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.
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.