3.15.2015

New Milennium Roadmaster: The 2015 Buick LaCrosse

Front 3/4 view of 2015 Buick LaCrosse
The 2015 Buick LaCrosse.
The headline above refers to the great Buick Roadmasters of the 30s, 40s and 50s, not the station wagon of the 90s.  Those uber-Buicks lived up to their name.  They were masters of the road, a superior means of travel.

The 2015 Buick LaCrosse has captured that spirit in a fully contemporary package.




Interior view of 2015 Buick LaCrosse
2015 Buick LaCrosse interior.
Not only is the exterior styling impressive, the place you'll spend time is just gorgeous, a rich blend of colors, textures, shapes and surfaces.  It's a pleasure to spend time in.  And we had some driving to do.

Folsom to the North Coast of California and back (source: Google Maps).
It was a four-day run from Folsom, east of Sacramento to spend a day and a half with Navigator's family in Ukiah, then a run out to the end of CA 20 to Fort Bragg.  The third day was a drive up breathtaking CA 1 to the place where it turns inland and ultimately ends in Leggett, CA.

CA 1 from the coast to Leggett
CA 1 from the coast to Leggett (source: Google Maps satellite view)
That stretch of road is where the LaCrosse became a revelation.  Up until that point, we'd been on freeways and the mildly twisty CA 20.  The LaCrosse was quick, quiet and composed.  When CA 1 turns inland, it becomes one of the more challenging roads you're likely to encounter.  A narrow two-lane with turn after turn, rapid changes in elevation and zero room for error. Frankly, I expected the LaCrosse to be mediocre at best. It takes adaptive suspensions set to "Sport" for the Toyota Avalon (a direct competitor to the LaCrosse) and the Lexus LS460 (another size, price and class) to handle lesser roads. And using those settings causes changes in ride quality.

The LaCrosse's suspension has a sport mode, but yours truly couldn't figure out how to engage it (turns out the "M/S" at the bottom of the gear selector is "Manual/Sport", not "Mud/Snow"---go figure), so I left it in its standard mode. And it conquered. No muss, no fuss. No change in the comfort or the quiet. Precious little body lean. It just ate the road alive. If I had a criticism, it would be a lack of feedback in the steering, but once I saw that it was responding precisely to my inputs, I relaxed and simply drove...and the LaCrosse was brilliant.

And then we drove the LaCrosse into a tree.

2015 Buick LaCrosse inside Chandelier Tree, Leggett, CA
2015 Buick LaCrosse at the Chandelier Tree in Leggett, CA.
The Chandelier Tree is a 315-foot tall redwood tree with a hole cut through the trunk big enough (just barely) to drive a car through.  Having been a kid in the 60s, when the roadtrip was a big part of American vacations and the Chandelier Tree was on everybody's list, I grew up with this image burned in my brain:

1960s image of a 1964 Ford Galaxie passing through the Chandelier Tree
1960s image of a 1964 Ford Galaxie passing through the Chandelier Tree.
I only knew it was somewhere in the redwoods. Navigator, as usual, knew exactly where and helped me cross another long-held dream off my bucket list.

2015 Buick LaCrosse inside Chandelier Tree, Leggett, CA
2015 Buick LaCrosse inside Chandelier Tree, Leggett, CA.
Leggett has 315 people and one newly-opened restaurant so generic the sign reads "Restaurant Grand Opening".  We decided our odds would be better up the road about 15 miles in Garberville, a funky little town of 913 souls, at last count, including a kid with a primered '71 Camaro with velocity stacks through the hood and the only Type A hippie on earth...a guy with a 20-year-old Civic with Greenpeace bumper stickers who leaned on the horn because I was driving too slowly through downtown. After the three minutes it took to drive the entire main drag, we settled here for lunch:

Eel River Care, Garberville, CA sign
The Eel River Cafe, Garberville, CA.
Some people ask to see a menu, some people check Yelp!...Navigator and I are suckers for a great old sign with character.  And the food was good, too!

The only way back to Fort Bragg was the way we came...one more chance for the LaCrosse to shine on the twisties. A younger guy staying at the same motel, who works for a Toyota dealership in Sacramento and drives a badass black 90s Mustang with custom wheels, stopped me to talk about the LaCrosse. Apparently, the styling has multi-generational appeal.  And fresh from the run up and back on CA 1, I was more than eager to tell him it wasn't all looks.

Our tester was a LaCrosse Premium 2. A 3.6-liter, 304-horsepower V6 with a six-speed automatic. Base Price $39,970, with the following options:

Driver Confidence Package #1 (following distance sensor indicator, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert with lane departure, high intensity discharge adaptive headlamps, a heads-up display and front fog lamps): $2,125.

Driver Confidence Package #2 (adaptive cruise control and front automatic braking): $1,245.

A power moonroof with 2nd row skylight: $1,195.

Carbon black metallic paint: $495.

With $925 destination charge, the bottom line came to $45,955.  That puts it squarely against a loaded Toyota Avalon, something our friend deals with every day.  And he said (don't tell anyone), he likes the Buick.

Day four was the drive home by a different way, spending some time in the beautiful town of Mendocino and then taking CA 128 through the redwoods and the beautiful Anderson Valley to Boonville, then CA 253 to the junction with US 101 at the south end of Ukiah.  From there, it was south to Garberville to re-join CA 128 through the incredible Napa Valley. I meant to follow 128 past Lake Berryessa as we had on our trip a few months ago, but I goofed and we stuck with CA 29 through the entire valley, including the city of Napa itself...then down to CA 12 and finally to I-80 for the final leg home to Folsom.

The EPA says the LaCrosse is good for 18 miles per gallon city, 28 miles per gallon highway and a combined average of 21.  We managed 22 and change, which might seem low given that most of our 600+ miles were highway, but the winding roads cost us on mileage as did the Sunday afternoon stop-and-go traffic in Napa Valley. It's actually quite good performance and in a steady-state 65 mile per hour cruise on a nice, flat interstate, my guess is the LaCrosse could beat its estimate and maybe even crack 30 mpg.

As we noted in our last review of a LaCrosse two years ago, GM is still putting sub-par plastic bits out of sight but where you can feel them (seat controls, the surround for them), which doesn't belong in a car with a $45,000 price tag.  But now, that's about our only criticism.  The LaCrosse is a fine road car.

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