Recently, there was a post about the Buick Lucerne written by Thomas, who was ready to defend and recommend it as a winter beater if you think outside the box. What caught my eye was the mention of the Buick LaCrosse, which was minimized to an upgrade on the Epsilon II platform and thus received the 3.6-liter V6 motor dubbed ‘failure-prone.’
Broaching a different take on the GM Hit Or Miss campaign, I am inspired by David’s ownership testimony of a Bimmer once coldly received. This motivates me to craft a response of my own tales with a V6 LaCrosse, and address that engine claim. I’m happy to go further and elaborate on how the second-generation LaCrosse permanently helped Buick shed its old-people image.
[Editor’s Note: Welcome to a guest submission of GM Hit Or Miss. When a Miata owner emailed in claiming that his V6-powered second-generation LaCrosse isn’t a rolling disaster and has proven itself a great daily driver, I raised an eyebrow. Then I read what he wrote, and wow. Color me impressed. Without further ado, take it away, Tyler! —TH]
Y2K rolled around and Buick had a problem: All of its sedans came from the 1990s. The last time the Century/Regal, Park Avenue, and LeSabre got any sort of reasonable update was around 1997. Technically, the latter got a new generation for 2000, but the G Platform had been in use since the mid-1990s. The world was changing and Buick needed a portfolio refresh. In 2005, this would come.
The Lucerne would ease the transition as the laid-back, bench-seated cruiser, but the Buick LaCrosse came first. Like the LeSabre, the LaCrosse would ride on a modified platform that dates back to several years. This time, it rode on the W-body chassis that supported the Century/Regal twins. It also carried over the tried-and-true 3800 Series V6 that throws back to archaic times. In all, the LaCrosse was an early attempt to modernize an aging sedan lineup that hadn’t caught up with the world yet.
Reviews of it weren’t groundbreaking, but reception was warm enough in the moment. However, the hype quickly wore off. First-year sales of the LaCrosse peaked just shy of 100,000. By 2007, that number was virtually cut in half. The first LaCrosse had a rather short production cycle of a few years before we got a glimpse of what came next, partly because Buick had a very powerful asset.
See, Buick almost didn’t make it out of the Great Recession. If it wasn’t for demand in a certain east Asian country, it would’ve never survived the transition into the 2010s. But thanks to lasting popularity in China, the brand survived the axe faced by Hummer, Saab and Pontiac.
Full Speed Ahead
Now the challenge was to deliver. For Buick, this meant taking the first steps to fight back against the perception that only the elderly population drive them. This meant per the New York Times, the second-gen LaCrosse was to be a “collaboration between designers in the United States and China, in partnership with the Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center.” In other words, it needed overseas appeal from the get-go.
We got a teaser of Buick’s imminent future when it unveiled the Invicta concept in 2008:
As far as concepts go, this was not a radical scope into a vision beyond our lifetime. Rather, the goal was to create something that could be put in production the next day. This is more apparent when you peek inside:
Look at that! A smorgasbord of buttons and switches and a CD player (this is still 2008, mind you) ready to be pushed. The wraparound dashboard was an evolved interpretation of the Opel Insignia, of which it would soon share the same chassis platform.
There was a 10-month gap between the Invicta concept and the second-gen LaCrosse debuting at the North American International Auto Show in January 2009 as a 2010 model. The major styling elements of the prototype carried over to the production car, resulting in a near-perfect copy job. Minimal things like door handles and fog lamps were added, but the transition from turntable to showroom was nearly seamless. In design alone, this car should receive the Most Improved award. I haven’t seen a car make such a marked point of refinement from one generation to the next. Sure, it didn’t have a bench seat like your grandpa’s Buick but when it looks like this, who cares?
That face served grace in a design era before turn signals on bumpers were a thing (looking at you, Hyundai). It was a clean, contemporary take on midsize luxury to ensure buyers would cross-shop the Buick LaCrosse against the Lexus ES.
This new look converted into sales. US popularity soared from 27,818 units sold in 2009 to 61,178 cars in 2010. Numbers would dip slightly in 2011 before rebounding in 2012 with 62,304 sold. It continued to sell in solid numbers in subsequent years, but never to this level again. Some good things happened, though. The first of which was that cross-Pacific design showcased the future of Buick. The second came later when Buick presented a fix to the premium V6 option.
For context, the second-generation LaCrosse debuted with two six-cylinder variants; a 3.0-liter V6 (fine) and 3.6-liter V6 (supposedly less fine). The 2.4-liter Ecotec inline-four base engine arrived soon after. Power ranged from 182 horsepower in base form to 280 horsepower in the top-of-the-line CXS trim (renamed after 2011). Torque would jump from 172 to 259 lb.-ft. The intermediate 3.0-liter V6 was dropped after the first year, leaving just the base engine and the 3.6 available.
The Elephant In The Room
Now it’s time to address the ‘failure-prone V6’ that Thomas was talking about in the Lucerne piece. The Buick LaCrosse indeed rode on the then-new Epsilon II platform, which supported a number of cars such as the Chevrolet Malibu, but also the Saab 9-5 (R.I.P.), Cadillac XTS, and the most recent Impala. It also means the 3.6-liter V6 sold in 2010 and 2011 models was an LLT mill that procured timing chain issues related to stretching. ‘Stretching’ in this case refers to the amount of wear on the chain over time that affects power delivery due to lack of engine compression.
There are other issues, too. Excessive oil burning and faulty camshaft actuators showed up a lot in GM products using the 3.6. Fortunately, the fix for a lot of these shortcomings can be resolved through routine oil changes, which might explain why NewParts calls the engine “quite bulletproof.”
GM took a major step forward to address these issues, with the updated LFX variant of the 3.6 V6 in 2012 going forward. This absolved the timing chain issue, while other troubles simmered. In the Buick, it also resulted in a power bump to 303 horsepower and 264 lb.-ft. of torque. Motor Trend clocked a zero-to-60 mph time of 6.4 seconds in a 2010 LaCrosse. A 2012 model could maybe knock a few tenths off of that.
[Editor’s Note: The 2.4-liter four-cylinder is also a problematic powertrain. A class action lawsuit has been launched in Canada over oil consumption on this engine in Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain crossovers, which claims that faulty piston rings are to blame. In addition, the LFX V6 is subject to a technical service bulletin over rod bearing issues. —TH]
Where My Ownership Foibles Come In
Other downsides of the LaCrosse? Well, transitioning a concept car to production with few changes brings ergonomic flaws. For instance, that massive C-pillar means rear visibility is atrocious with horrible blind spots, and that rounded dashboard can create a cocoon-like feeling inside, which is not ideal in some driving solutions like parking. I know this firsthand because I own a second-generation Buick LaCrosse.
My car is a 2012 sedan painted in White Diamond with the classic tan interior. I can’t tell you which trim level it is with certainty because it was a trade between military families before it fell into my hands. When my parents took possession in 2016, it had just over 40,000 miles. Now in 2023, it’s sitting at a shade over 85,000.
While I am not 100 percent sure on trim, the package that closely fits this LaCrosse is the Premium II. Ticking this nets you — if I follow the brochure here — ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, power rear sunshade, passive entry, and push-button start. It also has some individual options such as blind spot monitoring, a dual-pane sunroof and the Driver Confidence package, which includes xenon headlamps, a color display in the gauge cluster and a heads-up display. I am not sure how it has some features of Premium I — rear park assist sensors, seat memory settings, auto-dimming rearview mirror — but somehow omits the backup camera. Did Buick do a 2012.5 update that I’m not aware of? I dove into the LaCrosse rabbit hole and so far have come up empty.
While I don’t have all of the details, the previous original owner was an elderly gentleman who drove it until he couldn’t anymore. As a result, that’s why the LaCrosse you see here has some permanent curb rash on the left side skirt as well as a minor door rash on the other side. My parents put in some suspension work as a result of it not being driven kindly. All of this occurred years ago.
Now, virtually nothing is wrong with it mechanically. The engine still runs like a dream, the transmission is cooperative, the suspension absorbs road imperfections like a steamroller against a pillow. The AC compressor just got a Freon charge to keep the cabin cool, an ideal move for living in Texas. There are also blemishes here and there on the exterior that come with age but otherwise, my LaCrosse is in perfect running condition.
Greatness Comes With Age
So, back to what prompted me to share this. Well, in talking about the Lucerne, the conclusion was that it was replaced by a LaCrosse that was engine-shamed for inevitably going to fail on you. While initially true, these issues were mostly ironed out by 2012, with Buick claiming it came down to owners not following routine service intervals. Backing this further is Consumer Reports naming the 2012 Buick LaCrosse as one of the 10-year-old sedans to buy. Other names dropped – via GM Authority – are the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and the Mazda6. That’s very good company to be in.
If the Lucerne marked a turning point for GM in terms of quality, the LaCrosse marked the turning point for Buick in terms of brand direction. In the past, Buick thrived in China as status-symbol cars for various political figures in the 20th century. Later, building cars locally as well in addition to joint collaborations with Chinese car company SAIC cemented its brand popularity there. It was a matter of time before its influence would reach the United States. That’s why we got those commercials of old people seeing a modern Regal and going, ‘That’s not a Buick!”
A CNBC report noted that across the Pacific, China garnered about 80 percent of global sales associated with Buick in 2018. The report also claimed that the average age of a Buick driver in China hovered between 32 and 33. These days, GM Authority says that the average age of a Buick driver in the US is in the mid-50s and reportedly ‘trending downwards.’ The Chinese impact is clear in the lineup that has made it onto American shores. The Envision, for instance, is built over there and exported to us, courtesy of SAIC. That extends to the Encore GX and latest Envista.
As for the traditional Buick sedan? It’s disappeared from American showrooms completely. The Verano – also SAIC-backed – came, and went, to plug a gap in the entry-luxury hole in Buick’s lineup. The LaCrosse got a refresh for 2014 before a third generation arrived in 2017. It never sold more than 30,000 units per year after 2015. Thus, the LaCrosse bowed out of the US in 2019, though it’s still sold in China. American cars are less popular in China these days, and that includes Buick, but the brand clearly has more cachet there than here based on sales numbers.
In fact, there’s a fourth generation now that we can’t have. What we lose in a new LaCrosse, we gained in the ones that came previously. The second-generation sedan brought such an improvement over the first one, had a design that brought greater youth appeal and forever saved a brand that stays with us today, even if we Americans only get SUVs out of it.
Some of you may note that this is not the first time a Buick owner has advocated for sedan greatness, nor I hope it to be the last. But it does mean there is a certain magic with these cars that seems to come out once the newness wears off and the paint loses its shine. As readers and writers of this site have proven, a second or third (or 27th) chance to give TLC to a car initially unloved can bring unprecedented joy, as long as you’re mindful of the impact it can have on your wallet.
So Thomas, that’s three Buicks now we can deem a hit. Now I implore you to get a Lucerne and prove its worth in ownership gold. I’ll log off now and drive my LaCrosse some more.
[Editor’s Note: I concur, the second-generation Buick LaCrosse was a hit. While reliability issues have marred the car’s legacy, it was a giant leap forward for Buick as a brand that helped justify GM’s decision to keep it around. As for my prospects of buying a Lucerne, I just bought something much dumber, so I’m out of the market for a while —TH]
(Photo credits: Buick, Tyler Anderson)
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