2010 Buick LaCrossePosted on July 18th, 2009
Designers take a global approach to Buick’s newest sedan
By Nina Russin
The new General Motors brings with it four core brands: Chevrolet and GMC, both volume leaders, and the more upscale Buick and Cadillac. GM execs know that Buick’s turnaround hinges on bringing younger buyers into the showroom. The Enclave crossover vehicle was the first Buick designed for drivers with active lifestyles.
The 2010 LaCrosse sedan appeals to a similar market. It is the first American car built on GM’s global midsize architecture: the same platform used for the Opel Insignia. Buick is targeting two markets: the United States and China. Designers made the LaCrosse four inches longer than the Opel, translating to more room in the back seats and trunk.
The LaCrosse engineering team, based in Europe, included members from North America and Asia. A team in Shanghia designed the car’s interior, while a group out of Detroit penned the exterior. Although the LaCrosse is a huge departure from Buicks that came before it, the team kept the brand’s design heritage in mind, incorporating portholes, the waterfall grille, and sweep spears in the beltlines from classic models.
Back to the future
Having grown up in Buicks, the brand’s new direction seems as much a return to Buick’s golden era as it does a new direction. Before Buicks became fixtures in retirement communities, they were aspirational cars for middle class buyers moving out of less expensive Chevys.
I say this from personal experience, having spent my toddler years in a Chevy BelAir, that was eventually replaced by a ‘66 Buick LeSabre. My father’s LeSabre was triple black and super-fast: he drove it like a New York cabbie.
The new LaCrosse isn’t as fast as my dad’s LeSabre: the base engine is a V6, not a V8. But Buick has certainly shed its former stodginess, with a vehicle that is attractive to look at and a pleasure to drive.
For buyers with active lifestyles the LaCrosse’s ace-in-the-hole is the spacious rear seating area. Both seats fold flat to create a pass-through that creates a very long cargo floor. While sedans are never as well suited for cyclists as cars with open cargo bays, a bike with the front wheel removed will easily fit inside the trunk.
Two available engines
Vehicles that roll into dealerships next month come with a choice of two V6 engines: a 255-horsepower 3.0 liter engine, and a 3.6-liter block rated at 280 horsepower. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 182 horsepower rolls out later this year. Engineers expect the new Ecotec engine to average about 30 mpg on the highway.
All models come with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift option. Buyers can choose between front and all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive system can deliver up to 85 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels, mimicking European sport sedans.
The system can also shift torque between wheels on a single axle to enhance wet weather performance. An electronic limited slip rear differential helps the driver to maintain directional control in mud and snow.
Those readers familiar with the old LaCrosse will find that the 2010 model feels much tighter. Engineers enhanced torsional rigidity by 25 percent over the old model. All cars come with standard traction and stability control.
The upscale CXS model has real-time suspension damping that automatically adjusts to driving habits and the road surface. CSX buyers can upgrade from the standard 18-inch wheels to optional 19-inch rims, giving the car a larger footprint.
Pricing ranges from $27,085 for the base CX six-cylinder to $33,015 for the front-wheel drive CXS. The automaker is awaiting EPA fuel economy specs: engineers estimate both the 3 and 3.6-liter engines will average 17/27 mpg city/highway.
Test drive in Michigan
I had a chance to drive all three front-wheel drive models at a media event outside of Detroit. The base CX has a couple of advantages for active buyers: it’s the only grade available with cloth trim, and base price is $2000 less than the volume-leading CXL.
The CX is the only model that comes with 17-inch wheels: 18-inch rims are standard on the other two grades. But it’s well equipped out of the box with standard safety, comfort and convenience features. They include front, side and side curtain airbags, a year of free OnStar with automatic crash response, four-wheel disc brakes with antilock braking, electronic stability and traction control.
Comfort and convenience features include an eight-way power driver’s and two-way power passenger seat, automatic air conditioning with air filtration, AM/FM/CD audio system with three months of free satellite radio, and two 12-volt power points.
While the CX doesn’t have the ride and handling of the upscale CXS, the performance is certainly competent. A fully independent suspension is compliant without being mushy. Power rack-and-pinion steering has excellent on-center response at speed: I had no problems passing slower vehicles on winding two-lane roads.
The six-speed automatic transmission enhances fuel economy and performance. There’s no noticeable shift shock, except at wide-open-throttle. Standard four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a firm linear fashion.
Visibility is quite good out the front. The LaCrosse has thick C-pillars: a style very much in vogue. Stylish though they may be, they create large blind spots in back. I found myself fiddling with the outside mirrors to minimize blind spots. Fortunately Buick will be introducing a blind spot detection system as an option later this year.
Available all-wheel drive
Both the CXL and CXS are available with all-wheel drive, enhancing the car’s winter performance. Buick execs expect the CXL to be the volume leader, accounting for over half of LaCrosse sales. Both up-level grades come with standard leather trim and eighteen-inch wheels.
On the inside, the CXL adds dual-zone climate controls, heated front seats, LED turn signals in the outside mirrors, and puddle lamps.
The CXS is the sportiest of the three grades, coming standard with the 3.6-liter V-6. For buyers who can afford the initial investment, the 3.6-liter engine offers comparable fuel economy to the smaller V-6, and adds a significant amount of power.
I drove the CXS with optional nineteen-inch wheels during the event in Michigan. Of all the models, the CXS comes the closest to a European sport sedan, thanks to available real-time suspension damping. The same option package adds a sport shift mode that holds onto low gears for more spirited performance.
Standard keyless start allows the driver to enter and start the car with the key fob in his pocket. Variable assist steering provides tighter on-center response than the base model, while maintaining plenty of assist at lower speeds.
The test car was equipped with the audio upgrade that includes navigation and a rear-back-up camera. The large navigation screen is located at the top of the center stack. The CXS comes standard with an ultrasonic park assist system that uses audible signals to warn the driver about objects in back of the car.
Front halogen headlamps with fog lamps are standard. Buyers can upgrade to high-intensity adaptive headlamps that swivel up to 15 degrees according to steering input.
Overall, the LaCrosse interior is stylish and comfortable. The Chinese designers included many arches with blue backlighting to give the car an exotic look at night.
I found the array of buttons under the navigation screen confusing: I would have a hard time using the controls while driving. A mouse device that combines some of the functions the buttons perform would have been nicer.
A digital display between the two gauges includes trip meters, a compass and real-time fuel economy. My average gas mileage driving on two-lane surface roads was just over 25 mpg.
An available heads-up display is adjustable for height and intensity. It shows speed and audio selections. An oversized sunroof with a UV screen brings ambient lighting into both rows of seats.
A standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls minimizes driver distraction. A large center console bin under the armrest includes a shallow bin for electronic devices, and a deeper bin for storing compact discs. The USB port and a 12-volt power point are located inside the bins.
A 120-volt outlet behind the center console allows second-row passengers to plug in games or a computer. There are abundant storage spaces throughout the car, including a huge glovebox, and map pockets in all four doors. All passengers have access to cupholders aplenty.
Rolling out in August
The 2010 LaCrosse rolls into Buick dealerships next month. Buick builds the LaCrosse at its Kansas City Assembly plant.
Likes: A stylish sport sedan with exceptionally spacious rear seating area and trunk. The 60/40 split and folding rear seat allows drivers to extend the cargo floor for large gear. All models comes well equipped with standard safety features, including OnStar and stability control.
Dislike: Buttons in the center stack are confusing. It is hard to adjust the outside mirrors to compensate for rear blind spots.
Base price: $27,085 (CX)
As tested: $30,135
Horsepower: 255 Hp @ 6900 rpm*
Torque: 217 lbs.-ft. @ 5100 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 7.8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy (estimate): 17/27 mpg city/highway
Comments: Engine performance figures are for the 3.0-liter V6. Fuel economy figures are estimates only: EPA figures are not yet available.
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