New Cars for 2010: The United States of America

Automobile Magazine Staff
John Roe

First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse
An obligation and an opportunity to redefine the brand.
By Eric Tingwall

With Saturn and Pontiac off the team, the pressure is on Buick to prove that it belongs in the company of GM's big-volume brands. Buick is GM's best-selling brand in China, but here in the United States, Buick has been the purveyor of your grandmother's car for far too long. The 2010 LaCrosse heralds a new era of fresh cars and, Buick hopes, big sales.

The LaCrosse's sheetmetal certainly telegraphs the fact that this Buick isn't just a new take on the same tired idea. The old LaCrosse's dumpy bulges and quad headlamps have been traded for flowing lines and a more prominent grille. The narrow greenhouse that tapers at the rear suggests an un-Buick-like sporting character.

The top-trim CXS is powered by the sweet 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 found in the Chevrolet Camaro and the Cadillac CTS. In the Buick, it's been detuned to 280 hp, but power delivery and refinement are still excellent, supporting the LaCrosse's mission to provide subtle luxury. However, stomping on the gas evokes a strong tug at the steering wheel as torque tries to take the reins.

Buick offers all-wheel drive on the LaCrosse, but only with the 3.0-liter V-6. That engine makes up to 255 hp, but in front-wheel-drive form it achieves the same fuel economy as the larger V-6, rated at 17 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. To help meet rising fuel economy standards, later this year Buick will add a 2.4-liter four-cylinder expected to return 30 mpg on the highway.

The interior, designed by the General's China unit, is styled with sweeping, intersecting curves in the dash, doors, and center console. GM's new navigation and infotainment unit works well and looks great, but there are an almost overwhelming number of buttons just below the screen. CXS models start at $33,765 and include an extensive amount of equipment, including keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, an eleven-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, a USB port, and a 120-volt power outlet. Our $39,325 test car also had optional rear-seat side air bags, a $350 head-up display, and an oversize sunroof.

European engineers were tapped to tune the suspension and break Buick's reputation for soft, floaty ride quality. The result is exactly what the LaCrosse deserves: a balanced ride that is conservative yet capable of being pushed. Comfort is still a large part of the formula for Buick, and the LaCrosse soaks up bumps and holes without drama. The steering, however, still needs improvement, as it suffers from too-light effort and vague on-center feel.

Buick's LaCrosse is impressive in its styling, equipment, and driving experience. This most recent effort at redefining the brand has proven that GM has the focus and ability to create unique, relevant cars. Now about that Lucerne...

On sale: Now
Base price: $27,835/$33,765 (CX/CXS)
3.0L V-6, 252/255 hp, 215/217 lb-ft;
3.6L V-6, 280 hp, 259 lb-ft;
front- or 4-wheel drive

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