• Apr 1, 2011
The TriShield's Big Sedan Does The Electric Slide


2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist – Click above for high-res image gallery

It's hard to talk about all of the good things General Motors is doing these days without referencing the Chevrolet Volt – it is perhaps the most talked-about car on the scene, green or otherwise. In showing the world that highly efficient, practical cars aren't so far out of our reach, GM is preparing to launch a slew of fuel-sipping vehicles in the near term.

We've already spent time with the honest-to-goodness 42-mile-per-gallon Chevrolet Cruze Eco, but the next chapter of GM's efficiency story lies in Buick's eAssist mild hybrid system, coming to both its LaCrosse and Regal sedans later this year.

We recently had the chance to drive the 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist on the roads near GM's proving grounds in Milford, Michigan, and while some hybrid systems vastly change a car's overall driving experience, we walked away from our time in the Buick feeling as good as we ever have in a LaCrosse. The beauty of eAssist is that it functions in an almost entirely transparent manner, and that's a very, very good thing.


Continue reading Quick Spin: 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist...



Photos copyright ©2011 Steven J. Ewing / AOL

The LaCrosse is a sharp-looking sedan, and Buick made a point of not changing 98 percent of the car's exterior design in fitting it with the eAssist package. The only real change is the addition of model-specific 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Energy Saver A/S 245/50-series rubber. These tires were designed by the Bibendum Bunch specifically for GM, and while we're perfectly happy with the use of these energy-saving tires, we'd be thrilled if they were fitted to slightly larger wheels, if only for aesthetics. The LaCrosse's large dimensions and wheel wells designed to properly house 19-inchers at all four corners just make this eAssist-specific set look teeny-tiny.

There are no eAssist badges on the LaCrosse, either – an intentional omission that GM admits will have both positive and negative ramifications. While having a badge on the car is basically free advertising for one's green initiatives, GM didn't want to alter any other parts of the LaCrosse's design, however small. This is an interesting decision, especially from the company that was perfectly okay with fitting an obnoxious decal package to its Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade hybrid SUVs.

2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist side view2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist front view2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist rear view

Buick engineers have spent a lot of time enhancing the LaCrosse's aerodynamics, and in doing so, they've managed to cut the sedan's coefficient of drag from 0.314 to 0.30. Active air shutters are used on the lower front air intakes – the same parts as the Cruze Eco, actually – and covers have been added to the underbody to keep air flowing smoothly beneath the car. You won't notice any of this during a walk-around of the eAssist LaCrosse, but get the car up on a lift, and you'll definitely be able to point out all of the changes.

The LaCrosse's comfortable, well-appointed cabin hasn't been altered much, either. There was no sacrifice in luxury or available features, and the only big changes to note are the slightly revised gauge cluster with a revised tachometer and eco driving gauge, and new functionality built into the large LCD screen that shows the eAssist's power flow while in motion.

2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist interior2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist gauges2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist instrument panel2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist eco mode

As we previously discussed, Buick is eliminating trim levels for the 2012 LaCrosse, and optional amenities will be clumped together in large option packages. eAssist vehicles can be had with all the same kit as the V6 LaCrosse – save all-wheel drive – including leather, a panoramic sunroof, HID headlamps, navigation and so on.

The eAssist powerplant will serve as the base engine for the 2012 LaCrosse, with GM's 3.6-liter direct-injected V6 available as a no-cost option. In this case, the eAssist hardware is mated to The General's already efficient 2.4-liter Ecotec inline four-cylinder engine that produces a perfectly adequate 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. The 115-volt lithium-ion battery and 15-kilowatt electric motor combine to offer as much as 15-hp worth of assist during initial acceleration, and eAssist uses other typical mild hybrid features like regenerative braking, fuel cut-off, torque smoothing and start-stop to maximize efficiency.

2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist engine

The end result? An EPA-estimated 25/37 mpg city/highway fuel economy rating. These aren't the lofty 40-plus-mpg numbers we're getting so used to hearing about, but in the 3,835-pound LaCrosse, it's hugely impressive. No other cars in the Buick's size category even come close.

Perhaps the best part about driving the LaCrosse eAssist is how unobtrusive the system is to the car's already serene driving experience. Sure, you notice the start/stop system at lights, but there's no engine shake upon startup, and because of all the sound-deadening put into the LaCrosse's interior, you barely hear it all working. The engine turns on as soon as the brake pedal is released, so there's no delay in power upon pressing the accelerator.

It's not quick, this LaCrosse, but it accelerates smoothly and it never feels overly sluggish, the six-speed automatic transmission firing off shifts smoothly in an effort to keep engine revs as low as possible. What's more, eAssist sends electric boost to the engine – almost like a turbocharger – to eliminate the need for downshifting during mid-range acceleration. When the transmission does kick down, however, we found that the noise isn't pretty, especially higher up in the rev range. Keep steady on the accelerator, however, and it's something you won't notice.

2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist headlight2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist grille2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist wheel2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist rear spoiler

Adding eAssist doesn't really change anything else mechanically, but the special fuel-saving tires required slight readjustments to the steering and suspension system – a minor complaint. Even with its newly fitted electrically assisted steering, driving the LaCrosse is perfectly pleasant; steering response is good without feeling overboosted, and very much in-character for a big, loping sedan. The brakes have a linear, secure feel, whereas most regenerative systems are a bit touchy upon initial touch of the stop pedal. Suspension damping is perfectly tuned for a vehicle like the LaCrosse, offering a smooth, comfortable ride even over the broken pavement surrounding GM's test facility.

Buick tells us that the eAssist system is pretty much plug-and-play with GM's 2.4-liter engine, which is why we'll be seeing it on the smaller Regal later this year. Beyond that, there are plenty of options for further placement. Could we see an eAssist-equipped Verano? Maybe. What about a GMC Terrain, Chevrolet Equinox or next-gen Malibu? It's not such a far stretch.

2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist rear 3/4 view

Buick says that the 2012 LaCrosse will be priced from "around $30,000" when it hits dealerships this Fall – a price jump of over $3,000 based on the 2011 model's MSRP. And while that's quite a hike, Buick has added more features like a premium audio system as standard equipment in order to keep things competitive. It's still a decent price to pay when you consider that the LaCrosse offers solid value and eAssist represents a 25-percent gain in fuel economy.

Buyers will shortly be able to walk into a showroom and see two LaCrosse models at one price point – the eAssist focused on efficiency and the V6 geared toward a more commanding driving experience. It's a great proposition for new buyers, but with a mild hybrid system that's so streamlined and nicely integrated – not to mention one that carries a 37-mpg highway economy rating – we doubt Buick dealers will have any trouble making substantial sales strides with this new eAssist system.



Photos copyright ©2011 Steven J. Ewing / AOL


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 30 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      Impressive MPG for a almost full size sedan.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @flashpoint -

        It's front wheel drive. In no way should it have that much power. And why are you talking about the charger, a non-GM car?
        • 3 Years Ago
        I would be interested to to see what the eAssist system could do for the 3.6DI model.

        Flashpoint: In "Luxury" cars, horsepower numbers are just that, numbers. Luxury cars need prodigious amounts of torque. Which is why I would love the additional 70 lbs. ft of the eAssist system to the 3.6DI version.

        The problem with cars tuned to maximize high HP numbers, is all the mayhem that it takes to get those ponies going. Vibration a no-no in the mind of the luxury buyer, and engine noise also a no-no with your typical luxury buyer. Cars tuned to maximize torque output have an effortless (read luxurious) air / feel to them.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Exactly. Buick is using eAssist to make big, comfortable cars that get excellent mileage *for their size*.

        The next big target for eAssist should be the Enclave. With current engine, it's rated 17/24, and eAssist could bump that to something like 21/30, for an easy best in class.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Why does this system boost highway MPG? I understand the city dynamics but the highway increase is interesting, can anyone tell me how it works on the highway?
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Steve

        http://www.epa.gov/nvfel/testing/dynamometer.htm

        Testing is done using a variety of patterns. EPA "HWY" Score is a combination of the HWFET, US06 and SC03 testing schedules. Start/Stop, Regen Braking, electric offset of acceleration all play roles.

        You can also see why the same car scores higher on European and Japanese Testing cycles. (Higher amounts of gentle steady state driving)
        • 3 Years Ago
        Presumably, it smooths highway driving as well, along with capturing regen.

        On a fixed 55 mph speed run through the flatlands, eAssist won't do much of anything.

        But if you have to brake for traffic, and then speed up / go up hills, eAssist will eke out the last bits of mileage that it can.
      • 3 Years Ago
      G.M. is very impressive of late. The Buick LaCrosse, Regal and Enclave are particularly impressive! Hopefully they will take a look at redesigning the Cadillac line, it's time to see different lines on their exteriors as well.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sounds great in terms of capability and looks great in terms of styling. Even the price is very nice when you look at what you get.

      Now AB better hurry up and do a full-on review so we can get some REAL-WORLD numbers out of this system.

      Lee Beck
      • 3 Years Ago
      I almost bought a 2011 but I think I'll hold out for the eassist model. Therre are a few questions that remain for me and I'd like toknow when they'll be in showrooms. My local dealership claims not to know but he says the new models normally come out around November. One of my primary questions regards the screen between the speedometer and tach. On the 2011 this is a digital speedometer, which turns me on. The only pictures that I've seen for the eassist model has some graphics for economy. Maybe it's switchable?
      • 3 Years Ago
      "An EPA-estimated 25/37 mpg city/highway fuel economy rating."

      Wah? the non-hybrid Hyundai Sonata is rated at 25/35mpg with the stick without a hybrid system.
      Every other hybrid car of the same size beats the MPG average of this Buick.

      I also wonder how the base 4 cylinder car manages to get only 19mpg in the city. The hybrid system here provides a big improvement, but it seems to still fall short.

      Cmon GM.
      • 3 Years Ago
      This eAssist is truly one of the bright spots in GM engineering. They can't spread this technology around quick enough. Good job GM.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Totally agreed. GM needs Buick to have eAssist as standard across the line. It makes a statement about the brand, and really doesn't add too much cost in that kind of volume.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I think they made a big mistake not launching the Verano with eAssist. Could have instantly established techno-leadership in its class.

        Now it's just another extra nice FWD compact.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Sure. But every other hybrid technology has them beat for MPG.

        Good for GM; not too impressive when you compare to everyone else. Look at the Fusion hybrid; similar weight, and rated at much higher MPG.

        As for the city mileage, 25mpg is pretty bad for any hybrid. Even the larger Lexus RX H gets 32mpg in the city; and that car is a heavy non-aerodynamic brick.

        The only positive i see here is that they are using lithium ion; most likely a lithium polymer pack that can suck in a lot of regen energy; that's great. In practice it does not stack up to other hybrid systems at all.

        If the cost is low, it makes sense.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Look at a Highlander hybrid.

        It takes many thousands of dollars ($12K difference in base price, but the options levels are different) to go from 20/25 to 28/28.

        This adds very little cost to go from 19/30 to 25/37.

        I'm not sure why you brag about city mpg when talking about aerodynamics. Aerodynamics is a big factor in highway mpg, and the RX 450h gets 28 highway. Weight is the big factor in city mpg. Every time you touch the brakes, you throw energy away into the brakes. Regnerative braking saves this energy for you. The RX 450h can capture and store more energy than this can, because it has a larger battery and larger motor/generator.

        It's a trade-off. Mild hybrids just don't put up the big figures. But they also cost less. They have a place in the marketplace, they won't replace things like the Prius, they will supplement them.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I'm sure the Verano will get eAssist, sooner rather than later.

        The Enclave needs eAssist most, followed by the Verano.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have an 2011 LTZ 2.4l Equinox and wished the eAssist was available for it, it could use this help to save fuel at stop and go's. I like how the eAssist will kick in for mild accel conditions too.

      @Brian, my Equinox after 5k miles is getting 27mpg at ~75mph. I think 32 is only possible at 55!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Nice to see that GM didn't give up on the B-A-S when the first Malibu/Aura "hybrids" tanked.

      Hopefully this will spread to other models fairly cheaply due to scale - and help GM keep ahead of the CAFE curve.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I did some digging and according to Buick (through C&D), the eAssist is only 6 pounds more than the outgoing 2.4L model, due to things like a smaller gas tank, spare tire replaced with a tire inflation kit, more aluminum in the suspension, and I'm sure the smaller wheels and tires help too.

      Only 6lbs is impressive.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I like the small spoiler on the trunklid. I would be proud to drive this LaCrosse if I could afford a new car!
      • 3 Years Ago
      How much does the eAssist system weigh?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Or a better way to phrase it: how much weight does the eAssist add vs. just a 2.4L engine?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Not sure, but I'm sure the 70 lbs. ft of torque that it adds, offsets the weight penalty.
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