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)
The suspension shows the benefits of its European breeding and optional active dampers in the way it soaks up road imperfections without any signs of float. Moving the shifter to the left puts the car in sport mode, which brings on quicker shifts and even firmer dampening. Still, you won't confuse the LaCrosse for a sport sedan, thanks to a bit of excess body roll through sweeping turns and light steering.
Our fully loaded tester lists for $39,325 - quite a hefty sticker for a front-wheel-drive, V-6 sedan. For only a little more, you can get a Hyundai Genesis with just as much equipment, along with rear-wheel drive and nearly 100 extra horsepower. Even looking within GM's lineup, forty grand will buy you a dynamically superior and, in my opinion, better looking and more prestigious Cadillac CTS. Having said all that, a LaCrosse CXS without all the goodies starts at a more reasonable $33,765, and the smaller V-6 lists in the high twenties (a 2.4-liter four-cylinder model will arrive in late 2009 with an even lower sticker).
GM sees the LaCrosse going after competitors ranging from the Hyundai Azera to the Lexus ES. It will be interesting to see whether Buick will be able to get those prized higher-end import buyers, as it has with the Enclave. My guess is it might have some trouble. Even as I was pulling out of the garage, the attendant sarcastically asked if I was "going to pick up girls." Yes, Buick sedans have a certain stigma. Competent and refined though it may be, the LaCrosse will have to overcome that stigma before it gets Lexus ES owners - people interested first and foremost in the prestige of their ride - to switch teams.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
This is a surprisingly nice near-luxury sedan that is a great complement to the Enclave crossover. Together, these two vehicles help justify GM's decision to save Buick. The fact that Buick is still very much a popular and prestigious brand in China, of course, also played into that decision. In fact, the LaCrosse is closely related to the Invicta concept car that debuted at the 2008 Beijing Motor Show, and GM's design center in China had a major hand in styling the new car.
Buick held several days of media drives of the new LaCrosse in the Ann Arbor area this week, so I saw the car coming and going a number of times. It looks great on the move. I would not expect it to have the same wow factor as the Chrysler 300 did when it first appeared; Buicks, after all, are supposed to be a little understated and a lot elegant. I think the new LaCrosse meets both of those standards handily.
The 3.6-liter powertrain is a winner, as it is in every other application within the GM stable. Acceleration from 60 to 100 mph on the freeway is smooth, quiet, rapid, and satisfying. Yep, there's some fight from the steering wheel if you really hammer this car away from an intersection, and I do agree with my colleagues that it would be nice if Buick offered the all-wheel-drive system with the 3.6 as well as the smaller 3.0-liter V-6.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I was quite excited to have the 2010 Buick LaCrosse for an evening. General Motors has been rolling out very competent products for the last few years and the LaCrosse is one of the last nameplates to be updated here in the U.S. Being one of the last "new" products in this offensive puts the LaCrosse in a tough place. The bar was set incredibly high with the new Cadillac CTS, the Buick Enclave, the Chevy Corvette ZR1, the Chevy Malibu, and even the GMT900 platform that underpins all of GM's full-size SUVs and pickup trucks. While the LaCrosse may have made incredible strides from its predecessor, GM didn't really show us new tricks with this car.
The interior is a pleasant place to pass the time, but there is still room for improvement. First off, I couldn't find the interior door handle after I sat in the driver's seat. It's true an owner of the car would rather quickly learn the position of this essential tool, but what about all the times you give rides to friends and family? I'd be embarrassed if I were a businessperson being driven somewhere in the LaCrosse and had to ask how to close the door. I am also not a fan of the cluttered center stack. GM used to have wonderfully simple controls for the stereo, climate control, and navigation systems. Now there's a whole lot of buttons, which look virtually identical, squeezed into a rather small area. As a spirited driver, it was impossible to make quick changes to the radio station or climate control without looking down and taking my eyes off the road. Lexus and the German competitors have better solutions here.
I'd really like to sample a LaCrosse with 18-inch wheels, as these 19-inchers make the ride a little choppy and don't really add anything worthwhile in the handling department. Sport mode, the other major component of the $800 Touring package, works well, but the entire driver-information screen displays a message indicating that sport mode is on, and it stays that way for an eternity. And when you decide to get out of sport mode, the opposite message occupies the same display for 20 or 30 more seconds. I'd much rather have a simple "S" or "Sport" light come on in the IP instead of losing the whole DIC display for a while. As an aside, why isn't the Touring Package called the Sport Package? I suspect that the 19-inch wheels would deter me from any real touring in this car.
My final complaint has to do with the incredible amount of torque steer present in this LaCrosse. If Buick's engineers couldn't dial in the suspension to get rid of the torque steer, why couldn't they offer awd as an option? This decision seems to echo the Cadillac Northstar days--all the power in the world means nothing if you can't put it to the ground. Take a page from the Audi playbook and embrace awd if doing rwd cars is the Cadillac mission. There's clearly room for both approaches in the market.
It probably sounds like I was unhappy behind the wheel of the LaCrosse, but I wasn't. The truth is the rest of the car is quite well done and my colleagues have done a good job of explaining everything GM has done right with this project. But in pointing out the LaCrosse's few shortcomings, I'm hoping it can make the leap from a very good car to a great car.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
Phil, I actually did drive a LaCrosse with eighteen-inch wheels, and it did make a slight--but important to Buick--difference in ride comfort. I'd recommend the base eighteens to all LaCrosse buyers, besides perhaps the three Buick buyers who are poseurs. The ride is nice and pillowy, but I was disappointed at how much road noise enters the cabin, particularly when driving over rough roads.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the LaCrosse. The exterior styling isn't groundbreaking but is conservatively attractive. The interior looks quite nice as well, and the car with eighteen-inch wheels seemed to lack some of the preproduction issues we noted on the car with nineteen-inchers. I do agree with others' comments that the center stack looks cluttered; it resembles some recent Acuras with their dashboards that are too busy. Still, the interior materials are quite good overall. Particularly nice are the soft-touch dash, the sideview mirror controls, and the fake wood around the console as well as the large sunroof that further helps create a pleasant driving environment. The center armrest is placed too far back for my comfort and means that access to the bins below it requires excessive stretching. I hit my knee on the dash a few times while exiting the car, too; it seems as though 5'6" shouldn't be too short to comfortably enter/exit a Buick. Another detail that the engineers seemed to miss is that when you put a rear-facing infant seat in the middle of the back row, the center armrest flips down and won't stay in its proper position (SEE PHOTO). This shouldn't create a safety issue, but my seven-month-old daughter couldn't stretch her legs as much as she can in other cars, including her grandmother's last-generation Buick LaCrosse.
I know my baby girl's grandmother will love the new LaCrosse, but Buick now has a product that should also appeal to consumers younger than fifty, consumers the brand clearly needs. So, Buick engineers have to think about the needs of younger families, as well as the brand's traditional customers.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Buick tells us that the interior of the LaCrosse was designed with the Chinese market in mind -- particularly the back seat, because so many Chinese customers are chauffeured around and only experience the car as a passenger. So when I drove the LaCrosse this weekend, I made sure to carry a couple of back-seat riders. The verdict was unanimous, in that they felt there was ample room, very comfortable seats, and nice quality upholstery and trim. They were, in fact, quite happy to let me do the chauffeuring for as long as I wanted. I also used the car to cart three sets of golf clubs, and while the trunk opening isn't large, we were able to maneuver the bags and fit them in with room to spare.
From a driver's perspective, the LaCrosse is a welcome change from previous Buicks. The 3.6-liter V-6 provides ample power through the smooth-shifting six-speed automatic, and the suspension tuning is light-years away from the couch-on-wheels approach that olders Buicks were known for. In fact, we were told that engineers from GM's former Opel unit were responsible for dialing in a more European handling profile, and it shows.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS
Base price (with destination): $33,765
Price as tested: $39,325
Touring Package $800
-Chassis real time damping and sport mode
Audio system with navigation $1995
Xenon headlamps $695
Rear seat mounted airbags $350
Head-up display $350
Red Jewel Tintcoat paint $325
Engine block heater $50
17 / 27 / 22 mpg (manufacturer estimated)
Horsepower: 280 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 259 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Weight: 4065 lb
19-in aluminum wheels
245/40R19 all-season tires