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10 years of Buick LaCrosse – long-term review

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A couple of weeks ago, my sled, a 2008 Buick LaCrosse CX with the base 3800 V6 engine, turned ten!  Both then and today, it had and has less than 70,000 miles on the odometer, respectively.

I remember driving it home after being pushed by friends and family to replace its predecessor, another W body with over 270,000 original miles and reasonably hassle free service, and savoring the new car smell.  Part of what pushed me was the impending cessation of Buick Motor Division’s production of the 3800 V6 engine, which I had in the previous car, albeit of Series I vintage.  I had been extremely pleased with everything about that “little” engine.  The other impetus was the combination of incentives from GM and the dealership that, when aggregated with the GM Card earnings, took $6,000 off the MSRP for what was then the lowest priced Buick. 

In short, the big pluses are that this LaCrosse weighs 200 to 300 pounds more than my Regal coupe of the 90s.  This comes across in the ride and even in the noise isolation in the cabin.  In the previous car, the steering was more vague than that of, say, an equivalent Pontiac and that also holds true vis a vis its the LaCrosse's stablemate of the same period, the Pontiac Grand Prix.  However, the steering is more nicely weighted.  Fit and finish are also some notches up from the previous car, with a leather wrapped steering wheel, better build quality, nicer stitching and faux wood appliqués, and more standard bells and whistles.  In looking at it for over a decade, the layout of the instrument panel is straightforward and pleasing to the eye, especially with the canted shape of the center stack coming down and curving to merge into the console. As for the automatic transmission, I believe I graduated from the GM 4T60 to the GM 4T65E, a slightly modified and electronically chipped version of a reasonably common transaxle.  And only 4 gears work just fine for me since my first car had a 3 speed GM Turbo-Hydramatic 350 transmission! The icing on the cake would be the 3800 Series III V6 engine with cast iron block and heads.  Highway jaunts with cruise control fetch 29 or 30 miles per gallon, which makes me feel somewhat environmentally conscious.  It’s all relative.  Not only that, this engine features various improvements through powder coated metals, better designed pistons, and an upgraded metal intake manifold compared to the Series II version.  This stalwart would soon be bowing out and be the last “simple,” “old school” engine that GM would build in big quantities.

The minuses are few and mostly about convenience items.  The car’s styling is somewhat timeless.  However, I only wish they had put in more blackened out bits and pieces to downplay the slightly oversized and overly chromed grille.  Along those lines, the exterior color choices weren’t particularly vast, with weak choices in metallic earth colors and metallic blues.   In the interior, the same was true.  Only pale gray and pale tan cloth seats were available on the CX.  It was obvious that, compared to the previous decade, GM had moved toward reducing choices to manage costs.  The cloth seats are firmer and have held up very well; however, they collect lint and it comes back quickly after removing it.  Finally, there is no lamp in the engine compartment.  The under hood lamp came in handy on the previous car. 

The problems I’ve had with the car pretty much mirror the problem areas displayed for the base 2008 Buick LaCrosse in Consumer Reports.  While not listed as a problem area, the engine requires the addition of some oil between oil changes.  I’d say it requires a little more than half a quart every 3,000 miles.  The TSB GM released for these engines cites even more leeway than that, which I find ridiculous.  At first, this torqued me because the previous car’s engine was tighter, all the way to almost 300,000 miles.  As long as this level of consumption remains constant, I guess I can live with that.

I thought it would make it to ten years without any seepage under the car but that hasn’t been the case.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the car was parked for over a week and there was a cold snap.  I always check the concrete area where I park it.  It had always been free of spots.  The apron finally showed some minor drips of pale pink fluid when I backed the car out.  I’m hoping it’s just the gasket in the transmission pan, which is supposedly meant to be reused at fluid changes.  I’ve already done this service twice.  Let’s see what this is all about.

The car is known to have some issues in the suspension department.  While they can occur in several areas, I believe that my intermediate steering shaft has a minute amount of play.  I have read that many GM W-body owners have this issue and that, in most cases, it’s not much more than a small annoyance.  Knowing how the steering felt beforehand, it bothers me.  I think that it will be replaced when I change the struts all the way around.  I understand that GM has put out a better designed intermediate steering shaft to replace the OEM unit.

The car also has some known demerits in its electronics.  First, I have what I believe is called a “soft code” issue.  The check engine light comes on intermittently when the weather is very cold.  When it warms up again, the light goes off and may continue to stay off, even as the next cold snap comes along.  There is no change in drivability and fuel economy when this occurs.  The possible culprits that go with the code are cheap fixes and I may look into it sooner than later.  Internet searches reveal that other owners also experience this same issue. One of two instrument panel lamps has gone out on one of the small gauges.  The bulb is inexpensive.  However, replacing it is not a simple task.  I can’t reach from under the dash and replace it.  The gauge can still be read at night, though.  Lastly, the biggest annoyance has been the failure of not one, but two, power door lock transponders.  The power door locks were hassle free in the old car, but then there was no provision to operate them remotely.  I work around it by lifting those door locks manually.  It sure makes me wish for the good old days when there were more exterior locks on car doors and on the trunk lid.

All in all, I can say that I am very satisfied with the purchase.  On some days, I beam and give the car an A.  On others, I give it an A-.  And, when I’m grumpy, I give it a B+.  However, all I have to do is look at what else is being offered in the market that addresses my automotive needs and price point and it makes me happy that I bought this entry level Buick LaCrosse over ten years ago.  On its 10th birthday, I decided to celebrate.  I think the car wanted to go for Brazilian churrascaria food that kept on coming.  And so did I!  So that’s exactly where I pointed its steering wheel.

- - - - -

The sled wanted to drive me to a Brazilian styled churrascaria for lunch on its 10th birthday.  Here it is:


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