2010 Buick LaCrosse Expert Review:Autoblog
Make no mistake, the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is the most important vehicle launched by the brand in decades. Buick, nearly consigned to the dustbin of history a few short years ago, is now one of General Motors' four remaining "core" brands. And if it weren't for the Chinese market's love affair with the marque, there's little doubt Buick would've followed Oldsmobile into the afterlife. Instead, GM is attempting to (once again) refashion the brand as a serious competitor to Acura, Lexus and Volvo, and the LaCrosse is the opening salvo in the battle for hearts, minds and market share – not to mention pocketbooks.
Technically, the "New" Buick was born two years ago when the Enclave debuted, but in reality, that was simply a new segment for the brand. In contrast, the LaCrosse marks the initial transformation of Buick's future. CEO Fritz Henderson has stated that new Buicks (and actually all GM vehicles going forward) must be more than competitive – they must be superb. They can't merely match the competition, they have to surpass them in every quantifiable way. So the launch of the LaCrosse couldn't be more fortuitous or fraught with risk. Developed before bankruptcy, bailouts and government intervention, the LaCrosse is what GM envisioned for the future of Buick over two years ago. But is it good enough to revive the marque? Time to find out.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
If this all all sounds like a case of distinction without difference, you might be right, although BMW clearly plays to a sportier demographic than, say, Volvo, even though they play in a lot of the same sandboxes. Docherty also listed Lexus as a competitor to Buick, and broadly speaking, Toyota's luxury marque is generally considered to be a competitor of BMW, Mercedes and, of course, Cadillac. By targeting Brand L, Buick is certainly following Henderson's mantra of aiming high – even if it convolutes the "premium" versus "luxury" argument somewhat.
The 2010 LaCrosse is the first North American product on GM's new global mid-size platform (Epsilon II) and it follows the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia that debuted last year. This new sedan is truly a citizen of the world, with engineers at Opel tasked with creating the basic platform and most of the chassis development, while the American team tackled the body structure and the the Chinese handled the interior and the majority of the exterior design. That last part is essential considering the Chinese see Buick as a premium brand, and they wanted to ensure the design and materials were best-in-class.
But when talk turns to the meaning of "premium" and where Buick fits into the marketplace, there's more than a bit of confusion. Time for a class in brand recalibration with Buick-GMC vice-president Susan Docherty. Docherty explains that Cadillac plays in the same "luxury" segment as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but Cadillac aims at buyers looking for something bolder and more ostentatious – a vehicle they can wear as a fashion statement. Buick, on the other hand, carries the "premium" designation, where Acura and Volvo live, offering many of the same features and functionality while carrying a bit less brand cache.
Brand distinctions aside, it's hard to argue with the LaCrosse' aesthetics. The new mid-size sedan incorporates many of the elements seen in the brand's 2007 Riviera concept, along with details from Buicks of yore that don't come across as retro or cliche. Unlike its conventional, upright and uninspired predecessor, the new LaCrosse features a lower, coupe-like roofline that makes the sedan appear significantly smaller. However, it's virtually the same size as the outgoing model, trading 1.2 inches of overall length for a comparable increase in wheelbase and, remarkably, an additional two inches of height.
The hoodline, beltline and rear deck are all taller than before, while the roof wraps down towards the sedan's haunches, counteracting the additional height by imparting a chopped greenhouse effect. Both the front and rear glass have a significantly flatter slope than before, and since the LaCrosse's sheetmetal will find a global audience, the upright front fascia meets European pedestrian crash standards, the same regulations expected to be adopted in the States. The body surfaces have more pronounced creases in the hood and flanks, including Buick's signature "sweep spear" at the rear quarter, all contributing to an elegant, modern design thoroughly suited for the 21st century.
Three trim levels are available: CX, CXL and CXS. The base CX gets a choice of 17-inch steel or alloy wheels, while the two upper levels get 18-inch rolling stock and the CXS Touring package adds 19-inch hoops along with an adaptive damping system. At launch, the CX and CXL come standard with the new 3.0-liter direct injected V6, while the 3.6-liter DI V6 is optional on the CXL and standard on the CXS. Later this fall, the 2.4-liter DI four-cylinder will be added as the standard engine in the CX and CXL, the only such engine currently available in the segment.
Starting off in a mid-level CXL, it was immediately apparent that the quality of the interior – both in materials and fit-and-finish – was well above what we've come to expect from Buick. The top of the dashboard, door panels and instrument cluster hood are covered in the sew and stitch leather normally reserved for the Cadillac brand, and it isn't exclusive to the range-topping models – it's included as standard across the range. All LaCrosse models also have leather-covered shifters and steering wheels, with the latter benefiting from a thick, easy-to-grip rim outfitted with redundant controls for the audio system. However, the Buick benefits from another form of duplicate controls.
GM Vehicle Line Executive for global mid-sized cars, Jim Federico, explained that while some customers prefer a touch interface for the navigation and audio systems, others prefer a traditional knob arrangement. To cater to as many consumers as possible, Buick provides both setups in the LaCrosse, with most of the controls accessible via the screen or a knob directly below. And for the tech adventurous, most of the systems are also accessible through voice commands by pressing a button on the steering wheel.
Because the LaCrosse has a higher cowl and the base of the windshield is so far forward, the designers created a dashboard that slants away from occupants, lending the cabin a more open, airy feel. It definitely works to counteract the effects of the high beltline, which Federico explained is becoming more popular with consumers who enjoy the "sitting in a tub" sensation (our words, not his) as it increases the occupant's sense of security.
While the explanation is a bit dubious, we were pleasantly surprised that, despite its narrow side glass, the LaCrosse never caused bouts of claustrophobia. Additionally, the sensation of spaciousness is also aided by a relatively narrow center tunnel and door armrests. The use of a standard electric park brake allowed the tunnel to be squeezed down and the shape of the door allows easier access to the seat controls on the outer edge.
The front seats are well shaped and supportive, and should hold up surprisingly well to both aggressive driving and long road trips, while Buick's maximization of interior space within the wheelbase pays dividends for passengers in the rear. For a car with comparatively modest overall dimensions (197 inches bumper-to-bumper), the LaCrosse is positively cavernous inside. Even with a six-foot driver in front, we had at least four inches of knee clearance sitting in the back. The rear seat cushions also elevate to give a theater seating effect, aiding visibility out the front. However, sitting taller in the rear makes the roof curves over the sides more noticeable, although we had no problem with clearance getting in and out of the back.
The central instrument panel juts out slightly from the fall-away dashboard, lessening the reach to controls. Unfortunately, the position of the shift lever is not quite as accommodating. All LaCrosse trims get a Sport mode with manual tap-shifting available by pushing the lever to the left when positioned in Drive. Therein lies the problem. When you pull the lever back to Drive, its position is too low and too far back to be comfortable for tap-shifting and the LaCrosse doesn't offer paddle shifters as an alternative. Given that few people actually do manual shifting of their automatics anyway, this probably won't matter to any but a handful of people – most of which may never consider a Buick in the first place. Left to their own devices, both automatics (the 3.6-liter V6 gets a different, higher torque capacity gearbox) shift with exemplary smoothness and reasonable speed. But there's one more transmission quirk in the LaCrosse.
The majority of contemporary cars we've tested with tap shift capabilities have a "Sport Shift" mode. Simply slapping the shifter into the sport gate without manually changing gears typically enables more aggressive shifts, higher shift points and automatic downshifts during deceleration. While we experienced this behavior on the LaCrosse CXS with the Touring package, the other models we tested were devoid of Sport mode, yet allowed manual shifting. Unlike similarly equipped vehicles with a manual mode, accelerating up to redline just gets you to the rev-limiter, with no automatic shift over-ride, so it's true manual control. This isn't the case on the lesser LaCrosses.
Although the steering wheel doesn't feature paddles, it does an excellent job at its primary task: controlling the car. The V6-equipped models are fitted with a variable effort hydraulic steering assist system, which, unlike most electric power assisted setups, typically provide more steering feedback on-center and through the corners. Federico explained that while developing the LaCrosse, the teams in Europe and North America tested a variety of steering and suspension setups and ultimately decided that a solid steering system, with no slop and ample feedback, would appeal to Americans just as it would to Europeans (hallelujah!). The result is simply the best steering feel we've ever experienced in a Buick. The helm is mercilessly devoid of free-play and the weighting was well-judged no matter the speed. We'll be examining this more thoroughly when we're afforded a full week with the LaCrosse, and hope that when the four-cylinder models arrive later this year (equipped with an electric assist system), the sensation will remain the same.
Both of GM's "high-feature" V6s are smooth running and highly refined, and could easily find a home in any of the foreign premium brands that compete with the LaCrosse. Driving down the road at light-to-moderate loads, the combination of NVH control and the engine's characteristics leave it virtually silent. Plant the throttle pedal and either engine exhibits a very pleasant snarl, with the larger engine motivating the LaCrosse with genuine authority under all conditions. The smaller mill, while making nearly the same horsepower as the previous port-injected version of the 3.6-liter, makes significantly less torque (217 lb-ft), particularly at the low end. The result is a more sedate response before the gearbox kicks down a notch – another situation where we were aching for a set of steering wheel-mounted paddles.
In addition to the perfectly weighed steering, we had no complaints with the suspension and chassis. The structure of the LaCrosse feels remarkably stiff and solid, and never exhibited shudders or rattles. Having 25% more torsional rigidity allows the suspension to control wheel motions without reacting to structural flex and the LaCrosse handled whatever we threw at it with aplomb. Over concrete highway expansion joints that set other vehicles pitching and bobbing, the Buick simply glided over with a muted thump. However, don't confuse compliance with a floaty, old-school American handling. The LaCrosse exhibits the sort of well-controlled body motions and minimal roll one would expect of a premium German sedan, but without the harshness.
Sitting inside the LaCrosse at speed provides a remarkably serene environment. Wind noise was virtually nonexistent and carrying on conversations with "inside voices" allowed us to hear and be heard with ease. Considering that the engineering and design teams were scattered around the world, the LaCrosse seems remarkably well integrated and should prove very competitive in the "premium mid-lux" segment described by Docherty. Whatever you call it, the Lexus ES and GS, Acura TL and Volvo S60 and S80 better look out.
When the 2010 Buick LaCrosse arrives in showrooms this August, the base CX with the 3.0-liter V6 will start at $27,835 with the CXL starting at $30,395 and the CXS going for $33,765. An absolutely maxed-out CXS just barely tops $40K with every available option. The four-cylinder model should be priced slightly less than the 3.0-liter, but it won't be de-contented – it's simply a different powertrain. Buick also ups the base warranty from the three-years/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper on most GM cars to four years/48,000 miles.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / 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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