First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse I-4

Buick's latest LaCrosse is one of the new General Motors' best success stories. Sales of the nameplate have increased dramatically, and more than one-third of all buyers are new to the General Motors family. Better yet, transaction prices are up by a whopping $8500, despite the fact that sticker prices haven't significantly increased.

In the days of the old GM, we wouldn't expect much in the way of changes so soon - the LaCrosse debuted in June 2009 - but the born-again automaker seems to think there's always room for improvement. The first major addition, a four-cylinder engine, is already in production.

Hello, Ecotec; So Long, Three-Point-Oh

When the LaCrossed first appeared, buyers had two engine choices. A direct-injection 3.0-liter V-6 served as the base engine in both the high-volume CX and CXL models, while the direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 - used in the likes of the Cadillac CTS and STS - was offered only in top-spec CXS trim.

For 2010, Buick is catering to customers looking for better fuel economy by adding the direct-injection 2.4-liter Ecotec I-4 to the portfolio. This engine launched late last year in the Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain crossover, and the specifications are identical. The engine is rated at 182 horsepower at 6700 rpm, and a respectable 172 pound-feet of torque at 4700 rpm. A six-speed automatic is standard, and routes power to the front wheels.

The four-cylinder does give up a significant amount of power compared to the 3.0-liter's 255 horsepower, but there are offsetting fuel economy gains. According to the EPA, the 2.4-liter LaCrosse returns 19 mpg in the city and 30 mpg in highway driving - a considerable improvement over the 3.0-liter car's 17/26 mpg ratings.

For the 2010 model year, the Ecotec is only offered on the CX trim line, but Buick plans on expanding its availability. Come 2011, the 3.0-liter V-6 will be dropped, and the I-4 will serve as the standard engine on both the CX and the CXL. The 3.6-liter V-6 will be available on both the CXL and the CXS, and can be paired with all-wheel drive on either model.

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"The 2.4-liter delivers reasonable power and impressive fuel economy" - yeah right. The 3.0L v6 model I drove was painfully slow and it is much more powerful than the I4. The I4 fuel economy is a joke too - the I4 engine of the 2011 Sonata gets 5 more miles per gallon and it moves bigger car while producing more power.

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