Remember the furious phoenix (or was it a chicken) that adorned the hood of Pontiac’s Trans Am? Yeah you do. You’ve conjured up that image faster than I can type Smokey and the Bandit. Now, did the original angry bird also make you think of Buick’s 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist? The old Trans Am and its garish décor popped into my head while driving the new LaCrosse. Because the Buick delivers some of the current automotive era’s excitement—hybrid technology—about as quietly as the Trans Am’s beast was loud. But after 1,400-plus miles in the LaCrosse, I have mixed feelings about Buick’s stealth approach.
I like the LaCrosse from the outside. The second-generation of this luxury four-door sedan has a dramatically flared midline that gives what could’ve been an otherwise anonymous aero body an appealing, hunkered-down look. The only bad view of the LaCrosse is the three-quarters perspective from the rear, when the car’s hips look in need of liposuction. The Buick’s stylish, gangsta-style high waist bummed out my kids, who felt like they were riding inside a roomy albeit big-walled bathtub because they couldn’t see out the windows. BTW, the car’s Leno-esque chin finds curbs easily.
However, nowhere on the machine’s mocha skin was an indication that hybrid technology lurked inside. At first I was fine, even happy, about this—who needs to shout their earth-saving values to the world? But in living with the LaCrosse, I wondered if the omission was one of modesty or apology.
Mechanically speaking, the LaCrosse is a hybrid of a hybrid. A “full” hybrid, like Toyota’s Prius, or hybrid competitors to the Buick like Lincoln’s MKZ and Lexus’s HS 250h, can run on battery power alone during some urban driving. Not the LaCrosse. In terms of preserving the planet, Buick’s simplified hybrid system essentially works to shut off the engine when the car stops (like at a stoplight) and when the vehicle is decelerating or coasting. Part of a hybrid ride’s thrill—and this ain’t no Trans Am thrill—is creeping silently and without fuel through a parking lot. The LaCrosse denies a driver that satisfaction, and a traditional hybrid’s high city mileage (along the lines of 35 miles per gallon or better). The Buick is rated at 25 miles per gallon in city driving.
My unscientific results indicated significantly less. More like 20 mpg, from a tester loaded with options including leather, heated seats, and all matter of impressive electronic gizmology including a head-up display, nav with iPod controls and a back-up camera, and blinking lights built into the side mirrors that told me when cars entered my blind spots. Speaking of weight, in all fairness I’m heavy on the throttle. Add it all up and, around town, maybe the LaCrosse fenders don’t deserve to be festooned with an “H” surrounded by glowing lightning bolts.
The highway, however, is a place where people and cars alike leave demons behind, and on a trip across west Texas the LaCrosse eAssist shined. Courtesy of Interstate 10 (and despite its 80 mile per hour speed limit), my average fuel efficiency rose to nearly 30 mpg, and I had to think the eAssist’s efficient Michelin tires, computer controlled shutters behind the front grille, and smooth underbody panels contributed to the soaring metrics.
Meanwhile the Buick’s gentlemanly ride and steering, along with the invisible six-speed transmission, made the miles melt away, and at night the car’s interior mood lighting was slick. Metaphorically speaking, the light also shone on the Buick’s value: Starting at about $30k, the LaCrosse eAssist is over 10 percent less expensive than the aforementioned MKZ, and 20 percent cheaper than the Lexus. You’ll pump plenty of unleaded into the Buick’s higher-mileage competition before recouping those price differences.
No, the LaCrosse never shouts hybrid. But when you really punch the Buick’s free-revving, inline four, and the trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery helps in temporarily turning the economy-minded car into an almost respectable, 200-horsepower machine, the vehicle almost screams—like a great big bird.
Price as tested: $36,685
Andrew Tilin has been a writer and editor for national publications for the last 25 years. He’s been on staff at Outside and Time Inc.’s Business 2.0 magazines. Andrew is longtime car geek—over the years he’s written car reviews about vehicles ranging from EVs to McLaren’s Formula One cars. His third book, “The Doper Next Door,” was published in the summer 2011.
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If you like the Buick LaCrosse you may also like the new Buick Regal. Check out our first drive review below.