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Review: 2014 Buick LaCrosse Leather (5th place)

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This review is part of a ten-car comparison of large sedans. The LaCrosse is ranked fifth place of ten.

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5th Place: 2014 Buick LaCrosse Leather
Summary review

Depending on how you count it, the LaCrosse is either the newest car in this comparison or one of the oldest. Although much of the car dates to the 2010 model year, the flagship Buick sedan was heavily overhauled for 2014, going on sale this past fall.

The changes yielded some of the car's best qualities – updated cabin trim, more comfortable seats, improved driving dynamics, new features, and cleaner dashboard controls. Two key things that hold the LaCrosse back, though, are some of the holdover issues that also affected its first four model years: a very small trunk for a large sedan, narrow front seats, and poor outward visibility. There are also a few interior quality lapses, some ride quality imperfections, and bottom-of-the-class gas mileage.

Overall, the LaCrosse is a comfortable and quiet premium-caliber sedan. But you're still asked to forgive various flaws, and spend a fair bit – $36,781 out the door, with fewer features than most competitors – to do so.

Doesn't wallow

The LaCrosse doesn't join some competitors in trying at all to be a sports sedan, with the suspension and the steering tuned – mostly successfully – for isolation rather than driving engagement.

But, as has been the case for a number of years, Buicks have shed the stereotypical wallowing driving feel of past generations. There's good body control both in straight lines and in corners; it's far from zippy, but the LaCrosse's driving dynamics are unquestionably in this decade.

The ride is best-in-class at absorbing bumps, but the car does sometimes suffer from a disappointing bobbling sensation on smooth roads. The LaCrosse is quieter than the class norm, but isn't quite as hushed as a few of its competitors. Higher-trim LaCrosse models have an adaptive suspension that's won rave reviews; the tested car, already costlier than most others in this comparison, lacked that feature.

The LaCrosse's 304-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 returns smooth, strong power, but the powerful engine and the car's 3,906-pound mass take their toll on gas mileage. The EPA rates this Buick for just 21 miles per gallon in mixed driving, the worst of the ten cars in this comparison, though admittedly within just 1 or 2 mpg of all but one competitor. There's also a four-cylinder hybrid version available that gives up a lot of acceleration punch but is rated for 29 mpg.

Mostly nice inside

The LaCrosse has a richly trimmed interior, with leather splashed all across the dashboard, door panels, and center console. The looks are augmented by dark false-wood trim, and a redesigned instrument panel cleans up a sea of buttons while also simplifying (for the most part) the climate controls. The reshaped dashboard is less artfully distinctive than before, but the layout is more ergonomic and yields a bit of extra cabin storage.

There are some issues with panel fits, though. In some places, there are simply artless melds between different trim pieces without an effort to disguise the break; in a few others, the panels just simply don't line up properly. The newly redesigned center console bin is another weak point. It's designed to gracefully open upward and out of the way rather than just lifting straight up, but the mechanism instead feels clunky and fragile.

The LaCrosse's front seats are cushy and well-shaped – quite comfortable for this slenderly built reviewer. But someone any larger would likely feel confined; there isn't a lot of room to spread out up front in this Buick. Any driver would also be left uncomfortable by worst-in-class outward visibility, thanks to a high trunk lid, tiny rear windows, and thick roof pillars all around.

Rear-seat accommodations aren't perfect either, but the rear bench fits wider passengers better than the front buckets. The issue here is relatively skimpy headroom, despite a fairly low seat cushion, but some space is carved out of the roof to make it usable. Unlike a few other cars in this class, even the center-rear position is usable, and outboard passengers have generous legroom. Expect to duck when getting in and out, though.

The trunk is quite small – the worst in this class at 12.8 cubic feet. This stat would not be impressive even in an economy car; it's just equal to the Ford Fiesta, and trails such other subcompact sedans as the Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent, and Nissan Versa. The Buick's trunk isn't even well-shaped – it's narrow and shallow, with intruding bulges from the trunk hinges. This issue seriously compromises the LaCrosse's ability to be a road-trip car; if you want to carry more than a couple of suitcases, the overflow needs to go in the passenger compartment.

Price note

Courtesy of its recent 2014-model updates, the LaCrosse is still selling relatively close to its sticker price, according to Truecar.com and other pricing sources. A model from the “Leather” trim with the optional panoramic sunroof, navigation system, and upgraded sound system has a sticker price of $38,795, and you can't expect to haggle more than $2,000 off that price. That leaves the LaCrosse as one of the more expensive cars in this comparison.

Note, too, that most of the other nine also have more bonus features bundled in by the time they've been loaded up for this comparison. Not so with the LaCrosse. While it's hardly stripped down at this price, you have to surpass a $40,000 MSRP to get, for example, advanced safety features, a heated steering wheel, perforated leather seats, a rear sunshade, and the much-touted adaptive suspension.

Overall

The 2014 LaCrosse doesn't do much for someone seeking either value or sportiness, but it's a fine choice if you favor comfort, luxury, and refinement.

It's still far from an ideal choice, though, with various drawbacks limiting its appeal – affecting both its sense of luxury and its big-car practicality. While quite a nice car overall, a bevy of relatively minor issues add up to keep the LaCrosse out of the top tier in this class.

Overall grade: B-

- More photos of the 2014 Buick LaCrosse Leather
- Report card: Rating the LaCrosse -- how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
- Report card: Ranking the LaCrosse -- how does it stack up for different types of buyers?

More from this comparison:
- Previous review: 2014 Toyota Avalon Limited (6th place)
- Next review: 2014 Hyundai Azera Limited (4th place)
- Introduction
- Rating the ten large sedans
- Ranking the ten large sedans
- Quick summaries of the ten large sedans: Pros, cons, conclusions

See also:
Review: 2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ
Review: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT
Review: 2014 Buick Encore
Review: 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXL

Vehicle tested: 2014 Buick LaCrosse
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $33,535
Version tested: Leather
Version base price (MSRP): $35,210
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $37,825
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP)*: $38,795
Estimated transaction price as comparable**: $36,781
Test vehicle provided by: Win Kelly Buick; Clarksville, Md.

Key specifications:
Length: 196.9 inches
Width: 73.1 inches
Height: 59.2 inches
Wheelbase: 111.7 inches
Weight: 3,906 pounds
Trunk volume: 12.8 cubic feet
Turning circle: 38.6 feet
Engine (as tested): 3.6-liter V6 with 304 horsepower
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 18 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 28 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 21 miles per gallon
Assembly location: Kansas
For more information: Buick website

* "Prices as comparable" reflect 2014 models with leather seats, a sunroof, a navigation system, a premium audio system, heated front seats, and certain other premium features.

** Transaction price estimates are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.

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