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2011 Buick LaCrosse four-cylinder – Click above for high-res image gallery

For the foreseeable future, the LaCrosse will remain the flagship of the Buick lineup, so at first glance, it might seem peculiar that General Motors is adding a seemingly modest inline-four cylinder engine to the sedan's powertrain list. However, at the time the LaCrosse was being developed in 2007-2008, gasoline prices in the United States had spiked to their highest levels ever, topping $4 per gallon. General Motors product planners were understandably working on the assumption that fuel prices would remain high and continue an upward trend in the coming years.

Although Buick officials won't say so explicitly, another factor that likely played into the decision to offer the 2.4-liter EcoTec four-cylinder engine was the underwhelming response to the new 3.0-liter direct injected V6. While the new smaller V6 is a smooth runner and produces similar power to the company's earlier 3.6-liter port injected V6, it was lacking in torque compared to its larger counterpart and actually got slightly inferior fuel economy. We recently had the chance to sample the new four-cylinder-powered LaCrosse CX in rural Virginia. Read on to find out if less is indeed more when it comes to Buick's handsome sedan.

Photos by Sam Abuelsamid / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

The four-pot engine going into the LaCrosse is the same direct-injected 2.4-liter EcoTec that debuted last year in the Chevrolet Equinox. Aside from the new engine, little else has changed on the LaCrosse which has only been on sale for about nine months now. Given the early acclaim that Buick has enjoyed with the LaCrosse, we weren't expecting drastic changes this early into the car's life, so the HiPer strut suspension we covered recently was quite a pleasant surprise.

As a premium brand trying to compete with the likes of Lexus and Acura, refinement remains paramount for Buick. The LaCrosse has generally been lauded for its quiet and roomy interior and high level of fit and finish. The obvious concern is that a more raucous four-cylinder could disrupt the serenity that buyers in this segment are likely to prefer. While the DI EcoTec isn't necessarily the most powerful engine in its class (the Hyundai Sonata tops it by 18 horsepower) it is a smooth runner and EcoTec chief engineer Chris Meagher discussed some of what was done to improve the refinement of the 2.4.

Previous port injected versions of the Family Two EcoTec (the larger 2.0, 2.2 and 2.4-liter variants) had used a lost foam casting process for the aluminum cylinder block. Lost foam castings are dimensionally accurate and well suited to complex parts like engine blocks. However, the resulting casting can be less dense, and when GM pioneered the process in the late-1980s for the original Saturn engines, it had issues with porosity. Those problems were eventually overcome, but newer direct injected engines have higher internal pressures and there have often been complaints about the ticking sound produced by the injectors on other DI engines.

To address this, Meagher explained that the direct injected EcoTec block is instead produced with a precision sand-casting process. The resulting part is more rigid and transmits less of the injector and combustion noise, allowing it to run quieter. On the outside of the engine, the engineers have also covered the high pressure fuel pump and injector rail with a high density foam as a noise abatement measure. Along with the variable valve timing, the 2.4 produces the same 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque as it does in the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain.

Buick started producing four-cylinder LaCrosses at the Fairfax Kansas assembly plant last week, and for the remainder of the 2010 model year, the I4 will only be available in the base CX model. When 2011 models are launched this summer, however, the engine's availability will be expanded to the mid-level CXL. Our CX tester was equipped with the fabric upholstery that looks like some sort of modern micro-fiber that ought to wear well over time. Leather surfaces aren't available in the CX, so if you want a four-cylinder LaCrosse with hide-covered thrones, you'll have to wait for the CXL this fall.

As with other LaCrosse models, the interior plastics are nicely grained and don't look cheap – even though many of the surfaces are hard to the touch. We could, however, do without some of the molded in fake stitching. The back seat is extremely roomy offering plenty of leg and head room. Our biggest complaint with the interior of the LaCrosse remains the outward visibility. The thick A-pillars make for very prominent blind-spots when turning or running down a curvy road. Further, the center stack, while visually pleasing, is a bit of a buttonfest and can be tough to get accustomed to.

When trolling around town or cruising down the highway the noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) abatement measures used on the EcoTec do their part to maintain a very quiet cabin environment. At idle, the engine is barely perceptible, with no sound or vibration evident. We were unable to detect any injector ticking either at partial load or full throttle. A large resonance chamber in the intake plumbing keeps the boominess often associated with four cylinders to a minimum.

During wide open throttle acceleration, volume levels rise as expected, but the resulting noise doesn't seem any louder than the available V6 alternatives, it just lasts a bit longer since you don't get up to speed quite as quickly. While the LaCrosse has ride and handling characteristics that reflect its German engineering heritage, no one could reasonably describe the four-cylinder as a sports sedan. Thankfully, the throttle response is smooth and easily modulated – it never feels like the car is about to jump off the line, but neither does it feel like you are waiting for something to happen.

The four has enough grunt to allow the LaCrosse to safely merge into freeway traffic. However, on a two-lane road, you might want to wait for a slightly longer straight before attempting a pass than you would with a V6 model. While gearheads like those on the Autoblog staff are almost always looking for more power and more torque, the reality is that most would-be buyers will likely be completely satisfied with the performance of the four-cylinder LaCrosse. It certainly won't be an embarrassment or rolling roadblock.

Naturally, the primary reason for opting for the four-banger is fuel economy. The LaCrosse's 3.0-liter V6 scores a somewhat disappointing 17 miles-per-gallon city and 26 mpg highway (the 3.6 gets 27 mpg highway) from the EPA. The EcoTec has been officially tagged with window sticker values of 22 mpg on the urban cycle and 30 mpg on the highway cycle – substantial improvements. Our drive time was limited, but we saw 23 mpg according to the trip computer in the car on a mixed loop that included similar parts stop and go, freeway and two-lane back roads. We'll reserve final judgment until we get to spend a longer stretch with this model.

The four-cylinder LaCrosse CX starts at $26,995 including delivery, a savings of $840 compared to the 3.0. Buick figures that about one-quarter of LaCrosse buyers will go with the smaller engine and they should be able to start taking delivery in the next few weeks. We're guessing that once the CXL 2.4 becomes available in the Fall, it will likely be the volume leader – especially if gas prices climb precipitously again.

Photos by Sam Abuelsamid / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I drive a 3 yr old car that gets 32 hwy and 30 city. What the F$%K!!! is the goverment allowing this after we bailed out these aholes. A car that gets 22 and 17. Foolish and we should not bail them out ever again. Buy Foriegn.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Probably a good engine given the 3L's failings. If GM can get a sizeable torque increase w/o too radical a cam/ECU change the mpg #s can be even better. Or somehow get a weight reduction using higher strength steel and aluminum.

      Do have to say I do not like the miles of gray interior. The black version looks nicer to me.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Interesting how these auto industry stooges choose to ignore some basics. For example, the "hot 4" option for the LaCrosse ignores the fact that that engine requires premium gas to get the performance. Like similar European engines. In other words, fuel economy is an illusion.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Its not a bad looking car, but it looks a bit blend. Looks like Buick decided to play it safe.
      • 5 Years Ago
      20 years of progress?

      1990 Buick Century I4 110hp 2769lbs 181.9in oal 104.8in wb 25.3 lb/hp 20/29 mpg

      1990 Buick LaCrosse V6 165hp 3297lbs 196.5in oal 110.8in wb 19.9 lb/hp 16/25 mpg

      2010 Vauxhall Insignia I4 180hp 2155lbs 190.1in oal 107.7in wb 11.9 lb/hp 16/32 mpg

      2010 Buick LaCrosse I4 182hp 3829lbs 196.9in oal 111.7in wb 21.0 lb/hp 22/30 mpg

      Noted that the 1990 mileage figures are much more optimistic than current data. I expect the 2010 6 speed auto model would have better acceleration over the 1990 4 speed version despite the slight advantage in lb/hp. In any case there is no reason that the use of a 4cyl engine won't provide decent performance. One could question whether the 4cyl owners might use additional throttle to meet performance expectations at the expense of engine durability. Today's engines however seem to be far better built than those in the past so this issue may be mute but I remember anecdotal reports which claimed that 4cyl/manual transmission combinations were far less trouble prone than 4cyl/autos.

      The real question is why can't we get the Insignia? Listed mpg figures are for 6sp automatics and have been adjusted for US gallons. It also delivers 0-60mph in 7.6 sec with a top end of 149mph. Swap gas for diesel and mileage goes to 24/43 (adjusted) with 9.0 0-6mph and a top speed of 134 mph. Substitute a 6M and performance and MPG makes a big jump.

      What do they know that GM US doesn't know with respect to design and the ability to keep vehicle weight down? The Insignia is smaller than the LaCrosse but not by that much, and for Christ's sake the LaCrosse weighs 1600 lbs more! European crash specs aren't that different than current US. Weights of similarly equipped BMW's appear to be equal between US and European cars although it is a challenge to determine that via their web sites.
      • 5 Years Ago
      why is everyone comparing the LaCrosse to the Sonata? its like comparing a banana to fried chicken! two different cars for two different classes. they are uncomaparable. the Sonata is made for someone who wants a Camry but actually wants true refinement and driving entertainment. a LaCrosse is for someone who wants entry level luxury refinement, a cushy/sporty ride with some fuel efficiency. not in hells way can you compare the two vehicles. and cargo and passenger volume numbers don't mean squat compared to actually sitting inside the vehicles, which i have done, and the LaCrosse is bigger feeling and seats 5 people better.

      the only problem that the LaCrosse has is that the same engine will be in the base Regal also. so my question is will there be a new fuel efficient DI engine to replace the 4 cylinder DI in the LaCrosse? with the way GM is quickly improving their cars these past few months, i would predict so.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Are you serious? The whole point is that this 4-cylinder does NOT get good fuel economy - and if you were following recent releases, you'd know that the new Sonata offers a sporty/cushy ride, a turbo 4 cylider with 274 horsepower (nearly 100 more than this Buick), and 34 mpg highway (beating the Buick once again), it has higher interior material quality, it's roomy, and could easily, EASILY be cross shopped with this entry level LaCrosse.

        This LaCrosse offers no entry level luxury...it's entry level fakery. And for the same price, the new turbo Sonata offers anything you'd want in this, and more.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Take away the name plates and emblems and it looks like the Toyoto's Camry, Honda's Accord, Nissan's Altima and Huyndia? Sonata.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I have a rental Buick LaCrosse this week. It's a nice car that one might actually buy. In fact I'm gonna get one for my dad when I want to take his keys away because the a-pillar (the parts on either side of the windshield that hold up the roof) are so wide that you cannot see anything between 2 and 4 o'clock. He'll drive it, get in a wreck, and live because it's 5-star safety rated. I'll then use that as a reason to take his keys away and pay for the car with the insurance money. I'm not joking when I say that I could not drive through the Chick-fil-a drive thru yesturday - I had to stick my head out the window.
      LaCrosse http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_PPCuJ6Z_b4A/Swh3DEVyBlI/AAAAAAAAADQ/liTWUiCBN4o/s1600/2010_Buick_LaCrosse-Live.jpg

      I feel as if Buick is trying off all their customers with this a-pillar / mirror combo. Note how the wide pillar(looks narrower in this pic) tag teams with the mirror to block all rightward vision. You feel like a horse with blinders. Tiger's wife should get him one of these.

      Also there is an alarming trend of cars becoming 1/2 SUVs so they can build both a car and SUV off the same platform. I noticed today that the LaCrosse Car-UV has the same seated/shoulder height as this memphis cruiser that was raised 8".
      • 5 Years Ago
      Mmmm, "molded in fake stitching"...

      It's pretty amazing that for less than the starting price of this buick, you can get a new hyundai sonata hybrid which has 30 more horsepower and 37 city/39 highway mpg.
        • 5 Years Ago

        Lmao, that was epic.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Quote: ""Both of your comments are ridiculous. It is well known that you are the anti-Korean troll and people don't take you seriously.""

        Anti-Korean Troll. LOL!!

        You're the troll. Another Hyundai-KIA ad agency paid-to-post troll as far as I can see.

        You folks are all over the social media sites like autoblog, trolling every article about GM and Chrysler with lies and negative B.S.

        It's a shame Hyunda-KIA can't sell their cars on their merits as opposed to trying to generate negative buzz about their competitors.

        As for being anti-Korean, I drove a KIA back when I lived in the ROK. I enjoyed Korea. As for Hyundai-KIA, I'm still unimpressed.

        I have a good idea of how a historically corrupt conglomerate like Hyundai operates.

        BTW- Is the former Hyundai Chairman out of prison yet?

        I'll see you at the next Chrysler bash-fest, troll.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Quote ""Mmmm, "molded in fake stitching"...
        It's pretty amazing that for less than the starting price of this buick, you can get a new hyundai sonata hybrid which has 30 more horsepower and 37 city/39 highway mpg.""

        Looks like the Hyundai-KIA ad agency is here with the usual shrill lies about their and other's product. LOL.

        The Sonata is smaller in nearly all interior and exterior dimensions. Not in the same class of car at all.

        Hyundai has a well established (by class action lawsuits) history of flat out lying about their engine hp numbers.

        Hyundai is now in their first year of producing hybrids. Given their spotty quality and reliability history, don't doubt that there's going to be many recalls before they manage to get it right.

        • 5 Years Ago
        Actually, there have been independent road tests of the 2.4 Sonata and mid-upper 30's on the highway was frequently reported.

        I've driven some recent Hyundais and they were quite nippy, even the 1.6 accent - the low end was much better than my 1.8 integra LS's.

        The MPG of the car is sadly lacking.. doesn't their 2.4 DI SUV/CUV return better numbers? :/
        • 5 Years Ago
        You can't get a Sonata hybrid at any price. It isn't for sale yet, it doesn't even have an official EPA rating so it'll probably 2 months or more before you can even.

        This interior is better than the Sonata interior, fake stitching or no.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The Sonata is a screaming deal, no doubt about it.

        I can't tell if the interior is $7K better because Hyundai doesn't have a SINGLE picture of the $20K Sonata interior on their site. Sheesh that's brazen. Every picture has all the optional stuff in the center stack. And all the pictures on other sites too.

        However, I did find this picture of a 2011 Sonata next to a woman in Spice Girls height platform heels and a Holstein (cow)-print dress.

        • 5 Years Ago

        The sonata hybrid isn't out yet, but because we can rely on hyundai to stay price competetive, I have no worries that their hybrid will at least start below 27k.

        And i do agree this interior is better, i especially like the shifter area and wrap-around dash/door panels, but it doesn't seem $7,000 better.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thank you nightflight! That was a well done rebuttal!
      • 5 Years Ago
      EPA estimates: Subtract 15% and you are in the ballpark. Well close anyway!

      When are we going to get to 11 mpg city??
      • 5 Years Ago
      The LaCrosse is a very nice car and is fortunately selling well for Buick. The new Regal will be a nice addition to the line-up as well. Hopefully they will bring out a new flagship "premium" sedan to replace the Lucerne before too long. Perhaps something based on the upcoming XTS?

      Anyone else here prefer the previous "Custom" and "Limited" trim level names they used to use vs. CX and CXL?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think the long-time use of "Custom" and "Limited" as trim level names for Buick does make it meaningful to the brand.

        Of course, it's also true that just about everyone from Ford and Chrysler to Hyundai, Subaru, Toyota, etc. use "Limited" as well but "Brougham" had been popular with a variety of brands many years ago too.
        • 5 Years Ago
        For trim levels? Unless it's something meaningful and romantic like "Fleetwood", "Brougham" or "Denali", letters will be fine.
        • 5 Years Ago
        There are far too many "Limited" out there on mass-market platforms with mass-market availability, so it's rather meaningless now. Besides, "Custom" implies *actual* customization which isn't done. At this point, CX is far better at denoting that the buyer checked a box on the option sheet.

        Now if Buick has a Regal, and offers proper "T-type", "GN", and "GNX" variants, that would warrant breaking out the new names. At least those unique labels haven't been whored out by every other manufacturer trying to create the illusion of specialness where there isn't any.

        "Brougham" is mostly a Cadillac thing, and would be nice to see resurrected properly.
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