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2010 Buick LaCrosse Review - VIDEO ENHANCED

2010 Buick LaCrosse (select to view enlarged photo)
2010 Buick LaCrosse

SEE ALSO: Buick Specs, Prices and Comparisons-Buick Buyers Guide
EDITOR'S NOTE: There are six LaCrosse videos on this page

Second Renaissance Vehicle for Buick
By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Detroit Bureau

Cadillac went through its renaissance a few years ago with a major redefinition, bold advance in styling language, renewed products and a fresh commitment from GM to make the brand something special. Now Buick is engaged in the same process.

The initial product of the Buick renaissance was the large crossover Enclave that has sold well, in spite of the economic crisis, and attracted customers a good 20 years younger than the traditional Buick buyer. That was a good start. After all, the traditional Buick buyer is well over 70 years old and probably not destined to buy many more cars. Buick desperately needs some younger buyers.

Now comes this 2010 LaCrosse, at dealers soon, which GM hopes will be the next step in redefining Buick as a mainstream near-luxury brand. We spent the better part of a day of looking it over, talking with the LaCrosse team and driving around southeast Michigan, and I’m impressed.

This LaCrosse has little in common with the outgoing model. Yes, it’s front-wheel drive and it’s a mid-sized 5-passenger sedan, but that’s about where the similarity ends. This one is a tad larger and on an all-new platform, as well as much nicer in almost every way. It’s really sort of between mid-size and full-size. Styling queues are distinctly Buick from the waterfall grille to the faux-portholes on the hood.

The new LaCrosse is just the second vehicle built on the new GM global mid-size platform. The first is the Opel Insignia (European Car of the Year last year) from which a Chinese derivative is also built. (GM, by the way, sells more Buicks in China than they do in the US.) This architecture is claimed to be 25% stiffer than its predecessor and more sophisticated. The platform was designed and engineered in Germany, the interior was done in China and the body was styled in the US. It seems GM has - under the tutelage of Bob Lutz - truly integrated the design process among their worldwide facilities.

Click PLAY to watch the complete LaCrosse media introduction

LaCrosse, to be on sale late summer of 2009, comes in three trim levels - CX, CXL and CXS. Starting price ranges from the CX at $27,835 to $30,395 for the CXL and $33,015 for the CXS. All-wheel drive is available on the CXL for about @2,200 extra.

Two direct injected V6 engines are available with a fresh new direct injected 4-cylinder coming during the 4th quarter of 2009. The 4-cylinder will make around 182-horsepower. The 3.0-liter and 3.6-liter V6s make 255 and 280 horsepower respectively. One six-speed automatic transmission mates with the V6s and another will hook up with the 4-banger when it comes out. Zero-to-sixty times for the three are 6.8, 7.8 and 9.2 seconds respectively. EPA mileages range from 17/27 for the bigger 6, and 18/27 for the 3.0, to an estimated 20/30 for the upcoming 4-cylinder.

The LaCrosse’s low, stylish roofline made it a little difficult for me to get in and out, but I’m a bit bigger than most. While it looks shorter and stubbier than the last generation LaCrosse, it’s actually a couple inches longer, but the shallower greenhouse makes it appear humpier. Faux-portholes adorn the top edge of the fender and the character line along the side rises up at the rear quarter for a good sense of style. Visual flow is mostly uninterrupted all around the car giving it a nice balance and appeal. Wheel sizes from the standard17 to 19-inch are available.

The interior is a knockout. GM has surely come a long way in the last few generations of cars in this regard. A contrasting, two-tone theme makes it stand out from the crowd. Leather, wood and metals come together attractively and the design has that bold, aesthetic quality I loved so much in the Enclave. Best of all it’s rife with the soft ice-blue glow of ambient lighting emanating from lots of unexpected places, including a hidden horizontal band around the entire center of the dash. Way cool!

Interior room is generous both front and rear. It has interior volume about equal to Taurus and Chrysler 300.The forward sloping dash makes it feel open and airy. And, like the exterior, there is a 360-degree flow that is uninterrupted. Bold stitching on the dash and leather seats emulate more pricey interiors. The base CX comes with a decent, practical fabric seating instead of leather. The rear seats fold 60/40 for more functionality and, by jove, the rear windows go all the way down. Fit, finish and tactile quality are excellent throughout.

Trunk volume is good, cavernous actually at 13.3 cubic-feet, but the opening is quite limited. The trunk lid is designed with a gentle spring load that raises it graciously – a nice touch of attention to detail that is evident throughout the car.

Safety systems are up-to-date with stability control, traction control, lots of airbags and 1 year of OnStar service. An optional adaptive headlamp system allows about 15-degrees of lateral movement to enhance the view around corners and a ‘heads-up’ instrument display is also available. LED lights are used front and rear for more environmental friendliness and effectiveness.

Ride and handling have been developed to please Buick traditionalists on the lower-end CX model, and to impress European-style tastes with the high-end CXS version. I found the CX much too soft and gentle, but I know lots of buyers who would love it. I found the CXS just about right with a sporty feel and taught control. The optional Haldex all-wheel drive can direct as much as 85% of the torque to the rear wheels if warranted. That’s the same system used on some Saab products.

Our leisurely drive out through the Irish Hills near Ann Arbor was very pleasant. I found the LaCrosse to be remarkably quiet with the feel of a solid luxury car. Much of its design and details reminded me of the impressive Lincoln MKS. Though we didn’t charge into the curvy roads with as much aggression as we would have with a sportier sedan we did push it enough to get a feel for the suspension capabilities. The difference between the soft and compliant CX and the sporty CXS became quite evident. Both will please their constituents, I’ll bet.

I drove both the 3.0 and 3.6-liter and didn’t feel a lot of difference. Both felt more than adequate for the job of moving this relatively large car down the road expeditiously. I thought the six-speed automatic transmission took an inordinate amount of time making its shifts when in manual mode, but shifts were hardly perceptible in automatic mode. I’ll be interested to experience the new, high-content 4-cylinder engine coming later this year with a different transmission. I’m expecting good things, along with the promised 30-mpg.

LaCrosse is assembled at the Kansas City/Fairfax plant along side Malibu. Its main competitors are Lexus ES350, Acura TL, and their ilk, but I find an uncanny resemblance to the more pricey Lincoln MKS.

It’s been reliably reported that there will soon be more new Buicks. A new Regal will be a bit smaller than the LaCrosse and soon thereafter an even smaller Buick on the new Cruze architecture will be presented. They’ll surely need to maintain the upscale image to survive in this tougher-than-ever market, so execution will be carefully watched.

The usual GM warranty applies: 4 years or 50,000 miles on the whole car plus 5 years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain.

Of course, GM cannot afford to bring out any new model that is not a hit. The marketplace, in that regard, has never been more punitive. Judging from our brief first experience of the new LaCrosse, I’d say GM will do just fine with this one.

Click on the videos below for additional background information on the 2010 LaCrosse.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved