A BETTER BREED OF BUICK
Either I’m getting old, or Buick is building better cars. Let’s stick with the second scenario, because how else can I explain my appreciation for the 2010 Buick LaCrosse? The new LaCrosse is a welcome departure from the stodgy Buicks (and Buick owners) I remember growing up. For many years – with a few notable exceptions – the only time a Buick got my heart racing was when I found myself stuck behind one, its driver stubbornly maintaining a steady 55 miles per hour in the left-hand lane. Owning a Buick was the automotive equivalent of an AARP card. Until now.
The LaCrosse – including the base CX 4-cylinder model I recently tested in northern Virginia – represents a true rival to entry-level luxury sedans from the likes of Lexus, Lincoln and Acura. One obvious reason for this is because, quite simply, the LaCrosse looks good. The exterior features lots of soft edges, strengthened by a side character line that sweeps over the rear door handles before leading your eye to the cutline for the tail-lights. It’s a sporty touch, accentuated by a minimum of chrome and the traditional Buick portholes finding a subtle new home on the hood. Optional 19-inch alloys are available, even on the base CX. These wheels look phenomenal, on the car. Too bad the $3,995 price-tag looks much less appealing when viewed on the options sheet.
The LaCrosse is front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive optional on models equipped with a V6. The previous entry-level motor, a 3.0-liter V6, is set to be phased out for the 2011 model year. A 182-horsepower four-cylinder takes its place, with a 280-HP 3.6-liter V6 remaining as the top engine in the lineup. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered. The smooth power and whisper-quiet nature of the 3.6-liter V6-equipped LaCrosse is hard to beat, though the lower cost and higher fuel economy of the new CX four-cylinder is worth looking into.
In many driving situations, I didn’t miss the power of the V6 when driving the CX. In city traffic or on an open stretch of highway, the four-cylinder was quiet and provided decent acceleration. A 9.5 second 0-60 mph time is okay – then again, the V6 is more than two seconds quicker. If you live somewhere that puts a premium on horsepower – especially the ability to pass slower traffic safely on two-lane roads – the V6 is the better choice, plain and simple.
The CX four-cylinder does hold an edge in economy, managing 19/30 m.p.g. (city/highway). The V6 in front-wheel drive format averages 17/27, which dips to 16/26 with the combination of V6 and optional all-wheel drive. Also boosting the appeal of the CX is increased steering feel, thanks to the lighter 4-cylinder which adds less bulk in the nose of the car. You won’t mistake the handling for some German sports sedan, but the CX felt adept at tackling some seriously crazy country roads Buick mapped out for the media drive.
Inside, the cabin remains the same comfortable place you’ll find in any LaCrosse – except life in a CX means doing without leather seats, satellite navigation, rear-view camera and panoramic sunroof. None of these options are available on the base CX. The (cloth) seats are wide and supportive, there is plenty of room for two adults in the back and a useful 13.3 cu ft of luggage space. One major complaint: visibility sure ain’t great! The enormous A-pillars take a huge amount of real estate. On one stretch of twisty road, they completely blocked my view of oncoming traffic when zipping around several sharp corners.
That’s a shame because, overall, the LaCrosse was incredibly composed over a wide variety of challenging roads. Driving enjoyment in a Buick? I know, I was pretty shocked, too. Buick showed enormous faith in the LaCrosse by plotting a route that was anything but dull. I even managed a short test-drive in a range-topping LaCrosse CXS, equipped with the Buick’s new “HiPer Strut” suspension. Body roll and suspension movement were kept perfectly in check, without any noticeable degradation in ride quality. This is a great suspension and something I’d love to see on more G.M. products – including all LaCrosse trim levels.
With a base price of $26,245, the four-cylinder LaCrosse CX is a bargain compared to the $33,015 you’d pay for a 3.6-liter CXS. That price gap should close a bit once the 3.0-liter V6 officially disappears from the lineup later this year. Personally, I love the extra power and smooth performance of the larger engine. And if driving with a reasonable amount of decorum, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fuel economy of the bigger V6 could nearly match the four-cylinder’s mileage figures. Then again, a difference of several thousand dollars means a lot when shopping for a car. I’m not too young (sadly) or too old (thank goodness) to recognize that fact.