Buick's history is confused. Those who know Buick performance point to the ferocious 1987 Grand National GNX, the muscular Stage II GS400 from 1968-69, or when Buick powered Indy cars in the early 1980s. This contrasts dramatically with remembrances of beautiful Buicks such as the 1953 Skylark or the first production Riviera from a decade later. But unfortunately, most Americans don't remember Buick for being either performance-oriented or beautiful. For most of the last 50 years, Buick has just been boring.
For the 2007 model year, Buick started to change their overwhelmingly dull persona with the dramatically styled Enclave crossover. Its design remains sculpturally striking three years into its life, a sure sign of good penmanship. The all-new LaCrosse hopes to continue this trend.
At first glance, the 2010 LaCrosse looks, dare we say … boring. But when you walk around its mid-size dimensions and let the light play off the sheet metal, you begin to pick up on the strong character line that launches off the trailing edge of the headlamp and continues all the way aft. The design recalls the Buick Invicta show car (introduced in 2008), and it will look good in the showroom next to an Enclave.
After staring at the car a bit longer, we sighed in relief that the goofy headlight arrangement of the outgoing LaCrosse was ditched, but we still wonder how soon buyers will tire of the gigantic grilles growing on upcoming luxury vehicles (consider the new Lincoln MKT, for example). GM told the press that GM's Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC) collaborated on the design, so apparently the Chinese like big grilles. (Buicks is the most popular U.S. car sold in China.)
Buick's reclaimed signature portholes are on the inner edges of the fenders (three per side as there is no V-8 engine option for 2010 … at least, not yet). And no, these are not just like the lame press-on portholes you can buy at local chain auto parts store. These series of stretched rectangles look like they belong where they are.
Inside, there are sweeping lines, smoked chrome accents, genuine woods, and first-class materials. Ambient lighting has finally arrived at Buick, and designers picked a cool blue hue that matches the easy to read color of the LaCrosse's gauges and controls. Room is ample for a mid-size, and the tallness of the rear fenders give those in back a limousine-like, coddled feeling.
Under the hood, Buick picked powertrains that are refined and efficient. You're likely familiar with GM's efficient, direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6. It's used in everything from Cadillac sedans to Chevy crossovers. In the top of the line LaCrosse CXS, the engine produces an estimated 280 horsepower and 261 lb.-ft. of torque. Buick estimates 0-60 times in the mid six-second range. The base CX and mid-level CXL make do with the little brother to the 3.6-liter, a direct-injected 3.0-liter V-6 producing estimated 255 horsepower and 211 lb.-ft. of torque.
Mileage for the small six is expected to be 18/27, while the big six will come in one mpg shy of that mark. Both engines use a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard while all-wheel-drive is available (the system can shift 85-percent of engine torque to the rear wheels).
The LaCrosse is built on a derivative of GM's Epsilon platform (what's under the Chevy Malibu).
The company now calls it the "mid-size global architecture." Compared to the outgoing LaCrosse, the body is 20-percent stiffer, helping to deliver a claimed "library" quiet ride. The CXS edition refines the car's ride actively with real-time damping. Different vehicle performance programs incorporate suspension calibration changes, plus alterations in throttle sensitivity and response, as well as steering feedback and feel. We'll let you know how the technology works once we get behind the wheel on the open road.
Standard features across the LaCrosse line include all the modern basics. Stripped cars with manual crank windows and no air conditioning are a thing of the past. The CXL moves up from the CX's cloth seats and 17-inch wheels by offering leather-appointed heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lamps, outside rearview mirror with LED turn indicators and puddle lamps, and 18-inch wheels. The top-flight CXS adds (among other things) heated and cooled perforated leather seats and chrome-plated 18-inch wheels. Big 19-inch rims are optional.
Other options include in-dash navigation, power rear-window sunshade, and a DVD entertainment system, with two display screens integrated into the seatbacks.
Buick expects that the 2010 LaCrosse will maintain the outgoing models 20-star NHTSA safety rating. Major safety equipment includes six airbags, electronic stability- and traction-control system, and OnStar. Head-up display (in the windshield) is optional, as is the adaptive lighting package can direct the high-intensity discharge headlight beams up to 15 degrees for enhanced illumination of the road and its curves. LaCrosse also offers Side Blind Zone alert for those pesky drivers that hang out hidden behind the C-pillar.
So what is the 2010 Buick LaCrosse? Frankly, it's a very nice looking take on boring. But there are elements that remain unresolved … as in why did Buick engineers think it necessary to rear-bias their AWD system, or include real-time damping, or offer nearly 300 horsepower? These seem like ploys that mitigate against boredom and toward delivering dynamic performance. Hmmm, maybe Buick in 2009 is still not quite sure what it stands for after all?
See more photos of the 2010 Buick LaCrosse and stay tuned for more from the 2009 Detroit auto show this coming week. Until then, here's a video clip from GM on the new sedan: