2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS Review
Buick. To Americans of a certain age, the very name evokes old-geezerdom, not to say the somnolence of the retirement home. Doc, the grizzled family doctor; Great-Aunt Lucille, she of the howling hearing aid; weird Uncle George, who always listed to port behind the wheel and to starboard on foot…all proud owners of Centurys, Regals, or LeSabres. But in China, owning a Buick is a far livelier kettle of fish, akin for the Middle Kingdom’s thirty-somethings to driving a Lexus or Benz over here. This Sino-Buick romance goes back a long way; indeed, the last emperor, Pu Yi, was the proud owner of two Buicks, of which, you can be sure, he was no prouder than GM China is of its two million Chinese Buicks sold to date: “It took eight years for Shanghai GM to sell its first 1 million Buicks, but only three years to sell its second 1 million units,” said Kevin Wale, President and Managing Director of the GM China Group.
Not surprising, then, that design input for the 2010 Buick LaCrosse should have been heavily influenced by Asian tastes, and that the overall result looks generically Asiatic: a touch of Hyundai Genesis from the front, Lexus ES350 at the back, Acura TL alongside. Not bad at all, really quite sleek and attractive. Just generic. But when you check into a Marriott hotel suite, say, that’s what you want: generic luxury. You don’t want any surprises such as waterbeds or underlit neon bathrooms or hip-hop on the loudspeakers. You expect a certain stylized blandness modeled on a time-honored concept of what people like you want; demography dictates. So the engineers and designers at Buick (led by a multinational team), having presented their Chinese clientele with a car that looks unlike a Buick from the outside, want to reassure the home team, once we settle groaning behind the wheel, that a Buick is still a Buick. In this, despite taking liberties with traditional Buickness, they have mostly succeeded.
This car has all the solidity and comfort you expect from the make, but it dares to be more, starting on the outside, with a swooping cab-forward design accentuated by narrow side windows, lavish chrome accents, and tapered-off rear windows which, combined with the high beltline, look quite elegant (but have an adverse effect on visibility from inside the car; see below). The 2010 LaCrosse is about an inch shorter than the ’09 model, but its wheelbase is 1.2 inches longer; this gives it an athletic, muscular stance absent in the previous version. The roofline sweeps down into a short, high rear end, where the resemblance to Lexus is at its strongest: the first-generation GS model, to be precise. (Not a bad inspiration, since that particular Lexus was designed by Giugiaro.) But one bit of New-Buick design whimsy I was underwhelmed by was the traditional Buick “portholes” or “ventiports” on top of the hood, as in the 1950 Special; unlike the original however, they’re encased in frames of heavy chrome, which at this point begins to look a little flashy, not to say vulgar, like the oversized aquarium in a suburban Chinese restaurant. All in all, however, this is a striking and elegant car.
There are three trim levels in the LaCrosse lineup: the base CX, starting at $27,085, the middle-of-the-lot CXL, MSRP $29,645, and the top-of-the-pops CXS like the one I tested, which starts at $33,015. Engine options consist of a 255-hp 3.0-liter V6 in the CXL and the CXS’s 280-hp 3.6 liter V6. A base 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 182 horsepower (yes, a four-banger in a Buick; shades of the late unlamented Skylark) is coming soon. All three come with six-speed automatics. All three are front-wheel-drive except for the CXL, which can be had with all-wheel drive.
I found the 3.6-liter V6 in my test CXS to be a smooth and energetic powerplant, and the accompanying six-speed transmission to be as silken and unobtrusive as one expects from GM trannies. Without demur or hesitation the combo hauled the beast’s hefty 4,065 lbs from 0 to 60 in 7.3 seconds on a dry, straight road, with just me on board. This engine puts out its 280 horses at 6,300 rpm and 259 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm, more than adequate numbers for–wait for it–fundriving. Truly, this engine is so good I had a blast every time I dropped the hammer. There was no lack of oomph under any circumstances, and I thoroughly enjoyed the engine’s deep, growling, almost Jag-like, note under hard acceleration. The car’s four-wheel disc brakes stop it effectively, too, when required to do so suddenly, as I discovered upon the advent of an unexpected eighteen-wheeler across my path during a downpour. In that emergency I felt no ABS vibration, and no mushiness. I tested the brakes again in dry weather and observed no sign of fade. The LaCrosse’s handling was good, less like that of a luxobarge, or sofa on wheels, and closer to Asian standards; not exactly sporty, but surprisingly adhesive in the twisties, more Lexus (again) than LeSabre, with a hint of understeer but ultimately very forgiving, especially for a Buick. The hydraulically assisted steering, if a bit twitchy around the edges, gave good feedback and response overall. As for fuel consumption, GM claims 17/27, 21 combined; my observed economy was almost exactly that, about 20 mpg combined, leaving a 50-mile or so range after driving 400+ miles. Good figures for commuting; even better, the LaCrosse takes regular.
Inside, a sweeping, dramatic cockpit padded with soft-touch surfaces embraces driver and front passenger in stitched leather and polished woodgrain. The dashboard stretches away to the distant base of the windshield, opening up a wide, airy space. The leather-wrapped, heated, part-woodgrain steering wheel sits in front of a padded binnacle that encloses tach and speedometer gauges illuminated, like most GM gauges these days, in a cool retro ice blue, à la Miami Beach, ca. 1959. The center module, containing nav screen, CD player, audio and HVAC controls, is a bit confusing at first, a welter of 24 identical buttons, but a short tutorial session with the manual clears things up, and intuition takes over.
But I needed another tutorial after I first sat in the driver’s seat and tried to figure out how to start the car. It was a fleeting but intense Twilight Zone moment. Everything seemed to be in its place, except for the One Big Thing: where to put the damn key? Finally, after a rapid browse through the manual, I figured out: Nowhere. The big round button to the right of the steering wheel is there to be pushed, and this action, combined with pressure on the brake, starts the engine: Presto! Great fun, once you get the hang of it, but utterly pointless, if you ask me (and even if you don’t), since you need to be holding the ignition key + transmitter for the button to pick up the signal in the first place; why not just shortcut the process and have a good old keyhole? Here I thought New Buick was getting a bit gizmo-drunk.
Something else I wasn’t crazy about was the limited visibility I’ve already mentioned in connection with the car’s external lines. The canted A-pillar angle enhances the Buick’s lines on the outside but pretty much blocks the driver’s leftward view when turning, as in many an SUV I’ve driven. This is no small thing. And the rear view is somewhat compromised by the high deck lid. Fortunately, my test vehicle came with the backup camera (bundled as an option with the nav system in the CXS), one of the few new gadgets that meet with my wholehearted approval whenever I encounter it. These design compromises, incidentally, affect the size of the trunk, which, although deep, isn’t particularly capacious: 12.8 cubic feet, compared with 14.7 in the Lexus ES350.
The CXS is adorned further with 18-in. alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, heated power leather seats, rear parking sensors, a heated steering wheel, and an 11-speaker Harman Kardon audio system with USB port. Seating is superb, just like in the old days, and there’s enough room for two oldsters or three youngsters in the back seats. The interior is hushed and tranquil, in theory, as I expected….but in practice, my test car had a rattle. Yes, a rattle, in a Buick! Or it may have been the wind getting into a faulty window seal. Either way, it was intrusive onboard noise, and I was annoyed by it. Of course, test cars are subject to punishment above and beyond that meted out by the average driver—especially the average Buick driver—but I still thought it was a bit much, with only 1600 miles on the odo, to have to pump up the volume to drown out a rattle, just as if I were back in my ‘82 Datsun B210. One sincerely trusts that this was a defect unique to my test car, otherwise the specter of past GM shoddiness threatens to rise from the grave.
Based on that assumption, which I think is probably a pretty sound one, I’ll put aside the minor flaw in my test vehicle and boldly say that the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is a fine car that merits serious consideration as an alternative to its Asian playmates, notably the Lexus ES350, Acura TL, and Hyundai Genesis. Ironically, it may have its greatest success not in Buick’s American heartland, but in the Asian birthplace of its rivals.
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