NOVI, MI – General Motors changed the notion of the big ole’ Buick with the arrival of the second-generation LaCrosse in 2010 by shrinking the overall size of the brand’s flagship sedan, firming up its historically marshmallow-like ride and stuffing its interior with technology and plush but contemporary materials and styling.

The 5-passenger car retains the familiar Buick power by adding GM’s excellent 3.6L V-6 engine, which with its direct-injection and variable-valve timing technology delivers a nice balance between old-school grunt and new-school fuel efficiency.

Since its launch in late 2009, the LaCrosse has accounted for 190,320 sales in the U.S., according to WardsAuto data. Not an eye-popping number, but good for about 5,300 units a month and a solid performance given Buick’s relatively modest overall U.S. sales volumes these days.

Perhaps more significantly, 42% of LaCrosse buyers are new to GM and the brand.

Globally, LaCrosse sales have exceeded 500,000 units since 2009, the auto maker says, underscoring Buick’s strength in China.

GM does not mess with a winning recipe on the ’14 LaCrosse, which receives a fairly strong midcycle enhancement for the model year that includes exterior styling tweaks using light-emitting-diode technology, a next-generation infotainment system, available advanced safety technology designed to prevent crashes and suspension revisions to bolster already excellent drivability.

But the single greatest addition for ’14 is the newly available “Ultra-Luxury Interior” that pushes the boundaries of color and trim execution in the large-premium-sedan segment.

Bringing new drama to the car’s interior, the seating surfaces are trimmed with richly-colored and buttery-smooth semi-aniline leather. The red-wine-colored material also trims the door and center console armrests. The same color adorns the top of the dashboard and the hood of the instrument panel.

Semi-aniline means the natural grains of the leather remain visible, as do some imperfections. It gives the LaCrosse interior a bespoke feel.

Imitation suede, which all auto makers use because the real stuff simply cannot withstand the mildest heat, covers the headliner and A-pillar. The treatment mimics the interior of a top-of-the-line Jaguar or Bentley.

The Ultra-Luxury Interior also distinguishes itself with authentic, but busily grained, Shadow Tamo Ash wood trim on the door panel and center console. It rings the dash and connects with the door-panel inserts to create a unified space for the driver and passenger, while Buick’s trademark ice-blue ambient lighting provides a tasteful accent.

Whether it works successfully is subjective. Some passengers might find it a bit overcooked for a car meant to convey understated luxury. Others may do backflips for the cabin.

Whatever the case, buyers will not have to check all of the boxes just to get the top-line interior. Buick smartly makes it available on all trim levels except the base model. At the other trim levels, the Ultra-Luxury Interior is available for $2,495, although buyers will have to add the sunroof and V-6 option.

Designers exercise more restraint with the already-striking exterior of the new LaCrosse. The lines of the car are flowing and sculpted, as in previous years, with a wide stance giving it a glued-to-the-road aspect.

But ’14 models do receive an updated front fascia with a bolder waterfall grille and active grille shutters that close automatically at highway speeds to reduce mpg-robbing aerodynamic drag.

A new rear fascia sports a redesigned deck lid with an integrated spoiler. Following a trend in the premium segment, the LaCrosse’s dual exhaust outlets are integrated into the lower bumper for a cleaner, more upscale appearance.

LED lighting elements are added to the front and rear lamps. In both cases, the LEDs create a “wing-like” signature that lends greater presence to the car. Bi-xenon headlamps now articulate, turning in the same direction as the front wheels for better visibility around corners.

The second generation of Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system also appears on the new LaCrosse. It reduces the number of buttons on the human-machine interface to seven from 17, while the 8-in. (20.3-cm) color touchscreen now includes a smartphone-like swipe recognition to perform functions such as audio volume.

IntelliLink is an intuitive system, with buttons laid out in logical groups and locales for audio and HVAC, and perhaps best of all it is genuinely entertaining to use.

But while the natural voice recognition works extremely well, it cannot call up music on command from Apple products such as iPhones and iPods because the device maker uses a closed architecture.

A welcome addition to IntelliLink is the new “Nav-lockout” system, allowing passengers to input a destination while the vehicle is in motion. Previously, the system, like those of most other auto makers, would lock passengers out for safety.

Front-seat headrests now are 4-way adjustable, making the active-safety feature as comfortable as it is effective.

The suspension architecture of the new Lacrosse goes unchanged, but GM engineers added a new strut mount that stiffens steering feel and improves the car’s agreeably pliable ride.

Active dampers are recalibrated to accommodate a newly available 20-in. wheel and tire package. The four electronically controlled units read the roadway and make suspension adjustments in milliseconds to provide optimal ride and handling.

In the case of FWD models, the LaCrosse retains its HiPer Strut suspension technology, which nearly eliminates the torque steer that putting 300 ponies through the front wheels might create.

LaCrosse shoppers also will find a new suite of safety technologies. The two packages, which GM started rolling out on Cadillac models last year, include items such as forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning and automatic braking to prevent crashes.

Many of the alerts come through the driver’s seat, which vibrates on the left, right or both sides depending on the direction of the threat. The vibrating seat has drawn its share of snickers from industry pundits, but it works better than any other idea out there today.

The V-6 with VVT moves the 3,900-lb. (1,700-kg) sedan with ease in both all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive configurations. But wouldn’t a range-topping super model be fun?

Fuel economy for the LaCrosse during mixed testing ranges from 21.2 mpg to 26.8 mpg (11.1-8.8 L/100 km).

Stylish, high-tech and powerful, the LaCrosse proves once again you don’t have to be old to buy a Buick; you just have be tired of old stereotypes.

jamend@wardsauto.com

'14 Buick LaCrosse
Vehicle type 5-passenger, FWD large sedan
Engine 3.6L direct injection V-6
Power (SAE net) 304 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Torque 264 lb.-ft. (358 Nm) @ 5,300 rpm
Bore x stroke  3.7 X 3.37 in. (94 X 85.6 mm)
Compression ratio 11.5:1
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 111.7 in. (283.7 cm)
Overall length 197 in. (500 cm)
Overall width 73.1 in. (185.7 cm)
Overall height 59.2 in. (150.4 cm)
Curb weight 3,896 lbs. (1,767 kg)
Base price $34,060
Fuel economy 18-28 mpg city/hwy est. (13.1-8.4 L/100 km)
Competition Acura TL, Lexus ES350, Lincoln MXZ
Pros Cons
Attractive exterior styling Polarizing Ultra-Lux interior
Powerful, efficient V-6 Pining for ‘Super’ variant
Intuitive infotainment But unfriendly to Apple