2010 Buick LaCrosse: This is NOT Your Old Man’s Buick

By Lary Coppola

The all-new 2010 Buick LaCrosse, which has just hit showrooms floors, marks the beginning of a more luxurious and stylish era for Buick — not to mention being the most important vehicle GM has launched in a generation. Developed before bankruptcy, bailouts and government intervention, the LaCrosse was GM’s vision for the future of Buick.

Buick, which has suffered an identity crisis inside of GM for years, was spared the fate of Oldsmobile and more recently Pontiac, surviving as one of GM’s four remaining “core brands” for no other reason than the Chinese love affair with Buick. Owning a Buick in China is a status symbol akin to owning a high-end Mercedes in the U.S. Go figure…

GM is attempting to once again reposition Buick as a serious competitor to Acura, Volvo, and Lexus — with the LaCrosse the first shot across the bow in the battle to capture younger, import-buyers’s imaginations — and wallets.

The 2010 LaCrosse is the first North American product built on GM’s new global mid-size Epsilon II platform following the Opel/Vauxhall brand that debuted in Europe last year. This new LaCrosse is truly a world car. Engineers at Opel were tasked with creating the basic platform and most of the chassis development, while American engineers tackled the body structure, and GM China handled the interior and the majority of the exterior design. Considering the Chinese affinity for Buick as a premium brand, they wanted to ensure the design and materials were best-in-class.

The LaCrosse, is a midsize sedan, initially launched as a 2005 model. Technically, the “New” Buick was born two years ago when the Enclave debuted, but in contrast, the LaCrosse marks the initial transformation of Buick’s future. And the new design is part of a plan by GM to revamp the Buick lineup the way it successfully did with Cadillac. The change at Buick started with the Enclave midsize crossover SUV — another vehicle that impressed us.

Walkaround: it’s hard to argue with the LaCrosse’s stylish looks. Smooth and rounded, the new mid-size sedan incorporates many of the elements of Buick’s hot looking 2007 Riviera concept, which was previewed at that year’s Shanghai Auto Show, along with styling cues from previous Buicks that don’t come across as retro or cliche. The new LaCrosse features a lower, coupe-like roofline that creates the optical illusion that this sedan is significantly smaller than the previous version. However, it’s virtually the same size.

The hoodline, beltline and rear deck all sit higher than before, while the roof sweeps down towards the sedan’s haunches. Both the front and rear glass have a significantly flatter slope than previously, and since the LaCrosse’s sheetmetal is meant for a global audience, the upright front fascia meets European pedestrian crash standards — which are expected to be adopted here. The body surfaces have more pronounced creases in the hood and flanks, including Buick’s signature “sweep spear” at the rear quarter, all contributing to an elegant, modern design thoroughly suited for the 21st century.

Three trim levels are offered: CX, CXL and CXS, which was our test vehicle. The base CX gets a choice of 17-inch steel or alloy wheels, while the two upper levels get 18-inchers and the CXS Touring package adds 19-inch hoops along with an adaptive damping system.

Interior: It was immediately apparent that the quality of the interior — both materials, and fit-and-finish — are much higher quality than what we’ve come to expect from GM in general. The dashboard covering, door panels and instrument cluster hood are all sew and stitch leather normally reserved for Cadillac. And it isn’t exclusive to the top of the line models either — it’s standard across the range. All LaCrosse models also have a leather-covered shifter and steering wheel, which has a thick, easy-to-grip rim outfitted with redundant controls for the audio system.

The central instrument panel protrudes slightly from the fall-away dashboard, lessening the reach to controls. The position of the shift lever isn’t quite as accommodating depending on your height and seating position. Since I like to sit up high and midway back, I found it somewhat awkward. Dee, who likes to sit lower and is several inches shorter than me, sits closer and thought it suited her well.

Buick claims the new LaCrosse will be the quietest Buick ever thanks to Quiet Tuning, which involves acoustic laminated glass, triple-sealed doors, liquid-sealed sound deadening, and special designs for the suspension bushings, engine cradle and mounts, and steering and induction systems.

Instrumentation is a soft teal color with very pleasing teal accents. And while some customers prefer a touch interface for the optional navigation and audio systems, others prefer a traditional knob arrangement. Buick provides a choice of both in the LaCrosse, with most of the controls accessible via the screen or a knob directly below. And for the tech adventurous, most of the systems are also accessible through voice commands by pressing a button on the steering wheel.

The LaCrosse features all the usual power items — windows, mirrors, door locks remote entry, etc., pretty standard, as well as a smart key and start button. AM/FM/CD/ XM are all standard as is GM’s OnStar.

Under The Hood: The CX and CXL come standard with the new 3.0-liter direct injected V6, while the 3.6-liter DI V6 is optional on the CXL and was standard on our test CXS. Later this fall, a 2.4-liter DI four-cylinder will be added as the standard engine in the CX and CXL, the only such engine currently available in the segment. All are mated to a smooth 6-speed automatic. Front-wheel is standard with AWD offered on the CXL and CXS.

Behind The Wheel: The LaCrosse is a pleasure to drive. It’s smooth, quiet, and comfortable. The front seats are well shaped and supportive, and hold up surprisingly well to both aggressive two- lane blacktop driving, as well as the freeway. The standard Stabilitrak system with traction control, 4-wheel independent suspension with front McPherson struts, and 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with intelligent assist, make handling and braking responsive, safe and effortless, no matter what the driving surface.

Whines: The lack of paddle shifters is a glaring omission I hope will be rectified soon. Given that few people actually do manual shifting of their automatics anyway, this probably won’t matter to anyone but a handful of people – many of which probably wouldn’t consider a Buick in the first place.

Bottom Line: Simply put, this is a great car and a huge advance forward for not only Buick, but all of Detroit. It’s quiet, comfortable, stylish, and at $34,090 as tested, a pretty good value as well. Like GM has proven with the Chevy Malibu, Cadillac CTS, and now the Buick LaCrosse, it can slay the Japanese and European dragons on quality and price. If you’re in the market for a mid-sized luxury sports sedan, you owe it to yourself to check the Buick LaCrosse out.