First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

With GM cutting its number of brands in half, those who remain in the General's employ now have both the opportunity and the obligation to define their roles, build unique products, and sell lots of cars. As one of GM's four surviving brands, Buick owes a debt of gratitude to the Chinese market, where it is considered a premium marque. In the United States, the brand urgently needs to develop a similar cachet, and the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is an effort to do just that.

Younger skin for a younger Buick

Buick is making a conscious effort to attract younger buyers, and that shows in the new LaCrosse's styling. The grille is bolder, the headlights are more aggressive, and a strong character line on the sheetmetal sweeps along the profile. A high beltline and narrow glass reduce the visual height of the car to create a sportier stance. Chrome accents appear around the side glass, above the taillights, and on the door handles of some models. In all, it is an eye-catching new design, unexpected of Buick, that still doesn't betray the brand's image of comfortable luxury.

Interior by Asia

GM tapped its Chinese designers to treat the LaCrosse's cabin. The result is tasteful design of swooping lines crafted from quality materials. The interior is accented with ambient lighting in the dash, center console, and doors that glows ice blue.

With a base price of $33,765, the top-of-the-line CXS comes with a well-equipped, luxurious cockpit. Interior appointments include leather, heated and ventilated front seats with eight-way power adjustment for both driver and passenger, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a heated steering wheel with audio controls.

Because many Chinese car owners won't actually drive their Buicks (they'll be chauffeured, of course), GM placed extra emphasis on the rear compartment design. Legroom is expansive, and the rear seats are comfortable. While many sedans make do with a flat, benchlike rear seat, the Buick offers supportive, bucketlike seats for two passengers with room for a third on the hump. An available rear-window sunscreen raises and lowers with the push of a button next to the gear selector. All LaCrosses feature a 12-volt plug in the rear of the center console; a 120-volt AC power outlet is also available.

What's luxury without technology?

The high-end CXS comes with an extensive list of standard technology, including Bluetooth, keyless entry and ignition, an eleven-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, a USB port, and the rear AC outlet. For $350, a head-up display shows speed, rpm, outside temperature, and a compass. When listening to satellite radio, song titles appear on the windshield as the song changes, and navigation directions show up as you approach a turn. Our test car came standard with rear parking sensors and was also equipped with the $1995 navigation system, which incorporates a rear backup camera. There's also an available rear-seat DVD entertainment system with two screens mounted on the back of the front seats.

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