2010 Buick LaCrosse Expert Review:Autoblog
Now that Buick has a refreshed reason to exist in a post-bankruptcy General Motors, the brand isn't sitting still with its products. Take, for example, the redesigned Buick LaCrosse, which only went on sale about nine months ago. GM is already updating the sedan's hardware. It's not that there was anything terribly wrong with the 2009 LaCrosse we first drove last spring, but GM was already working on improvements that are ready to roll out on the 2010 model year.
The first improvement to hit dealers is a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder that was announced last year. We've driven that one and will have our first impressions for you next week. However, enthusiast-minded drivers will probably be more interested in Buick's new HiPer strut front suspension. This new adaptation of the long-serving MacPherson strut is designed to almost completely eliminate torque steer while at the same time provide a more compliant ride. Make the jump to learn how it works as we take the 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS with the new HiPer strut front suspension for spin.
Photos by Sam Abuelsamid / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
The MacPherson strut has been the suspension system of choice on most mainstream cars for decades, but it's always been something of a compromise. The strut configuration dispenses with the upper control arm and steering knuckle used on more traditional setups. Instead, a strut with an integrated damper and knuckle is attached at the top of the wheel well and the outer end of the lower control arm. For most strut arrangements, a coil spring is mounted concentrically around the upper part of the strut, which is also mounted in a bearing or bushing.
The upside of this configuration is that the packaging is very compact and leaves lots of room across the engine compartment for transverse mounted engines. Thus, the vast majority of front-wheel-drive cars use strut suspensions. While the basic layout is compact, the suspension geometry is often less-than-optimal so automakers have tried a variety of modified versions of the strut.
When the wheels are turned, the entire strut rotates and the effective steering axis is formed by a line passing through the top of the strut and the lower ball joint. As a result, when the car is cornering and the wheel is being steered and/or moving up or down, the camber angle (the vertical angle between the tire and the road) changes, which affects the contact patch between the tire and the road.
The effective length of the wheel spindle is defined by the distance from the center line of the wheel/tire to the steering axis formed by the strut. The longer the spindle length the more that the suspension is upset by hitting bumps or slight wheel imbalances. A longer spindle length and bigger camber changes also exacerbate the effects of torque steer.
To help alleviate these issues, GM engineers has created what its calling the HiPer strut (High Performance). The cast aluminum knuckle that forms the lower part of the strut is replaced by a yoke. Attached to this yoke is a separate steering knuckle with its own mounting and rotation points.
What this does is move the steering axis away from the strut. As a result, the steering axis is now more vertical, at least when looked at from straight ahead. The effective spindle length has been reduced from 67 millimeters to just 44 mm. While that 23 mm doesn't sound like much, it can make a huge difference. From the side, the steering axis is still tilted back from the vertical to give some caster angle and thus self-centering when the steering wheel is released.
All of this decouples the steering geometry from the wheel motion geometry. The strut no longer rotates when the wheels are turned so additional bushings can be installed at the lower mount of the strut to give better isolation without impacting the steering feel (Check out the animated video below to see what we mean). The whole setup is designed to be substituted in place of the conventional strut without changing mounting points. The downside is that it does add some mass at the wheels. According to Vehicle Line Engineer Jim Federico, the HiPer strut setup is about four kilograms (nine pounds) heavier at each corner.
Our drive loop for the 2010 model with the HiPer strut front suspension consisted of a road with a great combination of curves and undulations. On the first straight section we did a wide open throttle launch and the car took off straight and true without even a wiggle in the steering wheel. Further on down the road through some flat curves the LaCrosse tracked exactly where it was pointed and the steering provided much improved feedback compared to the last example we drove. Federico and his team have done an admirable job of tuning the electric power assisted steering on all versions of the LaCrosse so that the weighting is just right and there are no dead spots.
When we put the gas down at the apex, the LaCrosse just pulled itself out of the corner and shot on to the next one without any drama whatsoever. The steering unwound itself smoothly and kept tracking as the car picked up speed. Where the new suspension really showed off its newfound prowess was when we crested a hill right at the apex of a corner. The suspension went from fully unloaded to fully compressed as the car landed and continued to turn in with little more than a chirp of the tires. The LaCrosse exhibited no undesirable behavior and never jerked around even when the stability control briefly kicked in.
We still probably wouldn't call the LaCrosse a sport sedan, but it exhibits dynamic characteristics we would never have expected from a Buick. The German heritage in its chassis shines through loud and clear. For now, only the front-wheel-drive CXS with the 3.6-liter V6 will get the HiPer strut setup. Since the four-cylinder and all-wheel-drive models don't have the same torque steer issues of the big V6, they will stick with the standard setup. Eventually HiPer struts will appear on other GM models starting with the Regal GS. But the LaCrosse gets it first and GM's assembly plant in Fairfax, Kansas will start building HiPer-equipped LaCrosses in May.
Photos by Sam Abuelsamid / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new, with distinctive style, advanced driving dynamics.
The all-new 2010 Buick LaCrosse is an appealing luxury sedan that manages to combine efficiency, comfort and style with a responsive driving experience. The LaCrosse is has been completely redesigned for 2010 and is distinguished by its fresh styling. Also new: The 2010 LaCrosse is available with all-wheel drive.
The LaCrosse comes standard with a new direct-injection 3.0-liter V6 with a six-speed automatic transmission that makes the most of the engine's performance and mileage potential. All LaCrosse models with front-wheel drive get an EPA-rated 17/27 mpg City/Highway. LaCrosse AWD gets 16/26.
The sporty LaCrosse CXS exclusively has a more powerful 3.6-liter V6 along with a host of features and options designed to enhance its sporty character, yet it retains comfortable driving characteristics and the same fuel economy rating.
Positioned in a higher price range than before, the all-new 2010 LaCrosse should be considered a refreshing example of what GM can do when the need for excellent product takes top priority. It's a world-class car in every sense of the term, and predictably, that advancement brings with it a higher price. Even in base trim, the new LaCrosse is not a cheap car, but then, there is nothing cheap about it.
The new exterior is contemporary, elegant and refined, with an eye toward style and individual expression. It's conservative, but not conventional. There's an edge to it. This fresh take on traditional design includes Buick heritage cues, such as the waterfall front grille and portholes, which are integrated into a sweeping, fluid exterior design that flows uninterrupted around the vehicle, with no disconnected lines. The signature portholes, while present, have been moved to the hood so as not to disturb the fluid body lines.
The interior has an uncommonly finely detailed, high-quality character. The more you look, the more you see. There are few straight lines and 90-degree joints, if any, throughout the cabin. Instead, surfaces and controls are rounded, coved, or arched. Real stitching is used to join seams of the seats, shifter boot and soft material used on the door panels and around the instruments. Chrome and wood trim are used judiciously, tastefully, and the materials in the headliner and upper parts of the cabin look and feel like premium material. Features like remote starting, rear-seat DVD and ice-blue LED interior lighting accents are available, along with in-dash navigation, heads-up display, Bluetooth, and auxiliary audio input with USB port.
Equipped with active safety and intelligent personal technologies, the LaCrosse cabin is comfy, rich in convenience features, and as safe as the most modern active safety equipment can make a car. That includes brake-based electronics like StabiliTrak electronic stability control, traction control, four-channel ABS; Electronic Brake force Distribution and Brake Assist, which promote controlled stopping and enhanced stability. There are air bags for driver and passenger at front, side, and thorax, plus head-level side curtain air bags for all rows. This is all standard equipment on all models, as are pedestrian protective features. OnStar, with automatic crash response, comes free for a year.
We found the quiet cabin and smooth ride made the LaCrosse a relaxing car to drive, yet it will respond to sporting driver input with quick downshifts and ready power. Buick engineers working in Germany made the body structure stiffer than the previous model, resulting in noticeably better suspension performance, with less body roll in the corners and less float on lumpy surfaces. And the LaCrosse now offers continuously variable smart shocks, which adjust themselves in real time. Steering has been quickened a bit to complement the new chassis, so it steers more precisely, but without inducing noticeable torque steer under hard throttle. Adding to the feeling of security are four-wheel disc brakes that seem better proportioned, with better feel at the top of the pedal, than any GM brake system we can recall.
The LaCrosse can be configured for a wide range of customer priorities. Each model is specifically developed and tuned to emphasize qualities such as sport driving, road isolation, high mileage, or enhanced luxury. Even so, all models have a high level of standard equipment, and all safety equipment is standard on all models.
The 2010 Buick LaCrosse comes in three grades: CX ($27,085), CXL ($29,645), CXL AWD ($31,820), and CXS ($33,015). The CX and CXL come with a 3.0-liter V6. CXS comes with a 3.6-liter V6. LaCrosse CX is also available with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine ($26,245).
LaCrosse CX comes standard with premium cloth upholstery, automatic air conditioning, AM/FM/XM/CD, OnStar Safe & Sound, remote keyless entry with extended range, programmable power door locks, power windows, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, heated outside mirrors with LED turn signal indicators, and 17-inch steel wheels.
LaCrosse CXL upgrades with leather heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lamps, outside rearview mirrors with puddle lamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels. An intelligent all-wheel-drive system is available for the CXL, paired with a more sophisticated H-arm rear suspension.
LaCrosse CXS features the 3.6-liter V6. Chrome plated 18-inch wheels are standard; 19-inch wheels are optional. Includes leather heated and cooled seats. An optional H-arm suspension touring package is available on CXS and CXL, which includes real-time damping and sport mode selectivity; 19-inch wheels, and lower-profile, higher grip tires.
There is a definite international look to the new 2010 Buick LaCrosse, in part because it's intended to look at home in Asian markets and overseas settings. It's distinctly original, and yet, the car remains recognizable as a Buick.
There is a notably high belt line, and the wheels are snugly enclosed at the outer ends of the body. Viewed from the side, the profile is not unlike that of a sport-compact coupe, but the LaCrosse is a roomy car, and bigger than it looks. A coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.33 adds to the sleek effect and helps improve mileage and control wind noise.
Teams on three continents participated in the design. The chassis team, based in Germany, adapted a version of the FWD/AWD platform developed for the Opel Insignia, and the interior was designed in China. The exterior design team, based in North America, took on the responsibility for creating a fresh, new Buick sheetmetal treatment.
The LaCrosse interior uses thoughtfully considered materials, based on a highly detailed design concept. The front space is framed by a low-and-away instrument panel, opening up the area for front seat occupants and creating a light, airy atmosphere. Flat, low-relief controls are clustered in an orderly, symmetrical center stack, leaving generous portions of the dash surround free and clean. The overall effect is to create a graceful, uncluttered cockpit. Styled air vents on either side of the navigation screen, which mimic the design of vintage Buicks, have a quality feel and ample range of adjustment. At dusk, ice-blue ambient lighting becomes apparent on CXS models, with LED sources located around the audio controls, along the instrument panel and in the footwells. Two overhead spotlights softly highlight the seating areas. It's a visually sophisticated way of lighting the cabin, quite unexpected and inviting.
The interior design team was based in China, where Buick cars are often purchased by owners who do not drive themselves, leading to special emphasis on interior detail and back seat accommodations. Rear legroom is generous, even with the front seats adjusted for taller drivers. The rear seat offers its own climate control system, and a seat-back-mounted DVD system is optional. A power rear sunshade is standard on the CXS.
All models benefit from Buick's QuietTuning sound control initiatives. These include use of acoustic glass, triple door seals, acoustic mats and extensive use of sound-deadening materials. Engine and suspension noise and vibrations have been isolated through use of hydraulic bushings, covers and tuned air flow systems.
LaCrosse CX and CXL models are complemented with dark poplar wood appliques, while the CXS has more technical titanium-type square trim details. Interior color choices include contrasting two-tone combinations: Cocoa/Light Cashmere and Dark Titanium/Light Titanium as well as Jet Black.
We had a pleasant summer day to drive a variety of LaCrosse models in and around the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, extending out to the country roads around Plymouth. These included plenty of two-lane backcountry roads, a smattering of stop-and-go urban congestion, and some interstate highway cruising thrown in.
We spent most of our time in a fully equipped LaCrosse CXS that, with options, pushed the sticker price north of $39,000. That gave us a chance to experience the 3.6-liter V6 and the sporty touring package, plus technology features like the heads up display, navigation system and heated and cooled leather seats.
We also had an hour in a well-optioned CXL with the 3.0-liter V6, and did not discern all that much difference in power or performance. Both powertrains allow for easy loafing about, even under 2000 rpm, and both quickly rev to 7000 rpm when the throttle is pinned to the floor. When passing, we saw the automatic transmission shift directly from 2000 rpm to 5000 rpm, on the way to 7000 rpm, accelerating smoothly. That meant we were exposed to oncoming traffic for a minimum amount of time, regardless of which V6 we drove. Both engines do need to rev to make peak power, seeming to catch fire at 4500 rpm. Both engines make a pleasantly balanced, muted mechanical whir when revved, but otherwise run very quietly.
The 3.0-liter V6 is rated at 255 hp and 252 lb-ft torque. The 3.6-liter V6 is rated at 280 hp and 259 lb-ft torque. Those numbers suggest the main power benefit of the 3.6-liter engine comes when revving at higher rpm. Both engines get an EPA-estimated 17/27 mpg.
Engine choices might not be all that crucial, however, because the six-speed transmission is actually the key component. The six-speed transmission replaces the dated four-speed automatic of the previous generation. It's intelligent, smooth shifting, and it makes the engines more responsive.
Driven as an automatic, the transmission is a gem. If you prefer to select a gear on your own, it will allow manual shifts. We were impressed with the transmission. We found using the sport mode manual is hampered by the location of the shifter, which is relatively far back in the center console. It was hard on our wrist to maintain grip on the shifter, which tells us the LaCrosse wasn't really designed for the guy who has to shift and downshift every gear on his own. Our preference was to put it in Drive and let the automatic take its cues from our throttle input.
Steering is surprisingly neutral, especially considering the front-wheel-drive layout, and pleasingly quick and precise. There are only 2.75 turns, lock-to-lock, and yet the car never feels twitchy on the road. The electronically controlled steering system has variable assist programming, so it gave us a firm, controlled feeling at speed and very light effort when parking.
We saw no apparent torque steer in normal driving, just a strong return-to-center tendency. In hard cornering at full throttle we saw the steering pull slightly to the left. In short, the car handles very well.
The CXS we drove had the touring package and we found that when driven hard, it gripped the road well and felt solid and controlled. The touring package includes the best handling components, such as H-arm rear suspension, 19-inch wheels, and continuously variable real-time damping. We're not sure if every LaCrosse would handle as well, but we can say with this equipment, a very favorable ride/handling tradeoff has been achieved. Relaxed driving on choppy roads reveals a high degree of cabin isolation from the pavement. It's the kind of ride quality intended to provide superior comfort on long, straight roads that run between endless cornfields, or at higher speeds on the interstate. We could hear tire deflection as we passed over cracked tarmac, but we did not feel anything annoying. The driving was quiet, smooth and relaxed, and yet, the car does not float or wander. The chassis is still connected with the road, conveying a definite sense of control and agility.
The brakes are impressive both in terms of pedal effort and overall feel. The system uses 12.6 inch front discs and 12.4 inch read discs, with aluminum calipers on all four corners. They offer gentle stopping at the very top of the pedal, making it possible to bleed in braking gently, for smooth, progressive stops. As we look back on GM braking systems of the past, which had good stopping power but poor pedal feel, we are all the more satisfied with this improvement. Every car should have brakes this good.
There has been a focused effort at noise control in the new LaCrosse, with mostly excellent results. Buick engineers have clearly studied sources of noise, then systematically damped, cancelled, or isolated those sources using materials like acoustic glass, liquid and fabric sound deadeners, engineered seals and tuned mounting systems. The car runs quietly to begin with, given the gentle nature of the V6 engines and tall overall gearing that permits low-rpm operation. But these sound control efforts have definitely bourn fruit, as the LaCrosse now has a sound level measured at a quiet 35.5 decibels at 70 mph. We're not sure how that compares with the competition, which is also achieving remarkable noise suppression, but we can tell you that during our drive time, the loudest noise in the cabin came from the air conditioning fan.
Recent history suggests Buick might not have made the short list among buyers who insist on original design, attention to detail, world-class chassis and drivetrain components, and advanced driving dynamics. But the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is an attractive, advanced sedan with all those qualities. Based on what we see, those who take the time to shop Buick LaCrosse will be quite pleasantly surprised.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of LaCrosse CXS and CXL models in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Buick LaCrosse CX ($27,085); CXL ($29,645), CXL AWD ($31,820); CXS ($33,015).
Kansas City, Kansas.
Options As Tested
Touring Package ($800) includes 19-inch alloy wheels with P245/40R19 all-season tires, continuously variable real time damping and sport mode selectivity; Navigation system with rearview camera ($1995) includes AM/FM/CD/DVD/XM with 40GB hard drive, MP3; Xenon HID headlamps ($695); rear seat-mounted thorax air bags ($350); Head-Up display ($350); engine block heater ($50).
Buick LaCrosse CXS ($33,015).
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