Buick doesn’t need your pity. The brand has been rejuvenating its oldster image, one Encore compact crossover at a time. As we clink champagne glasses this New Year’s Eve, Buick could find itself celebrating 80,000 Encore units sold in 2017. In even better news for Buick’s longer-term survival, the age of its average customer fell from 72 in 2010 to 57 today.
Not to mention, Buick’s doing great with SUVs in China, where it logs 80 percent of its worldwide sales – 1.1 million in 2016 – and the average age of its buyers is 35.
Then, there’s the full-sized Buick LaCrosse, whose average buyer is still over 60. A recent redesign for the model’s third-generation has improved its looks significantly, but sales have dipped 12 percent year-on-year. The latter isn’t entirely Buick’s fault; once car companies’ de rigueur flagships, large sedans like the LaCrosse are now the pleated pants of the auto industry. At best, they’re a fleet purchase, at worst a dwindling consumer niche favored by older, but loyal-to-a-fault, buyers. Once Buick’s volume player, the LaCrosse is now having its lunch eaten by the Encore, by a sales factor of 3.5.
Considering the business of Buick’s recent transformation, and whatnot, it dawned on me that I had never driven a LaCrosse, and dammit, maybe I should.
I grew up with Buicks. My mom had one of those humpbacked A-body coupes popular throughout GM during the Nixon era – a 1970 Skylark. It was painted budget-motoring blue, a queasy metallic shade that dominated the freeways during the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon era.
I’ve owned two Buicks. My first car was a 1973 Century sedan, and while I once coveted jet-black Grand Nationals like they were Italian exotics, I loved my 1984 standard Regal with wire wheels, a tan landau roof and valour seats plush as the maharaja’s sofa. It was easy to drive, comfortable, affordable, and less boat-like than other luxury cars. While the Germans were refining their taut, engaging sports sedans — a construct that would soon overwhelm the luxury car space — Buick was building slack, disengaging sedans, and they were proud to do it.
Jump cut to the present day. The recently-updated ’17 LaCrosse has a pleasing combination of compliant ride and good body control, by way of front struts and a five-link rear suspension. The corporate 3.6-liter, 310-hp V6 delivers adequate power for a relaxing commute, if not a fully premium, chocolate-mousse-spec torque blast.
Bluetooth and wired USB connectivity is above average in the entry-luxury category, with 4G LTE wireless Internet, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound system, a $1,145 option on top of the Premium package, has satisfying midrange clarity and clean bass response. The interior, while a bit chromey for my taste, had some nice dark-wood touches and a tasteful, unadorned dash cluster with analog gauges. Want trunk space? You could park a Prius in there and still have room for a golf bag.
All in, and just about fully loaded, the price cracks 50 grand ($50,270), including $925 destination charge. Dial back the options and a persistent buyer can probably lease a LaCrosse, with incentives, for say, $400 a month. That’s a lot of car for the money. What do you get for your Buick dollar? If you’re old enough to know which team Mookie Wilson played for, you’ll recognize a feeling that might be described as polite disengagement. Slam the door and the world’s annoyances fade. Slip the premium-package electric shifter into D and you saunter off with the nonchalance of Tony Bennett’s vibrato, leaving talk of lap times and 0-60 runs to the other fancy schmoes on the street. This car doesn’t make your pulse race; it brings down your blood pressure 10 ticks.
Sure, Buick’s got other things on its mind, like getting all those Encores out the door and into the hands of busy people. But with the LaCrosse, Buick’s missing the boat on marketing. My advice is to forget about going after younger buyers and focus on people with other needs. Something like this:
Buick LaCrosse: The official car for people who just wish you would leave them the hell alone.
They’d sell a million of them.
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