2012 Buick LaCrosse Review and Prices

Last Updated: May 21, 2011

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2012 Buick LaCrosse Buying Advice

The 2012 Buick LaCrosse is the best car for you if you want to experience one possible future of the full-size American sedan.  

The 2012 Buick LaCrosse replaces its gas-only base engine with one augmented by an electric motor to claim a 25-percent boost in fuel economy and a class-topping 25/37-mpg city/highway rating.  Dubbed eAssist, Buick calls it a “light electrification” system, not a hybrid, and says it points to the future of vehicles powered primarily by an internal combustion engine. The 2012 LaCrosse also will continue to offer a traditional V-6 engine – probably at the same price as the eAssist four-cylinder. This handsome, upscale four-door will continue available with front- and all-wheel-drive and is likely to remain Buick’s top-selling model.       

Should you buy a 2012 Buick LaCrosse or wait for the 2013 Buick LaCrosse? Buy a 2012 LaCrosse if you’re an early adopter and have faith that eAssist is a well-thought-out technological advancement. Some sources also report that the 2012 LaCrosse could get a mild facelift to freshen a basic design that dates to model-year 2010. Wait for the 2013 LaCrosse if you want to give eAssist time to prove itself and to judge styling updates that almost certainly will be on line by then.

2012 Buick LaCrosse Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Buick Regal LaCrosse won’t change in basic dimension or proportion, regardless of whether it receives styling updates. Any changes would fall under the heading of a midcycle refresh, and these seldom amount to more than subtle tweaks to the grille, bumpers, headlamps and taillamps.

Unaltered would be LaCrosse’s modern, confident overall shape or exterior dimensions similar to those of full-size sedans such as the Toyota Avalon but a shade less massive than those of the Chrysler 300. The post-bankruptcy GM positions Cadillac as its boldly American flagship line and Buick as an internationally flavored premium brand. Indeed, the 2010 LaCrosse redesign was tailored to appeal to the Chinese market, where Buick is a leading upscale make. Its interior will remain exceptionally quiet and feature finely sculpted shapes and top-grade materials, engaging assets on any continent. 

Some reports suggest Buick may phase out traditional trim designations in favor of basic models that can be dressed up with clearly defined options groups. It’s had good success with a LaCrosse lineup consisting of a base CX version, midlevel CXL, and top-tier CXS model. Aside from escalating levels of standard equipment, the prime difference was that the V-6 was standard on the CXS and optional on CX and CXL in place of their standard four-cylinder engine.

Every 2012 LaCrosse will again sport Buick’s chromed waterfall grille and have chromed dual-exhaust tips. Key styling differences will likely be confined to wheel design. The 2012 LaCrosse CXS – or its equivalent -- should again use 18-inch chrome-plated alloy wheels, the CXL 17-inch alloys, and the CX 17-inch slotted steel wheels. Buick could continue this model-centric approach with the 2012 LaCrosse or use introduction of the eAssist powertrain to begin its phase-out.

Mechanical: The need to improve fuel economy is shifting full-size cars to smaller engines, and with its choice of four- and six-cylinder engines, the 2010 LaCrosse was a bellwether in a class where no rival offered less than a V-6 and many boasted a V-8. Buick presses the issue with the 2012 LaCrosse by not merely introducing the eAssist four-cylinder but by making it the standard engine, not some eco-geek option.

The eAssist system essentially bolts a compact battery-powered electric motor to the 2.4-liter gas four-cylinder carried over from the 2011 LaCrosse. Official output figures remain 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque, but the electric motor can assist with up to 15 horsepower for short periods. (Think of torque as the force behind acceleration, horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum.)

The 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist isn’t a plug-in hybrid -- or a hybrid at all because it can’t actually accelerate on electricity. The eAssist system is designed to reduce fuel consumption under heavy throttle or while coasting. Its electric motor lends a hand when the 2011 LaCrosse needs to accelerate rapidly or ascend a steep grade. The eAssist also saves gas by incorporating a stop/start function. This shuts off fuel flow to the engine at strategic points, enabling the 2012 LaCrosse to coast – though not accelerate -- on electric power in low-demand conditions, such as descending a grade. It can also shut off the engine as the car slows and stops. The electric motor runs the air conditioner and other accessories during fuel shutoff or engine shutdown and provides energy for smooth engine restarts.

Power for the motor comes from a 65-pound lithium-ion battery pack stored between the rear seat and trunk. The battery is recharged by capturing regenerative braking energy. The battery pack reduces trunk volume on 2012 LaCrosse eAssist models to 10.9 cubic feet, from 13.0 cubic feet with the V-6 engine. However, eAssist versions retain some fold-down rear seatback capability, a convenience not afforded by all gas-electric hybrid cars.

LaCrosse’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder already boasted direct fuel injection, an advanced system that precisely introduces the combustible mixture directly into the cylinder to maximize power and minimize fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. The eAssist edition continues to work through a six-speed automatic transmission but one enhanced to exploit the newly available electric boost. The eAssist support allows use of more fuel-efficient gear ratios and gives the engine enough extra power to accelerate lightly or ascend mild grades without restoring to gas-consuming downshifts.

Buick further stretches the new system’s potential advantages by fitting 2012 LaCrosse eAssist models with low-rolling resistance tires and with “active” control of front-end airflow. Electronically operated shutters in the LaCrosses’s lower grille can stay closed so the engine can warm more quickly to its optimal -- and most fuel-efficient -- operating temperature. And they can automatically shut at higher speeds to improve aerodynamics.

Accompanying the eAssist four-cylinder as a 2012 LaCrosse engine choice will be the carryover 3.6-liter V-6. It’ll probably retain ratings of 280 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque and continue with a six-speed automatic as its sole transmission.

The 2012 LaCrosse will remain based on a front-wheel-drive layout, which benefits traction in rain or light snow because the weight of the powertrain is on the tires that propel the car. About half the cars in LaCrosses’s competitive set are based on rear-wheel-drive designs, which are favored for their better handling balance and steering feel but are also less space-efficient than front-drive and tend to have poorer snow traction.

To maximize traction in all conditions, the 2012 LaCrosse will again offer a basic all-wheel drive (AWD) system that normally operates in front-wheel drive but automatically shuttles power rearward when sensors detect front-tire slip. Several other cars in this class – both front- and rear-drive -- also offer AWD. Expect AWD to return to the 2012 LaCrosse as an extra-cost feature available only with the V-6 engine.   

Features: The 2012 Buick LaCrosse straddles a middle ground between the traditional full-size American four-door and a premium-class sedan. It’s furnishes big-car room and comfort starting at an affordable price point but is sufficiently elegant to capture upscale shoppers.

Even without trim designations settled in time for this review, it’s certain every 2012 LaCrosse will come standard with such desirable features as automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, and an eight-way power driver’s seat. Also included will be a manual tilt/telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel with buttons for the audio unit and the standard cruise-control system. Standard as well will be XM satellite radio and GM’s OnStar live-operator assistance system with six months complementary concierge and turn-by-turn direction service. 

All models will again use Buick’s attractive ice-blue instrument lighting. LaCrosse eAssist models will have an Eco gauge on the instrument panel that continuously responds to driving behavior and coaxes maximum efficiency.

Expect the LaCrosse CXL or its middle-range model-year 2012 equivalent to add leather upholstery with heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lamps, and outside mirrors with LED turn-signal indicators and puddle lamps.

The top-line 2012 LaCrosse – designated CXS for model-year 2011 – will probably again include perforated leather upholstery with heated and ventilated front seats. It’ll likely come with the V-6 engine teamed with a limited-slip differential and a front suspension tweaked to improve ride and handling and to reduce torque steer – the unwanted trait of powerful front-drive cars to pull to the side when accelerating rapidly from low speeds. The top-line 2012 LaCrosse with the V-6 should also be available with a Touring Package that includes 19-inch wheels and tires and electronic real-time suspension damping that “reads” the road surface and adjusts automatically to maintain optimal ride and control.

A voice-activated navigation system with rearview camera should again be available on all but the base version of the 2012 LaCrosse. Expect Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity to remain optional on the base model and standard on the others. A USB iPod interface is likely to again be standard on the top-line 2012 LaCrosse and available on the other models. Other available 2012 LaCrosse features, depending on trim level, will be a head-up instrument display that projects gauge readouts on the windshield in front of the driver, and Buick’s Side Blind Zone Alert with visual and audible warning of unseen vehicles in adjacent lanes.

2012 Buick LaCrosse Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Buick LaCrosse had not been released in time for this review but expect a slightly unorthodox approach that gives buyers a choice of fuel economy or power for roughly the same cost.

Sources say Buick will give the 2012 LaCrosse the same base price whether it includes the eAssist powertrain or the carryover V-6. That would suggest a starting price of about $32,000, before options. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee; Buick’s fee for the 2011 LaCrosse was $750.)
Climbing the model 2012 LaCrosse model ladder would again boost base prices; expect the top-line CXS or its equivalent to start around $35,500. Adding AWD to a 2012 LaCrosse with the V-6 engine should again cost an additional $2,100 or so.

Setting the same base price regardless of engine choice would take a page from the pricing strategy Lincoln has employed for its MKZ midsize sedan. For model-year 2011, the MKZ was available with a 263-horsepower V-6 or as the MKZ Hybrid that combined a gas four-cylinder engine with an electric motor. Base price was $35,455 for both.

2012 Buick LaCrosse Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Buick LaCrosse were not announced in time for this review but Buick projects the eAssist version will rate 25/37 mpg city/highway. Buick says that’s a significant 25-percent increase over the 19/30-mpg rating of the 2011 LaCrosse with the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine but without the electric assist or the economy-optimized six-speed automatic transmission.

Those ratings would indeed vault the 2012 LaCrosse to the top of the large-car class. Based on model-year 2011 EPA ratings, no other direct rival was rated more than 30 mpg in highway driving and the closest overall was the V-6 Toyota Avalon, at 20/29 mpg.

With the carryover V-6 powertrain, expect the 2012 Buick LaCrosse to again be rated 17/27 mpg with front-wheel drive at 16/26 when equipped with AWD.

2012 Buick LaCrosse Release Date back to top

The 2012 Buick LeCrosse should be in showrooms by mid-summer 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Buick LaCrosse back to top

With 2011 the final model year for Buick’s larger and older Lucerne sedan, the 2012 LaCrosse assumes the mantle of the division’s flagship. Today’s-generation LaCrosse won’t be fully redesigned before model-year 2016. The midcycle freshening it’ll undergo for model-year 2012 or ’13 will set the pattern for its look and general features set until the full redesign.

Similarly, the model-year 2012 introduction of the eAssist four-cylinder powertrain probably settles plans for LaCrosse’s underhood spec for the next several years. LaCrosse will continue with an available V-6 – buyers in this class demand the choice. And while the eAssist four-cylinder will be shared with the midsize Buick Regal, don’t expect the LaCrosse to borrow the smaller car’s high-performance turbocharged four-cylinder option.

Do look forward within the current lifecycle to enhanced infotainment tech, courtesy of a new GM connectivity system based on smartphone interfacing. Marketed as MyLink for Chevrolet and as IntelliLink for Buick and GMC, the option connects the owner’s smartphone to the car’s navigation and audio systems, integrating calls, texting, and apps.

2012 Buick LaCrosse Competition back to top

Chrysler 300: All new for model-year 2011, the latest 300 continues the groundbreaking 2005-2010 model’s basic size and shape with a little less brashness but still plenty of attitude. It’s larger inside and out than the LaCrosse, comes with a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive and V-6 or Hemi-V-8 power. Go with the V-6 (292 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque) to stay in the $28,000-$30,000 base-price range. For model-year 2012, the V-6 model gets an eight-speed automatic transmission that should boost fuel economy to around 20/30 mpg, though it’s not available with AWD, for now.

Hyundai Genesis sedan: Unlikely to top the typical LaCrosse buyer’s list of cars to cross shop but doing just that would be an eye-opener. This solid, roomy and luxurious sedan from the fast-growing South Korean brand is rear-drive only, but its base V-6 model is a good LaCrosse alternative. Genesis gets a major refresh for model-year 2012 and its 3.8-liter V-6 now packs 333 horsepower, 291 pound-feet of torque. It gets an eight-speed automatic and should rate some 20/29 mpg. Expect it to start around $34,000.

Toyota Avalon: Don’t let the white-shoes reputation fool you: Avalon is a terrifically rewarding sedan on more levels than its critics will admit. It’s astonishingly roomy and remarkably refined. The absorbent ride is just this side of floaty, and while handling can’t be described as sporty, it is front-wheel-drive predictable and there’s hardly a better highway cruiser. The sole powertrain looks unimpressive on paper -- a 3.5-liter V-6 with 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque hooked to a six-speed automatic – but in smoothness and response, it’s an overachiever. Fuel economy is a pleasing 20/29 mpg. Expect a 2012 Avalon base-price range of $34,000-$37,000 for a very tempting LaCrosse alternative.

2012 Buick LaCrosse Next Steps