of a stretch to reach some of its functions. A new gauge cluster behind the steering wheel is also digital, and it provides several reconfigurable modes that are accompanied by an optional head-up display in full color projected onto the windshield.
Upping the refinement goes beyond the interior updates to the driving experience as well.
Buick talks about quiet tuning, and it's not just advertising mumbo jumbo. The car is wonderfully silent at speed and around town, with just a faint burble coming from the 3.6-liter V-6 engine's exhaust (a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with eAssist is standard, but the V-6 is a no-cost option). Acceleration is smooth, but not overly quick. Given the heft of the car, it doesn't feel like there is 304 horsepower under the hood. One never lacks for passing power, but it's evident that this is more of a touring sedan than a sport sedan, meant for soaking up miles in comfort rather than blasting down back roads.
Steering is well-tuned, with precise on-center feel and excellent feedback. Road imperfections are well-damped; you can hear them, but you don't much feel them, and they send back no nasty vibrations through the steering wheel. Switch the gear shift to Sport mode and the steering rate and shock tuning supposedly get firmer and more aggressive, but I was unable to discern any appreciable difference in the car's behavior.
At the end of the day, the new LaCrosse is not about sporting pretense. It's about quiet, safe luxury for not too much money. The base price for the new 2014 LaCrosse is $34,060, including a $925 destination fee, and includes equipment such as Buick's IntelliLink multimedia system, an 8-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster display screen and eight airbags. The Ultra Luxury Package adds $2,495, and all the safety system bells and whistles are available in two Driver Confidence packages.
Driver Confidence I includes forward collision alert, blind spot warning, lane change departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, a head-up display and high-intensity-discharge headlights for $2,125. Choosing that means you can then choose Driver Confidence II, adding adaptive cruise control, a safety alert seat that vibrates to notify you of various warnings and an automatic collision preparation system for $1,745. A variety of wheel sizes are available, from 17 inches up to 20 inches, and all sizes in between. The vehicles I tested cost just over $47,000 completely loaded, which is a good price for a big sedan that easily matches the Lexus ES in refinement and blows it away in electronics sophistication.