We were quite excited early last week to take delivery of a 2010 Buick Lacrosse. After all, when was the last time we’ve seen a truly new mid-size Buick? (Answer: 1988)
Buick hopes the LaCrosse will continue the success it has enjoyed with the Enclave crossover and establish the brand among younger, more affluent shoppers. With a base price ranging from about $27,000 to $34,000 and a choice of three engines (a four-cylinder and two V-6s), the LaCrosse, Buick says, will compete with everything from Chrysler 300s to the Lexus ES.
But as we perused the $39,325 sticker of our well-equipped CXS model, we couldn’t help but think of our Four Seasons 4.6, which has a similar price and a similar mission. Like Buick, Hyundai hopes to grab the attention of buyers who have historically snorted derisively at the idea of driving one of its cars. And although the two may differ in packaging – the LaCrosse relies on front/all-wheel drive and a direct-injection V-6 while the Genesis goes with rear-wheel drive and a V-8 – both come packed with technology and refinement in hopes of enticing near-luxury buyers.
We spent the better part of an afternoon driving – and being driven – through the finer parts of Ann Arbor to determine which of these sedans stands a better chance of capturing a slice of the luxury pie. Read on for our thoughts.
It’s been a long, long time since Buick sedans received much consideration among the moneyed elite. And yet, our “red jewel” LaCrosse looked quite at home as we pulled through a private golf course and country club in Barton Hills. Indeed, the car’s young styling team, which included both American and Chinese designers, did a good job creating a fresh and decidedly premium look for Buick. Traditional styling elements such as the sweep-spear profile, ventiports, and waterfall grille coexist well with a taut and modern–if somewhat derivative–body.
We felt just as worthy of our surroundings when we climbed into the Buick and beheld its nicely stitched dash and high-dollar materials. Buick tells us it paid special attention to the back seats, because Chinese people–who now represent more than half of the brand’s total customer base–often prefer to be chauffeured. We can report that Communist party elites will enjoy ample room to stretch out and relax as they’re shuttled around Beijing. In fact, there’s more legroom than in the Genesis, despite the LaCrosse’s shorter wheelbase.
Our particular example suffered from a few gaps and squeaks, but we’ve been assured that these early-production imperfections will be ironed out before the cars hit dealer lots. More troubling is the amount of road noise that finds its way into the cabin. It’s not excessive, but more than one editor noticed a difference compared with the Genesis, which, like the Buick, uses laminated, double-pane glass for the windshield and the front windows.
Augmenting Buick’s youthful aspirations is a vast array of technology sure to confuse elderly LeSabre owners. Our model had navigation, heated and cooled front seats, a head-up display, a backup camera, and an eleven-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo but lacked the available blind-spot assist and rear-seat DVD player. The reasonably intuitive nav interface combines a scroll wheel with a touch screen and clearly labeled buttons. Minor quibbles that we didn’t experience with the Genesis include the fact that there’s no clear way to turn off the radio without also shutting down the navigation and the somewhat distorted backup-camera display, which makes the car seem narrower than it actually is.
The LaCrosse’s commitment to technology is more than skin deep, as it rides on GM’s all-new mid-size car platform, essentially a stretched version of the one underpinning the well-regarded Opel Insignia. Although the LaCrosse clearly falls on the Lexus end of the driving-dynamics spectrum, with effortless steering and a cosseting ride, it exhibits little of the wallowing body roll and float that characterized Buicks of yore.
Our CXS came with the top-of-the-line, direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 making 280 hp. Unfortunately, customers cannot combine this engine with all-wheel drive, which will be available only with the smaller 3.0-liter V-6. The result is noticeable torque steer and wheel spin off the line–even when you aren’t trying to be a hooligan.
Base price: $33,765
As tested: $39,325
Body style: 4-door sedan
Accommodation: 5 passengers
Engine: DOHC 24-valve V-6
Displacement: 3.6 liters
Horsepower: 280 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 259 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Transmission type: 6-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 17/25 mpg (est.)
On sale: August
Whereas the Buick looked best parked in front of the country club, the Genesis reveals its incredible value and considerable polish only from behind the wheel. The Hyundai‘s faux Mercedes-Benz grille and generally anonymous exterior makes it painfully clear that the young Korean automaker lacks the heritage of premium design that Buick enjoys. And yet, our Four Seasons Genesis matches the LaCrosse feature for feature, adds to the mix rear-wheel drive and a V-8, and still comes in at just a few grand more (and it incurs only a slight fuel-economy penalty). Indeed, for $42,000, the Hyundai offers most of what you’ll get in a $65,000 Lexus LS.
Still, it’s worth noting that the Genesis 3.8, with its 290-hp V-6 and $33,250 starting price, might have made for a fairer comparison than our fully loaded V-8 model, so we won’t dwell on the fact that everyone who went from the LaCrosse to the Genesis was immediately seduced by the extra 100 hp and unmistakable eight-cylinder growl. What we will dwell on is the Hyundai’s superior delivery of that power. Whereas jabs at the Buick’s throttle almost always brought on wheel spin and torque steer, the rear-wheel-drive Genesis was almost impossible to unsettle, delivering the silky-smooth, effortless acceleration one expects of a luxury sedan. That said, Hyundai’s chassis engineers still have something to learn about tuning a premium car, as the ride can be unexpectedly harsh over bumps.
As in the Buick, there’s an arsenal of technology and plenty of room for passengers. Those sitting in back will appreciate the Hyundai’s extra width, especially when squeezing in with other adults. The metal iDrive-like controller on the center console is much more user-friendly than most similar systems, including iDrive, and it feels a bit more upscale than Buick’s setup. Some editors commented on the rather plain, Sonata-like instrument panel and the somewhat low-end switchgear–a sharp contrast with the LaCrosse’s colorful gauges and graphics–and wondered why only the driver got a cooled seat. Overall, though, we were reminded once again how much the Genesis truly offers compared with its competitors.
Base price: $38,000
As tested: $42,000
Body style: 4-door sedan
Engine: DOHC 32-valve V-8
Displacement: 4.6 liters
Horsepower: 375 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Transmission type: 6-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 17/25/19 mpg (city/highway/combined)
On sale: Now
Both cars prove that there are now strong alternatives to the usual players in the so-called near-luxury segment. The LaCrosse, when equipped and priced to match a high-end V-6 or a (as most models no doubt will be), offers a compelling mix of comfort and style. Yes, we’re citing style as a reason for buying a Buick sedan.
For just a bit more money though, it’s hard to do better than the Genesis. In either V-6 or V-8 form, you get unmatched luxury along with the dynamic benefits and added cachet of rear-wheel drive. And if your snooty friends won’t give you enough respect, find a new country club.