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.
New Car Test Drive
New eAssist system improves fuel economy.
Now in the third year of its current design, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse offers attractive styling, quality materials, a comfortable ride and a bevy of available electronic gadgets. The 2012 LaCrosse comes standard with a four-cylinder engine that uses a small electric motor for improved fuel economy, a system called eAssist. A V6 engine is available with optional all-wheel drive.
Smooth and quiet, the Buick LaCrosse is a nice luxury sedan. Roomy and comfortable, it's larger than the Lexus ES and Lincoln MKZ yet it's easy to maneuver around town. Out on the highway, it glides along quietly. It's smooth but feels taut and stable, with no floating about or wandering.
New for 2012 is Buick LaCrosse eAssist, which uses a 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with a small electric motor. It's an on-demand system designed for startup acceleration, long uphill grades, highway passing maneuvers, and freeway on-ramps. The electric motor adds about 15 horsepower to the gas engine's 182 horsepower and 172 foot-pounds of torque. In addition, a Start/Stop feature shuts off the engine at intersections, then it seamlessly restarts the engine as the electric motor thrusts you forward. A regenerative braking system recharges the battery when the car is coasting or when the driver hits the brakes. You could call eAssist a mild hybrid. With all this technology going on in the background, the LaCrosse eAssist drives pretty much like a regular luxury car. It comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The 2012 LaCrosse eAssist offers a significant improvement in fuel economy with an EPA rating of 25 mpg City, 36 mpg Highway, 29 mpg Combined. Aerodynamic improvements including automatic shutters in the front grille of the LaCrosse eAssist further highway fuel economy.
2012 LaCrosse V6 models get more power than last year, thanks to a retooled version of Buick's 3.6-liter V6 that now makes 303 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque. The V6 comes on Premium and Touring trim models and is also paired with a 6-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available. Fuel economy numbers remain virtually unchanged at 17 mpg City, 27 mpg Highway, 21 mpg Combined on front-wheel drive models and 16 mpg City, 26 mpg Highway, 20 mpg Combined with all-wheel drive.
Other changes for 2012 include a revised trim level structure.
Redesigned for the 2010 model year, the Buick LaCrosse midsize sedan still looks contemporary, elegant and refined. The 2012 LaCrosse looks as fresh as the all-new 2012 Buick Verano compact sedan does. It's conservative but not conventional. Buick heritage cues are evident, such as the waterfall front grille and the signature portholes. The result is a fluid exterior design that flows around the vehicle.
The interior has a finely detailed, high-quality character. Sweeping lines, soft-touch materials and genuine stitching define the dash and doors. Chrome and wood trim are used tastefully, and the materials in the headliner and upper parts of the cabin have a premium look and feel. The navigation system features a big display and is easy to operate.
We found the LaCrosse comfortable yet still responsive. Engineers worked to give the LaCrosse a stiff structure for a quiet cabin and a smooth ride. The suspension eats up bumps and ruts in the road, unlike the previous-generation LaCrosse, but it isn't overly floaty. Braking feels confident and able. All of this makes the LaCrosse a compelling choice among premium midsize sedans.
Still, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse has stiff competition including the lauded Hyundai Genesis sedan, the luxurious Lexus ES 350, and the newly refreshed Acura TL. The LaCrosse eAssist model compares with the Lincoln MKZ hybrid and the underwhelming Lexus HS 250h sedan.
With its well executed design, quality materials and solid driving dynamics, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse is a good choice for those looking for a comfortable midsize sedan with several combinations of available features.
The Buick LaCrosse comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that uses eAssist, an 11-kilowatt electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack, for extra power. A V6 engine is optional. All models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist ($29,960) comes standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, a power driver seat, split-folding rear seats, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, OnStar, Bluetooth, seven-speaker sound system with CD player, satellite radio, auxiliary jack and USB connector, keyless entry, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels. The Convenience Group ($30,430) adds a power lumbar adjustment for the driver seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and remote ignition.
The Leather Group ($31,895) upgrades to leather upholstery, heated front seats, a full-power front passenger seat, heated sideview mirrors with built-in turn signal lamps, and foglights. The Premium I Group ($32,440) adds an auto-dimming driver-side mirror, rear parking assist and driver seat memory settings.
Premium II Group ($33,865) comes standard with the 3.6-liter V6 engine and adds perforated leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated leather- and wood-trimmed steering wheel, keyless ignition, and a power rear window sunshade. Premium III ($35,285) gets a sport-tuned suspension, an 11-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, a 120-volt power outlet, and 18-inch chrome alloy wheels. The LaCrosse Touring model ($38,270) rolls on 19-inch alloy wheels and comes with xenon headlights, an adaptive suspension, a blind spot warning system, rearview camera, a head-up display, digital music storage and a navigation system.
All-wheel drive ($2,175) is available on Leather and Premium trim levels with the V6.
Safety features standard on all 2012 Buick LaCrosse models include front-seat side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, antilock disc brakes (ABS) with brake assist, traction control, stability control and the OnStar telematics system. Optional safety features include a blind-spot alert system, rear-seat side-impact airbags, and all-wheel drive.
The Buick LaCrosse exterior was designed in North America, the chassis was developed in Germany, and the interior was designed in China. It's no surprise, then, that the LaCrosse has a definite international look to it. 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.
Cars with the eAssist powertrain have enhanced aerodynamic touches to improve fuel economy, including automatic shutters in the grille that close at road speeds over 30 mph, a front spoiler, and flat panels underneath the car to minimize chassis drag. Standard Michelin P235/50R-17 low-rolling-resistance tires further increase efficiency.
Design is thoughtful and materials are of good quality inside the 2012 Buick LaCrosse. Styled air vents on either side of the navigation screen, which mimic the design of early Buicks, have a vintage feel and an ample range of adjustment. Although there are several buttons on the center stack, they are logically placed, with clearly separate areas for climate control, audio and navigation functions.
Front seats are comfortable and have a wide range of adjustment, though, like most modern cars, more petite drivers might find themselves swallowed up in the broad, long cushions.
Leather upholstery is of good quality, though not buttery soft. Attractive wood and contrast stitching accents doors, dash and the shifter assembly. Cloth comes standard, but we haven't seen it. Cubby storage is sufficient with a center console, though the sliding, ribbed cover for it looks like it could collect dust and crumbs.
The instrument cluster looks premium, although it's tough to see the exact speed using the analog speedometer; it's best to use the electronic version on the driver information display. The optional head-up display projects the speed on the windshield, which is handy. The head-up display, or HUD, also shows compass heading and displays songs, which is handy. It also displays the outside temperature, which seems a questionable use for a head-up display. LaCrosse uses a traditional key, a welcome relief from today's keyless start systems that can create unexpected problems.
The navigation system features a massive 8-inch display that's bright and easy to read and decipher. Maps are crisp and easy to read. The rearview camera provides the driver with an excellent view of what's behind the car whenever the transmission is shifted into Reverse. It's a valuable safety feature because it can help the driver spot a child when moving in reverse. Guidelines give the driver a good idea of the path the car will take when backing and turning. The audio system is easy to operate. Buttons can be programmed to allow the driver to select among favorite AM, FM, and satellite radio stations by pressing just one button.
Heated seats warm up quickly, and the dual-zone climate control reaches the ideal temperature with haste. Like other Buick models, the LaCrosse brings fresh air into the cabin at the last selected temperature, even when the climate control is turned off, so driver and passenger must occasionally turn the system back on to make adjustments.
Front side visibility is somewhat marred by a combination of large A pillars and large, angular sideview mirrors, but models equipped with the optional blind spot warning system will help to alleviate fears. This system uses a silent light that displays on the sideview mirror, without the annoying beeps and chimes that other manufacturers employ. A steep rake in the rear window makes rear visibility adequate but not generous. The side mirrors are big and provide a good view rearward.
Rear seats offer ample legroom, but headroom is limited, making the back seat an option only for those shorter than six feet tall.
Storage space is slightly less than average for a car of this class. The 2012 Buick LaCrosse offers 13.3 cubic feet of trunk space in upper trim levels. Models with eAssist offer a mere 11 cubic feet to make room for the lithium-ion battery pack. By comparison, the Lexus ES offers 14.8 cubic feet and the Lincoln MKZ boasts 16.5 cubic feet.
We've driven the Buick LaCrosse with the V6 and with the four-cylinder engine with eAssist.
Driving and living with the LaCrosse eAssist is very much the same as with a regular car. Acceleration is a bit brisker because of the added torque of the electric motor, and that extra power is evident in passing maneuvers. Acceleration performance is adequate for merging into fast traffic or overtaking, but it lacks the verve and brightness of the V6. Cruising is quiet with the motor/generator in cruise mode. The four-cylinder engine is noisier than the V6 when accelerating. The system stops the engine at intersections to save gas and reduce emissions, then seamlessly restarts it when the driver presses down on the accelerator. The seamless restart is impressive given the roughness of the Start/Stop feature on the new BMW 3 Series. Although the 2012 Buick LaCrosse with eAssist is rated by the EPA at 29 mpg Combined, we were only able to average around 25 mpg during a four-day road trip with mostly freeway driving.
The 3.6-liter V6 allows for easy loafing about, even at low revs. But power is quickly on tap when the throttle is pinned to the floor. The engine makes a pleasantly balanced, muted mechanical whir when revved, but otherwise runs very quietly. The V6 is smoother, quieter and more responsive than the four-cylinder with eAssist. The V6 is rated at 303 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque, much bigger numbers than those produced by the four-cylinder.
All LaCrosse models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission. We were impressed with its intelligent, smooth shifting. We found the option to shift manually is hampered by the location of the shifter, which is relatively far back in the center console. Our preference was to put it in Drive and let the automatic take its cues from our throttle input.
The cabin of the LaCrosse is pleasantly quiet. Buick engineers have damped, cancelled, and isolated road and wind noise using materials like acoustic glass, liquid and fabric sound deadeners, engineered seals and tuned mounting systems.
This latest-generation LaCrosse rides smoothly. It handles big bumps well, not pogoing after big dips. As with a German car, small bumps are heard and felt but are damped and controlled. The V6 models use hydraulically assisted, variable-ratio steering, and we found it pleasingly quick and precise and surprisingly neutral considering the front-wheel-drive layout. The variable assist programming gave us a firm, controlled feeling at speed and very light effort when parking. The eAssist models come with an electric steering system with the same fast variable ratios; it's neither twitchy nor slow. The car feels very stable and goes exactly where the driver intends.
The four-wheel disc brakes are impressive both in terms of pedal effort and overall feel on the LaCrosse V6 models. They offer gentle stopping at the very top of the pedal, making it possible to bleed in braking gently, for smooth, progressive stops.
Braking with eAssist feels slightly different because the system starts to regenerate electricity slightly before it starts to slow the car, but it's not bothersome.
The 2012 Buick LaCrosse is an attractive, advanced sedan that should make the short list among buyers who insist on original design, attention to detail, world-class drivetrain components and advanced driving dynamics. It's a good choice among premium midsize sedans.
Laura Burstein contributed to this NewCarTestDrive.com report after her test drive of the 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist in California; Jim McCraw reported from Palo Alto, California.
Buick LaCrosse ($29,960), Convenience Group ($30,430), Leather Group ($31,895), Premium I Group ($32,440); V6 Premium II Group ($33,865), V6 Premium III Group ($35,285), V6 Touring Group ($38,270).
Kansas City, Kansas.
Options As Tested
Entertainment Package ($600) with 384-watt Harman/Kardon 11-speaker 5.1 Matrix surround system, 120-volt power outlet; Driver Confidence Package ($1,140) with adaptive, HID headlights, blind spot warning system, head-up display; Navigation with rearview camera ($1,345).
Buick LaCrosse Premium I ($32,440).
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