2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS

Thanks to Buick's continued success in China, we in that backwater market known as the United States get the first new mid-size sedan from the brand in more than twenty years. And it really is new. The "W-Body" platform, which debuted in the 1988 Regal, is gone, as is the 3800 V-6 engine, which dates back to the early 1960s. Instead, we have two (soon to be three) direct-injection engines and the same architecture that underpins the highly regarded, European-market Opel Insignia.

It's easy to tell for whom the LaCrosse is really intended as soon as you take in its creased exterior. Whereas the Buick Enclave has bulging, flowing, distinctly American lines, the LaCrosse, despite its traditional cues, looks as though it came from an Asian design studio. It certainly says "premium," especially in its tail, which mimics the Lexus LS, but in my opinion it lacks the boldness and character of cars like the Chrysler 300. That said, it looks much better in person than in photos, and it grew on me over the time we had it in the office.

In any event, the Chinese influence works very well inside, where we're rewarded with stitched dash trim, soft-touch materials in every conceivable place, and tasteful blue accent lighting. Fit and finish were good overall for an early-production model, although there were a few squeaks and rattles that GM will need to iron out for paying customers. The navigation and radio interface has a lot of buttons but is reasonably intuitive. My only complaint is that the "power-off" button shuts down both the radio and navigation, meaning you have to turn the volume all the way down if you want directions without music.

Our CXS model comes with the same direct-injection, 3.6-liter V-6 found in the Chevrolet Camaro and Cadillac CTS but has a slightly lower output at 280 hp. The logic behind this detuning becomes clear as soon as you stomp on the gas pedal and feel the steering wheel slip from your hands. A Haldex all-wheel-drive system will be available on the LaCrosse, but only with the smaller, 3.0-liter V-6 - that's a shame. Otherwise, the powertrain is beyond reproach, as it hauls the Buick around town with authority and refinement. The six-speed automatic serves up smooth upshifts and, in manual mode, is capable of quick, rev-matched downshifts (called up by tapping down on the shifter).

(David Zenlea cont)

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