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Friday, January 9, 2009

2010 Buick LaCrosse - On the Right Track

At a GM press conference long enough ago that we don’t remember when or where it was, GM confidently made the then-preposterous assertion that it wanted Buick to become America’s Lexus. We may have laughed and not even bothered to write it down, but we didn’t forget the idea. And in the years since, we’ve been looking for evidence of Buick’s march toward matching the enigmatic Japanese brand’s level of comfort and quality—and maybe even cachet. Could the 2010 LaCrosse, Buick’s new mid-size sedan making its debut at the 2009 NAIAS, be it?

Style . . . Really!

Buick previewed the interior and exterior styling of the LaCrosse last year at the Beijing Auto Show with the handsome Invicta concept, and we must issue credit to Buick designers for sticking near to it for production. The grille is bold but not obnoxious. The lights are aggressive but not scowling. The flowing “spear line” and hood-surface portholes are familiar but not contrived. Particularly pleasing are its low roofline, fastback rear window, and long wheelbase, which impart the LaCrosse with nearly the same stylish proportions of the Invicta. Nice job.

Open the door and you’ll find the sexiest interior in a Buick since perhaps ever. As with the Enclave crossover, Buick has managed to find the common ground between conservative and contemporary interior design and has done so with precious little of the old-lady idiom that has dominated previous Buicks. The shapes are decidedly futuristic without being intimidating, and lots of blue ambient lighting illuminates the various cubbies, door pulls, and trim pieces. And alas, while there is plenty of wood and hand-stitching on the dash and door panels, there is no front bench seat—not even as an option. There’s not even a large-font clock.

Interesting—and rather Lexus-y—features for the new LaCrosse include a head-up display, rearview camera, rear sunshade, and adaptive, steering-directed headlamps. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity, aux/USB input jacks, and in-dash navigation.

DI Inside

There will be three trim levels for the 2010 LaCrosse. The base CX will be powered by a 255-hp, 3.0-liter direct-injection V-6 driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic. The CXL will be powered by the same engine/transmission combo but have available all-wheel drive, as well as a host of comfort features including leather, dual-zone climate control, fog lamps, and 18-inch wheels. Fuel economy will be about 18 mpg city/27 highway for the 3.0-liter, according to GM.

The top-dog LaCrosse CXS will come with the 3.6-liter version of the direct-injection V-6, making 280 hp and 261 lb-ft of torque—slightly less than this engine makes in GM’s large crossovers—with front-wheel drive, active damping, available 19-inch wheels, and a few additional luxury features like heated and cooled seats. At 17/26 mpg, fuel economy for the 3.6 suffers by only 1 mpg in both city and highway cycles compared with the smaller motor. That’s some good math in our book, although the absence of available all-wheel drive on the CXS is puzzling.

Shot Across Lexus’s Bow

“The new LaCrosse was created with great attention to detail, craftsmanship, and advanced technology,” said Susan Docherty, Buick-Pontiac-GMC vice president. “It builds on the success of Enclave as the next step in Buick’s revitalization. And, as with Enclave, our goal is to attract a whole new buyer to our dealerships for LaCrosse.”

After it goes into production at GM’s Kansas City, Kansas, assembly plant this summer, we’re not sure to what extent Buick is going to attract that “whole new buyer,” although many new prospects—Lexus intenders, even—surely will come in for a look. One thing we are sure of is that Buick is going to give those buyers a whole new—and mighty attractive—Buick.