Flying into LaGuardia recently for a college tour with my older son, I had booked a Hertz rental. I used my accumulated points, so the four day rental was going to be basically free.
I am a Gold Member at Hertz, which means at most locations your name is on an LED board at the appointed pick up time, with your stall number shown. Go to your stall, the keys are in the car, and drive to the exit gate.
You get whatever is in your stall, which has given me some varied choices in the recent past: a ragged Tahoe, a sparkling new Expedition with 200 miles (though the old bodystyle), a searing neon blue RAV4, a Hyundai Sonata I really liked, a Grand Caravan that reminded me why minivans are so handy, and a surprisingly enjoyable Tiguan.
At many locations, they are transitioning away from bothering with the board and assigned stalls for Gold Members. Instead, you just go to the “Gold Canopy” area and take any car you see. Then, you are billed according to what you drive out. LaGuardia has gone to this system.
So, my wife, son and I were faced with a Sonic, a couple of Malibus, a pickup truck, several minivans, and some extra cost “premium” choices like a Cayenne and E-Class that would not be covered by my points.
At the very end of the row, though, I recognized the nose of a LaCrosse. I knew from my app that it would be free with the points. Wouldn’t you rather have a Buick?
So, we hop in and go. First impressions? My wife, the Cayenne driver, remarked how nice the interior was. And it did give a great first impression. If you changed the badge on the wheel to Lexus or Cadillac, I don’t think anyone would know the difference. It gave off a quality vibe, with tasteful (though fake) wood trim, and switchgear that wasn’t obviously shared with lesser GM cars.
The leather seats were comfy and glove soft. My 6′ 3″ son thought the back seat was great.
I had to do some research online that night to figure out what we had. It was a 2018 Premium, which adds a raft of standard features like panoramic sunroof, heated seats front and rear, cooled front seats, massaging driver seat, nav (more on that later), and a heads up display I found very handy.
We set out for the 80 mile drive to the college visit. I found that while the car was easy to drive on I-95 (possibly the most stress-inducing highway in the U.S.) with the same nanny features as my ES350 (lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, etc.), I couldn’t quite get comfortable behind the wheel.
And that remained the case for the whole time we had the car. I’m 5′ 10″, pretty much an average size person with average limbs. But no matter what I did, the steering wheel felt too far away. I had the power telescope all the way out, and it still felt like a reach. If I moved the seat closer so the reach was comfortable, then I was short on leg room. Maybe more time with the car would have changed my perception, but it sure felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with triangulation of the wheel, the seat, and the pedals. I’ve never had that “reach” problem in any other car, in 32 years of driving.
The heads up display was handy. Something that sounds silly, to me, but I liked it in practice. The display can be changed to show several features, including speed, RPM’s, and radio channel. The lane keep and blind spot indicators are repeated in the heads up display, which was probably the most practical use of the HUD. You can adjust the display up or down on the windshield, according to your height and preference of how much in your field of vision it should sit.
The car has auto stop/start, and it was very smooth. Completely imperceptible, really. Vastly better than our 2016 Cayenne, in which the engine stops and starts with an abrupt clunk (I push the button to override it the times I am driving).
This smoothness is largely owed to the mild hybrid system with a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine. Apparently, when you take your foot off the brake, the electric motor gets you rolling and then the gas engine kicks in. It all happens quickly, but it’s just enough to help make the transition. And, if you “creep” while waiting at the light, or because the person in front of you turns right on red, then the electric motor does the creeping. The Cayenne V6 cranks to life each time you take your foot off the brake (which cannot be good over years of use, another reason to disable it).
While around town this hybrid setup was smooth and quiet, cruising at 70 was another matter altogether. Horrible, in a word, for a $40,000 plus sedan with luxury aspirations. It was very “buzzy” when lugging in top gear. Very loud, to the point where my wife asked me what was wrong (“Why is it making that weird noise?”). And over our 160 miles of highway use, we only achieved 25 mpg. Hardly good enough to justify putting up with a powertrain that was so out of synch with the luxury vibe put out by the rest of the car.
A 3.6 liter V6 is optional, and standard in the platform mate, Cadillac XTS. If you are interested in a LaCrosse, I’d be sure to drive both engines. I suspect the V6 gives a vastly smoother and quieter performance with little tradeoff in economy. But for the proverbial little old lady never leaving town, the 2.5 liter would be fine.
The LaCrosse rental had the standard 18 inch wheels, which gave a nice ride, firmer than the ES350 but not uncomfortable. 19 inch wheels are optional and the platform mate XTS has 20 inch wheels available as well. I know they look “cool” and I do like the looks of the larger wheels too. My local dealer has a black XTS with the 20 inch polished aluminum wheels, and it is a stunner. But, the tradeoff in the ride quality is substantial, in my opinion. The all-new 2019 Lexus ES350 comes standard with the same 17 inch wheel and tire size that has been on the ES for a decade or more. Apparently, a lot of other buyers feel the same way.
Oddities? A few. There is no external trunk button/release mechanism. While most cars have done away with a trunk keyhole, there is usually a touch pad above the license plate to open the trunk. Not here; you have to use the fob, or open the driver door and push a switch down low near the map pocket.
The gearshift was confusing. Again, something you would get used to if you owned it. But if there is one thing in a car that shouldn’t be confusing, isn’t it the gearshift? You had to hold the button on the side to select anything. Then down for D, or up and to the left for R. The shifter always springs back to the orange dot, between D and N. It doesn’t stay in D, for example, when you are in drive. Nor does it stay in R when you are in reverse. Park? That’s the little black button at the top, with the faint, unmarked “P”, like they don’t want you to find it. My mother would never get the hang of this, I thought to myself.
While the car has pushbutton start and keyless locking (push a little button on the exterior door handle), there was no keyless unlocking/entry. Usually, you touch the inside of the handle and the door unlocks, like our Cayenne, the ES, and even 2007 Bertha (the S550). The LaCrosse would never unlock with a touch. Maybe it was something wrong, it seems odd to have keyless locking and keyless start, but no keyless unlock.
The button for the pushbutton start was not round, as seems to be the industry standard. It was a parallelogram, basically. An odd shape for no other apparent purpose, than to just be different. And it made it hard to hit right. Something that daily use would get you accustomed to, I guess. But why does it have to be different from every other start button, when the difference makes it work worse?
When refueling, I couldn’t fill it all the way. It took less than I expected and shut off. No effort at “topping off” would work. Sure enough, it was showing about 1/8 of a tank less than full. I didn’t really want to pay Hertz $9.00 a gallon for what was missing, but they didn’t charge me. The helpful check-in clerk said “Yeah, all the LaCrosses do that. Ya can’t fill ’em”.
When we set out for our drive, I wanted to put the destination in the nav system. I couldn’t figure out any way to enter the address, but the screen (sensing I was confused) asked me if I wanted to call OnStar, so I did. The helpful but curt operator told me I couldn’t use the nav without an active OnStar subscription. At all! There was no way to enter an address manually, is why I couldn’t figure it out. That sure seemed odd. The ES350 will let you enter an address manually, or with a subscription you can ask the Lexus assistant to call up the destination for you (I never have used this, I just enter it manually).
Did I like the LaCrosse enough to trade my ES350? No, but if I was in the market, I’d give a LaCrosse a close look for sure. With the V6, most likely. A 2018 Premium 4 cylinder like my rental stickers for $43,000.00 or so, but the dealer in a big city near me is showing dozens of 2017 Premiums, with the V6, for $10,000.00 off on their website. I’m assuming a serious buyer in the showroom could get a little more knocked off. A loaded LaCrosse for $33,000.00 or so is a whale of a deal, in my opinion.