Electrification is perhaps the automotive buzzword today, but General Motors has been offering various hybrids for more than a decade. The Buick division launched its first such vehicle back in 2012: the LaCrosse eAssist, a hybrid version of its large sedan that continued through the 2016 model year. When the third-generation LaCrosse was released for 2017, the technology was absent from the order sheet, but Buick reupped on the hybrid for 2018. The four-cylinder eAssist now is the entry-level power plant. Unlike many eco-themed vehicles that telegraph their green-leaning powertrains, however, the LaCrosse keeps its electrification on the down low.
Take a walk around the LaCrosse and there are only four badges in sight: the Buick tri-shield logo on the grille and the center of the trunklid, Buick spelled out on the left side of the trunklid, and LaCrosse on the right side. There’s nothing else on the rear or on the body sides to indicate that this car has hybrid technology under the skin. Not even a funky color choice like bright green, chrome yellow, or electric blue. Our test car was white with chrome wheels—classy but conventional.
Spawn of Saturn
This branch of GM’s family of green machines can be traced back to Saturn—remember that brand?—which launched the Vue Green Line SUV for the 2007 model year. The Green Line introduced the belt-alternator-starter (BAS) system. The BAS technology has been applied to many GM vehicles since then, incrementally improving through the years and eventually being marketed as eAssist. It uses automatic stop/start and a small amount of electric assist and regenerative braking to boost fuel economy.
In the LaCrosse, the hybrid system consists of a 2.5-liter inline-four gasoline engine, an electric motor/generator, and a 24-cell 0.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The electric motor, which GM calls the Motor Generator Unit (MGU), takes the place of a conventional alternator and is belt driven or belt driving, depending on its mode. Regenerative braking collects energy, the MGU converts it to electricity, and it’s stored in the air-cooled battery pack.
Even so, the battery impinges on trunk space. Although the rear seats fold down, the rectangular bump in the trunk floor stretches across the pass-through opening to the car’s cabin. The loss of cargo space is only one cubic foot (14 versus 15), but the disruption of the load floor makes it more of a detriment than those numbers suggest. Still, it’s less intrusive than the previous LaCrosse eAssist’s battery pack.
How Light Is Light Electrification?
The 2018 LaCrosse eAssist is EPA-rated at 25 mpg city, 35 highway, and 29 combined, which is only slightly improved from the 2016 model’s 24/35/28 ratings. We averaged 27 mpg overall and managed an impressive 38 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test. The higher-trim LaCrosse models come with a V-6 engine; when we tested a front-wheel-drive V-6 version—152 pounds heavier than this front-drive eAssist—it managed only 31 mpg on its highway run and returned 24 mpg overall.
The eAssist, which uses a six-speed automatic transmission, took 7.8 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph, which is neither glacial nor zesty. Paired with an eight-speed automatic, the V-6 in the 2017 LaCrosse (2018 V-6 LaCrosses have a nine-speed automatic) showed impressive thrust and propelled the front-wheel-drive model to 60 in 5.9 seconds; an AWD model moved off the line slightly quicker, at 5.8.
So the jump in fuel economy comes at a significant cost in acceleration. But at least the hybrid system is imperceptible in operation. The only indication that the powertrain is trying to save gas is the stop/start function, and that feature is now standard on plenty of nonhybrid vehicles.
They DO Exist
For the rare people who fondly reminisce about the times when couches on wheels roamed the streets, the LaCrosse is a nostalgic blast from the past. At nearly 200 inches long, the LaCrosse is huge, and it drives like it. The steering is slow with zero indication of what’s happening beneath the car, and around turns it feels as if the body is perched on top of a Bosu ball. It’s not floaty, however, but rather purposeful and controlled.
The disconnect between the road and the driving experience does make for an extremely serene cabin. The powertrain is smooth and quiet, road noise is effectively blocked, and bumps are easily dispatched without disturbing the ride.
The interior does not feel as premium as it should considering our test car’s near-$45,000 price. The dashboard is clean and well organized, but the layout drew some complaints, as the massive center console eats space and creates a confined feeling for the driver and front passenger. The place to be in this Buick is the loungelike back seat. Headroom and legroom in the rear are copious, the seats are plush, and the ride is supple. We’d be ecstatic if our Lyft driver pulled up in one of these.
And with its impressive gas mileage, the LaCrosse eAssist indeed would be a solid choice for a part-time taxi. For those who don’t like the sacrifices that often come with a hybrid, this Buick provides extra mileage in a comfortable and understated package.