Ahhh yes, Buick!! You all know the name, but how many of you drive one? And, if not, why not? Truth be told, I grew up with Buicks around me — in fact, a Buick LeSabre was the very first car I drove regularly when I got my permit at the ripe age of 16. Yes, we were a GM family. My grandmother had the Buick LeSabre which she began to share with me when I got my license and my grandfather drove a Chevy. It’s funny, but in a quick search for what LeSabre’s looked like at the time, somehow I don’t remember them being quite so square — it’s astonishing how things have changed in 30 years!
Above, the 2015 Buick LaCrosse 1SL AWD with Baroque Red Metallic exterior color and Alloy Wheels — Photo credit: © General Motors.
That memorable burgundy Buick LeSabre saw a lot of action back when. My grandmother, who was no fragile flower when she got behind the wheel, was known for her heavy foot and I certainly wasn’t timid around cars either — after all, two cousins owned mechanic shops, my grandfather collected old cars and also drove a truck for his business, another Chevy of course. I remember whizzing around the neighborhood in that small upstate New York town, putting the LeSabre to the teenager test.
There was no shortage of times that the car was jam packed with other teenagers, whether we were heading to the mall, a concert or the beach on a summer Saturday afternoon. The first car I owned following my successful stint with the Buick was a Chevy Chevette, so still in the “brand family”, but it was a small car, easy to handle and if I recall at the time, I purchased for a steal from an older woman who barely drove it. It was durable and reliable, holding up well through several New England winters.
Later, when I was married, we bought a Dodge Caravan, largely because my brother-in-law at the time owned a Dodge dealership and we got a great deal. Then, I got hooked on Toyota’s and Honda’s for over a decade, mainly because of their reputation for being reliable even after the 100K mark. Truth be told, as much as I love great design and talk about it passionately in every product review, I never made a car purchase based on design alone. In fact, the decision was usually tied to cost, the mileage value connection and reliability. Let’s just say that I was always pretty practical when it came to cars.
I had kinda forgotten about Buick until more recently when I started to hear their name crop up in some of my circles. Hmmm, isn’t Buick an older generation car I found myself wondering when I saw one parked in a friend’s driveway? I suppose in some parts of the country, Buick may still have that reputation if you’re over the age of 40, however could part of that be tied to the fact that so many of our parents and grandparents drove them? You might wonder why they drove them and since I had the same curiosity, I decided to ask a few people from that generation that very question – Why did they choose Buick?
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear their responses. “They were reliable,” some said. “I always trusted Buick,” said others whereas some talked about the fact that they wanted to support the American automobile industry and Buick was considered pretty chic among the General Motors line back then with Ford being the only main other American contender. It was more like a Canon/Nikon battle than a competition between the myriad of global choices today.
It’s no surprise that so many people went for Buick. After all, if you look at this 1950 beauty, I can see the appeal of flying down American highways as her shine gleamed through and I’d likely feel pretty damn proud behind the wheel, wouldn’t you?
Those of you who bike to work or own a brand new tiny sized electric car need not comment. The point I’m trying to make here is that from a design and reliable reputation perspective, Buick led the way in both at a time when the idea of a car as a status symbol was continuing to climb. People were proud to drive one and if you talk to Buick drivers today, I wouldn’t be surprised if they held the same pride.
Photo credit: Seriouswheels.com.
And so, after Chevy made a grand slam at SXSW for a couple of years in a row a few years back, and I had a boat load of fun being carted around in one of their yellow convertibles, I started to pay attention to Chevy a bit more and some of GM’s other brands. I also rented a Chevy convertible on a subsequent trip to Hawaii and had a blast zipping around the Big Island.
Above photo taken on my iPhone in Austin Texas during SXSW
That brings me back to Buick! Last year, a bunch of guys from Buick showed up at the DENT Conference aka DENT the Future, a new and leading edge technology event started by Steve Broback and Jason Preston, that focuses on a meaningful dialogue around technology and innovation and the major disciplines that touch them.
And so, I had several days in of all places, Sun Valley Idaho (another great reason to attend the event btw) to drill their marketing team on the latest and greatest behind the Buick line and try to better understand why there were there. After all, their team was smart, hip, young and cool, a far cry from my parent’s generation. They also appeared to be pretty savvy about what was happening in tech — what gives? The automobile industry and the technology industry doesn’t really go together now does it? Except for the fact that more and more auto manufacturers are integrating embedded GPS and voice recognition technology, you don’t necessarily associate the innovative start-up world with Detroit. Truth be told, times are a’ changing as the needs of drivers change.
The team brought Buick cars with them of course so how could that not add to my curiosity? This gorgeous eye-turning Buick Cascada, which was parked outside the main Sun Valley Lodge, had me at hello. She sparkled and let’s just say is leaps and bounds ahead of the Honda Accord parked in my garage at home.
Photo credit: © General Motors.
It turns out that Buick has been up to some pretty interesting things over the last several years and they’ve even been running a creative marketing campaign to change the perception of what you might think a Buick is today…..in 2015. On social media, you can follow along #ThatsABuick, which frankly is brilliant, because I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed that the stunning convertible shown above was a Buick and oh, how she shone in the winter sunlight!! Honda, move over please.
They set up a fun Auto Cross course in a parking lot near the Sun Valley Hospital, so that DENT attendees could play and well….play we did! If you’ve never driven an auto cross course, find out where you can and sign up, as it’s a boat load of fun. If you do find an opportunity to drive on one, make sure there’s a savvy race car driver in the car with you to ensure all safety measures are taken. I was fortunate because the guys Buick brought with them were not only savvy drivers and educators but handsome as well.
Photo above taken on my iPhone right after I did the course. Did I mention how badly I wanted to do it again? Who doesn’t want to improve their speed after learning some of the speed-saving tricks?
After driving through the Auto Cross, which included experiencing Buick’s fast pick up, I was keen on spending more time in a Buick. A few months later, I had the opportunity to do so during a week long trip to Rhode Island and Connecticut. Alas, there were Buicks I could test out, well, a Buick to be precise. Considering my knowledge base at the time, I thought — where should I start?
Given that we had two kids in tow for this particular trip, I decided to look at family-friendly models with plenty of legroom and space in the trunk for luggage. Safety was also a key consideration in our original selection process. We ended up going with a Buick LaCrosse, which more than met that set of criteria and a whole lot more.
Sadly, it was a typical April week in New England, where the skies were gray and wet and we didn’t want to spend a whole lotta time outside. This also meant that we wanted to get from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. While many newer cars have built in navigation systems, I’ll start by saying that my Honda does not – it’s an add-on Garmin navigation system I purchased many years ago and while it’s functional, it’s far from leading edge.
BUICK INTELLiLINK RADIO with NAVIGATION
It’s no surprise that I was thrilled with their built in Audio system and Buick IntelliLink Radio with Navigation. In the center dashboard, there’s a high-resolution, 8-inch diagonal touch screen with swipe-and-drag functionality.
New starting with the 2014 Lacrosse, is natural-voice recognition that allows your commands to be clearly understood, so you can safely make hands-free calls and request music from your connected smartphone simply by speaking. Remember that I used to lead corporate communications for Dragon Systems, now part of the Nuance brand, so had many years not just launching speech recognition products, but using them and often, participating in the back-end research, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my original voice files are still on some legacy system.
The Audio Nav system home screen is customizable (sweet!!) and gives you access to satellite and Internet radio. I loved this feature and missed it the moment we turned the Buick in at the airport!
What’s more is that the Buick IntelliLink offers SiriusXM Satellite Radio with Travel Link for entertainment, which comes standard with the car for three trial months. It includes access to over 140 channels, including commercial-free music, plus talk, sports, news, weather and more.
Also standard as noted above, is access to Pandora Internet Radio (data plan rates apply of course) and the flexible app tray allows you to organize the home screen according to your preferences and needs. They also boast using a Bose Premium Sound System which is oh so fabulous for the music lovers among us!
The cool thing about being in the passenger seat often was the opportunity to be the main controller of this advanced entertainment and navigation system. The screen was crystal clear and the colors vibrant, from the landmarks shown to the map itself. They have built-in Color Touch Navigation so you can access your exact location, real-time traffic data, driving directions and more.
Photo credit: © General Motors.
Here’s what we loved and found particularly useful in a destination we didn’t know very well, a godsend for family travel when you’re juggling ten times more tasks than when you travel solo.
- The Navigation Real-Time Traffic Feature: this came in handy when we were driving to a restaurant at night, often during rush hour traffic. The nav system not only pinpoints your current map location, but provides real-time traffic and speed-limit information so you can avoid busier routes and take alternative ones.
- Points of Interest (POI) — we found this useful when we were looking for a nearby gas station and in one occasion, needed to find a Walgreen’s. The nav system will highlight nearby restaurants, gas stations, attractions and more and display all of them automatically. You can also choose to show or hide POIs, or view them by category (Restaurants, Hotels, Shopping, Banks & Businesses, Travel, Public Places, Automotive, Leisure, Emergency and others). I have this built into my add-on nav system at home, but it’s FAR from being as extensive as the Buick built-in one, nor as reliable and updates seem to be hit or miss.
- Remember Me Sally: in addition to providing driving directions, Buick IntelliLink remembers frequently traveled routes and destinations, so for people like me who rely on lists and sticky notes to make sure they don’t forget things (and no, I’m not a luddite — I still use stickies and lists even with my iPhone in tow), the memory feature is awesome.
AUTO START FUNCTIONALITY
Call me old fashioned or blame it on the fact that I still own a not so state-of-the-art car, but I had never driven a car with the Auto Start Feature. Go figure. I know that Auto Start is integrated into newer car models and yet, in the back of my mind, I still worry about its reliability when something goes awry with its back-end electronics.
A little digging and verification confirmed that there’s a range limit on the remote start function when using the key fob. You also have the ability to use OnStar on your mobile device to start the vehicle, which does not have any distance limitations. Essentially, you could be on the other side of the world and start your car if you needed to however it does have a built-in safety precaution. Ultimately, the key needs to be in the vehicle to drive and will only run for 10 minutes. If it is not started with a key by then, it will shut off automatically.
UNIVERSAL HOME REMOTE
While obviously we didn’t need this feature while traveling, the built-in universal home remote includes a 3-channel, programmable garage door opener that can also be used with home security systems.
The 2015 LaCrosse, which is the model we were driving, employs radar and camera-based safety features with carefully developed directional alerts to help drivers quickly identify potential crash situations so they can react. They are offered in two Driver Confidence packages:
- Driver Confidence 1 — one package includes forward collision alert, lane departure warning, lane change alert, side blind zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert, following distance indicator, HID headlamps with articulating headlamps, fog lamps and head-up display.
- Driver Confidence 2 — the 2 package adds Collision Preparation (with collision mitigation braking), full-speed-range adaptive cruise control and the safety alert seat.
The collision mitigation braking feature can intervene in certain crash-imminent situations, automatically triggering emergency braking if the driver fails to respond to a previous alert. The safety alert seat vibrates on the left or right side, or both sides simultaneously, depending on the direction of the crash threat. Whether you’re traveling with your family or running around doing errands not far from home with kids in the back seat, safety is paramount, so I was thrilled to see the integration of these very important Driver Confidence packages.
The LaCrosse also offers Lane Change Alert, which warns the driver of fast-approaching vehicles in the next lane that are up to 230 feet (70 meters) behind the car. We loved this since you typically can’t see all drivers approaching you from the side, particularly if they’re in your blind spot.
Additional safety features include a standard Rear View Camera System which is explained in more detail below. It includes eight standard air bags – including rear-seat thorax air bags – StabiliTrak, Traction Control and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and intelligent brake assist.
While Head up Display (HUD) may not necessarily be listed under the Safety category (I didn’t check), we thought it was a great safety feature. It’s all in the details! HUD features include:
- The ability to project vehicle information onto the windshield where it is easy to see without looking down and away from the road. Et hem, definitely safety.
- The images are projected through the HUD lens on the driver side of the instrument panel, making it easy and seamless.
- You can adjust the display’s vertical position and brightness to suit you — gotta love the customization.
- It includes 4 full-color enhanced views featuring Speed, Audio/Phone, Navigation and Performance – more great customization.
- Other vehicle operating details can also be displayed including Tachometer, Collision Alert, Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning (Anthony loved this feature) and Low Fuel information.
The LaCrosse also has Anti-Lock Disc Brake with Brake Assist and Continuously Variable Real-Time Damping with Sport Mode (apparently available in FWD only).
Additionally, there’s Electronic Grade Braking and Electronic Limited Slip Differential, which on the AWD models, transfers power between the rear wheels to help reduce wheel slip for more sure-footed traction when accelerating on slippery surfaces, incredibly useful in America’s wet Northeast during winter and spring months.
Driver Shift Control with a 6-speed transmission allows you to switch from an automatic to a sporty, clutchless sequential manual. A simple tap-up/tap-down operation lets you shift through the gears with ease. Of course, there’s a state-of-the-art Air Bag System built in as well, which is noted above.
REAR VISIBILITY / REAR PARKING ASSIST thru REAR VISION CAMERA
Okay, while Rear Visibility may be turning into a standard feature in newer cars, I still don’t have it so I don’t have the luxury of using this potentially life-saving feature every day. I reference it above, but it’s worth a little more explanation, particularly if you haven’t used this feature before. The LaCrosse has rear visibility built in so you can easily and safely pull in and out of parking spots — parking is a breeze because of how clear your distance to other objects is marked on the screen. Apparently, rear vision camera is standard on every Buick model. Bravo!
They also offer inside rearview auto-dimming mirrors and power mirrors which are heated with LED indicators. The inside rearview mirror automatically reduces glare from oncoming headlights when the day turns to night.
4 WAY POWER LUMBAR DRIVER SEAT ADJUSTER & 8 WAY POWER-ADJUSTABLE SEATS FOR DRIVER & PASSENGER
Let’s be honest, seat adjustment is critical, particularly if you’re on the taller or shorter side. While neither of those factors applied to us, comfort most definitely does, so being able to adjust seats at a granular level was a godsend. One happy camper below in front of the Providence Marriott!
HEATED SEATS & STEERING WHEEL
I know I know — Heated Seats are increasingly becoming a standard feature, but it doesn’t discount the fact that they’re important, especially when you’re navigating waters on America’s East Coast and it’s not summer.
But, what about Heated Steering Wheels? An oh so sweet feature if you live in a cold climate and for us, a very damp Rhode Island in early April certainly qualified. During warmer months, a useful feature worth noting is their Ventilated Driver & Front Passenger Seats.
Photo credit: © General Motors.
GREAT GAS MILEAGE
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I considered mileage in our choice selection. Sure, we had to take family travel into consideration first and foremost so space, comfort and safety were all priorities, however who doesn’t pay attention to mileage value when you’re paying New York City and New England gas prices?
Gas stations weren’t exactly boasting the $1.77 a gallon prices we happily saw in Tennessee and Mississippi during our cross country trip in January. Check #WBTWxAmerica on social media if you want to see some great visuals from our journey. Let’s just say we would have been a whole lot more comfortable in a Buick!!
In the city, the LaCrosse gets 17 MPH and on the highway, 26 MPH although we swear it felt like it was much higher given how little we had to put in the tank. Two thumbs up!
We loved our Buick on-the-road experience through rainy New England in April and think the LaCrosse is a great family travel option, whether you’re on the road or at home — the feature set and luxury-added amenities will go above and beyond your every day needs and then some.
The combo navigation and entertainment screen and memory capabilities were personally my favorite features but Anthony was bowled over by the great gas mileage and access to Pandora and Satellite Radio with its sweet Bose sound.
We both found the rear visibility functionality, navigation real-time traffic feature and the ability to be alerted by cars in your blind spot, to be both chic and handy. He made a point to note how surprised he was by the fast pick-up, not something he originally expected and I have to agree given that I had the same experience during my Auto Cross drive in Sun Valley as I did in New England, despite less than stellar weather conditions.
Did I mention that we had a Snoopy Dog Mascot for the entire journey? He so wanted to drive the Buick LaCrosse as well, but we stuck to our guns and just let him swing around the wheel while we were in a safe parking spot.
To give you an idea of another color, below is the 2015 Buick LaCrosse with Light Neutral seating/Cocoa accents, offered with Soleil Keisel leather seats and Kyoto Maple wood-style.
Photo credit: © General Motors.
Below, the 2015 Buick LaCrosse 1SL AWD with Midnight Amethyst Metallic exterior color and Alloy Wheels.
Photo credit: © General Motors.
Photo credits where noted © General Motors, all other shots by Renee Blodgett.