2012 Buick LaCrosse to Get 25 MPG City/37 MPG Highway

By Charles Krome

Okay, first things first: GM says the new powertrain gadgetry set to debut on the 2012 Buick LaCrosse—and deliver estimated EPA ratings of 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway—is NOT a hybrid setup. Instead, the eAssist technology is a “light electrification” system that just happens to holster a lithium-ion battery pack, an integrated power inverter, a 12-volt power supply and an “electric motor-generator,” all of which work to increase the LaCrosse’s fuel efficiency by about 25 percent and offer an extra 11 kW (15 hp) of power during acceleration.

I suppose the difference is that, according to Steve Poulos, the system’s chief engineer, “The battery system is designed to provide power assistance to the internal combustion engine, rather than storing energy for all-electric propulsion. It’s really an extension of the conventional internal combustion engine, not a replacement for it.”

Of course, it still smells a lot like the old light hybrid system that GM tried to foist upon the public a few years back on the Chevrolet Malibu. In that car, the bottom line was an increase in fuel efficiency from 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway for the “regular” Malibu all the way up to 24 city/32 highway in the hybrid. But there are two key differences this time around: The new technology is a few years improved on the old system, so it now delivers a much more notable improvement to fuel efficiency and performance, and GM has, as mentioned, given up on using the “h” word. Which makes sense, since an “electrification” system sounds so much more 2011 than a mere “hybrid” system.

Now let’s get to the details: eAssist essentially swaps out the engine’s alternator for a liquid-cooled electric “motor generator” and new belt-drive system, puts the battery pack in a space between the rear seat and trunk, and integrates a robust 15-kW regenerative braking setup. Also in the mix is an engine stop/start system that cuts power during deceleration and seamlessly starts things up again when the gas pedal is pressed. Significantly, eAssist will be standard on all four-cylinder LaCrosses.

Speaking of which, the actual engine for the eAssist model will be the same proven 2.4-liter Ecotec I4 currently found in the base LaCrosse, although drivers will also benefit from a fresh six-speed automatic that has been revised to take advantage of eAssist. For example, GM says the transmission is able to use taller gearing, courtesy of eAssist’s available extra electric power, “to improve steady state efficiency without impacting acceleration performance or driveability.” A number of aero enhancements, including the same grille-shutter system found on the Chevrolet Cruze Eco, will show up on the ’12 LaCrosse as well.

Buick hasn’t released an MSRP yet, but the company claims the eAssist LaCrosse, set for a summer 2011 debut, will sticker “for about $30,000” and be aimed at key competitors like the Acura TL, Lincoln MKZ and Lexus ES350.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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