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Buick used to be the standard-bearer for the big, bulky, powerful sedans that a generation of Americans proudly drove for more than three decades, starting in the 1950s and running into the ’70s.

The Buick brand typically featured a powerful V8 engine, a huge backseat, had a sense of style, and were major gas guzzlers. They were a status vehicle for sure, and not one that middle-class families typically had parked in their driveways.

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Buick long ago cut ties with that generation of vehicle. These days the folks at General Motors have adapted to the times, producing much smaller vehicles that don’t have the excessive power and also won’t have one filling up the gas tank so frequently.

One of the more interesting choices in this year’s Buick lineup is the LaCrosse. This midsize sedan, the largest in Buick’s lineup, can be purchased with a fairly powerful 3.6-liter, V6 with 303 horsepower, making it a sedan that will easily get up and go.

However, it that’s not how you want to roll these days, one can purchase this year’s new offering – the LaCrosse hybrid model (which replaces last year’s four-cylinder model).

That’s right, Buick is offering a hybrid sedan, and it’s a pretty good one, too. The engine won’t remind anyone of those Buicks in their glory days, but the comparison in gas mileage is laughable. The LaCrosse hybrid gets 25-36 mpg.

Buick calls its hybrid – “eAssist” – viewing it as a mild hybrid powertrain that it pairs with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with an 11-kilowatt electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. This unique combination produces 182 horsepower.

The front-wheel drive LaCrosse hybrid won’t deliver immediate power, judging by its 0-60 mph clocking of 9.2 seconds. But there are other aspects to admire, like a smooth transmission, solid passing power in highway situations, and of course the gas mileage.

The exterior styling is also a good selling point. The LaCrosse, which went through a hefty redesign two years ago, features a large, rather bold grille, and overall has a distinct appearance that should attract people new to the Buick line, while not offending loyal Buick buyers.

The exterior certainly has a “cool” factor, but not everyone is too crazy about the interior makeup. The center stack is ridiculously difficult to master. Even with considerable time in the vehicle manual, discovering how all the controls work proved annoying – they simply aren’t intuitive.

However, if you’re the techie type who likes an abundance of knobs, buttons, and controls to peer over and figure out, the interior will eventually be a plus. Frankly, the opinion here is the control system is too complicated to operate and also effectively drive the car.

Another common knock on the LaCrosse is a very small trunk area that allows for only 13.3 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s due in part to Buick’s desire to create a roomy backseat for three people, which it does. But the trunk space is inadequate and will be a burden even when doing something simple like grocery shopping.

One has to weigh this Buick’s deficiencies with its positives, which includes the driving experience. The LaCrosse operates with precision handling, and its suspension helps deliver a very smooth, quiet ride by smothering any roughness when driving on bumpy surfaces.

Billed as an entry-level luxury sedan, the LaCrosse probably isn’t ready to compete head-to-head against the Lexus ES 350 or the Acura TL. But it is a model to consider, along with the Chrysler 300, Hyundai Genesis, Volkswagen Passat and the Ford Taurus.

2012 Buick LaCrosse hybrid

  • Performance: 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, with 11-kilowatt electric motor, 182 horsepower
  • Mileage estimate: 25-36 mpg
  • Price: $30,170 to $32,935
  • Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles; drivetrain 5 years/100,000 miles; roadside assistance 5 years/100,000
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