GM unveils makeover on Buick LaCrosse, made in KCK

The 2014 Buick LaCrosse, which has been refreshed with several styling tweaks and a bevy of new features, was unveiled Monday at the New York International Auto show.

The car, which will be made in GM’s Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan., where the current LaCrosse is manufactured, has some exterior design changes in the front and back including a more prominent grill. There will also be several advanced safety features including a cross-traffic alert and a driver’s seat that can vibrate on either side indicating the direction of a potential crash or problem.

The revamped interior will have new seats and a redesigned “center stack” with easier to use controls for air conditioning, radio and other electronics. The 2014 Lacrosse will also offer for the first time an “ultra luxury” package that includes wood trim, suede headliner and plusher leather seats.

“We evolved the interior and exterior design, increased luxury amenities and materials, and enhanced the safety and personal technologies to give customers more reasons than ever to rediscover Buick,” said Tony DiSalle, U.S. vice president of Buick Marketing, in a statement.

Buick has been working to change its image including attracting younger buyers and claims it’s the only brand to reduce the average purchaser age for the last five years.

The average age for buyers of the brand a few years ago was 63 and is down to 57. The average age of the LaCrosse, once 71, is now 62. The average age of all U.S. car buyers is currently 56.

Buick retail sales are up 80 percent since 2010 and LaCrosse sales were up 10 percent in February compared to the same month last year. The car racked up 57,000 sales in 2012 compared to 58,470 in 2011.

Edmunds.com calls the current LaCrosse a large sedan that blends modern styling and accomplished handling with traditional Buick traits like light-effort steering and a cushy ride And Consumer Reports has called it a competitive sedan but dinged it for worse than average reliability.

Arguably, the biggest threat to the LaCrosse comes from being in a competitive segment that includes the Lexus ES 350 and Lincoln MKZ which keep adding refinements and features to lure buyers.

The 2014 LaCrosse isn’t a major makeover and retains the same chassis and keeps its flowing streamline design that debuted with the 2009 model. But it aims to compete with a collection of improvements both outside and inside the cars.

There are LED daytime running lamps and LED wraparound tail lamps. Headlamp housings will have a more angular appearance. Along with the more prominent grill will be a sculpted hood and active grill shutters will now be on every Lacrosse to reduce aerodynamic drag and improve fuel efficiency.

One of the more intriguing changes is the center stack. Automakers have been criticized for making the instrument cluster too complex and hard to use which can take a driver’s attention off the road.

The Lacrosse is simplifying the cluster including reducing the number of radio buttons from 17 to 7 and digital gauges showing the cabin temperature will have larger numbers to making them easier to spot.

“If you just have a bank of buttons it make it more confusing “ said Doug Osterhoff, marketing manager for the Buick LaCrosse and Regal.

But the big news for the new LaCrosse is all the safety features, he said.

New radar and camera-based safety features include side blind zone alert, lane change alert, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, and rear cross- traffic alert when backing out of a parking space. GM’s patented Safety Alert Seat works with these features, providing seat vibration pulses along with the vehicle’s other visual or audio warnings.

Adaptive cruise control is also offered. It senses traffic in front of the car to adjust vehicle speed, including stopping the vehicle in heavy traffic and accelerating again.

The Lacrosse’s engine offerings will remain the same with a 4 cylinder combined with a mild hybrid battery and electric system to boost fuel efficiency. The V6 motor will continue to be available.

The 2014 LaCrosse will be on display at the New York auto show until April 7 and goes on sale this summer. Production of the new model is expected to start soon at the Fairfax plant.