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Buick 2010 Lacrosse Motor Trend First Test


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[source: Motor Trend]

First Test: 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS

Dr. Right: A Buick to Lure Back the Medicos



There was a time long ago, boys and girls, when all telephones had cords, music could be purchased only on cumbersome black discs, and cigarettes were advertised on TV as a digestive aid. Back in those blurry, black-and-white days, well-off professional Americans in the prime of their careers aspired to own Buicks. The brand became known as "the doctor's car," because it provided most of the creature comforts, quiet performance, and gravitas of a glitzy Cadillac without causing patients or clients to question their house-call charges. Today we have earpiece phones, Napster, and the Surgeon General's Warning, but most Buick customers are still old enough to remember those "More doctors smoke Camels" testimonials from 1949 and the scrubs set now buys its low-profile luxury from Lexus.

Might this car lure them back to Buick? Clearly the 2010 LaCrosse has been aimed squarely at the front-drive Lexus ES 350. The Buick's basic profile and proportioning ape the Lexus, though it's 5.9 inches longer, 1.4 inch wider, and 2.1 inches taller, with most of the extra space benefiting rear-seat passengers. The body sculpting and chrome flourishes are much more expressive than the ES 350's, especially the crisp bow-wake shoulder line and concave lower "light catcher."

If the exterior entices, the interior could seal the deal. Designed in China, where yuppies already revere Buicks, its vaguely Asian aesthetic of curves and arcs decorated with double-seam stitching and relatively convincing faux wood has a soothing effect-especially at night, when it's all accented in ice-blue ambient lighting. Shut the doors, roll up the acoustic glass (front) and extra thick (5mm rear) windows, and it's like the dome of silence has descended, providing meditation-garden levels of tranquility.

Better still: The tranquil mood never morphs to open rage when attempting to program the nav system, pair a Bluetooth phone, or access the myriad other vehicle features. In fact, on my first night home with the car I sat in the driveway for ages programming the car to avoid all my pet peeves (driver-only unlock, automatic locking, horn chirp on lock, etc.), and did it all without cracking the owner's manual. It felt a lot like the first day home with a new toy from the Apple store. Everything's easily controlled by the eight-inch touch screen, but fingerprintphobes can use the rotary knob and buttons instead and once everything's programmed, many of the features can also be accessed via voice command.

Speaking of features, Buick sees Lexus on most counts and raises on others, like three DOHC direct-injected engine choices, all of which bolt to six-speed automatic transmissions-a base 182-horse, 2.4-liter four in the CX model good for 20 mpg city/30 highway; a 3.0-liter V-6 producing 252 or 255 horses with all- or front-wheel drive in the CXL; and our CXS test car's 280-horse, 3.6-liter V-6 which is front drive only. (The Cadillac SRX's forthcoming 2.8-liter turbo/AWD setup bolts right in, should a Super variant ever be called for.) That full-feature Haldex all-wheel-drive/electronic limited-slip rear differential system is one serious Lexus-trumping feature, with the capability to shift torque fore and aft and left to right. Others include remote starting, Blind Zone Alert (coming soon), a head-up display ($350), and the CXS's electronic damping control, which comes in an $800 Touring package with 19-inch wheels. Sliding the shifter left into the manual gate engages Sport mode, tightening the three-position dampers, firming the steering feel and enlivening throttle response.

Driving both the LaCrosse CXS and Cadillac SRX within a week revealed these two siblings to be almost as closely related as their Camry-based Lexus ES and RX targets. Each is based on the new global Epsilon architecture, and each goes down the road with more verve and driver involvement than its Japanese counterpart does. But that sportiness differential is far smaller between the LaCrosse and the ES 350. LaCrosse's Sport-mode ride quality is much more compliant than the SRX's, there's no performance shift programming to hold lower gears when cornering as in the SRX, and the driver information center doesn't display current posted speed limits as in the Caddy (perhaps fewer Buick drivers are speed demons?).

Engaging Sport mode improves body-motion control, greatly reducing the amount of roll experienced in a double-lane-change maneuver, and it also lets you feel the little expansion joints and pothole patches more distinctly. The steering effort goes up slightly without ever delivering much in the way of genuine road feel (we're targeting Lexus, not BMW, remember?). And even the more aggressive throttle mapping never feels jerky. StabiliTrak can be switched off, though a brake-controlled limited-slip function remains to prevent immolation of an inside front tire under full throttle. Stability off, Sport on, the LaCrosse attacked the figure-eight course laying down three laps with the same 28.1-second time, and a best average of 0.63 g-that's 0.3 second and 0.05 g off the pace of the last ES 350 we tested. The 40-series 19-inch Goodyear Eagle RS-As understeer with plenty of advanced warning at a pretty impressive 0.79 g, up from the ES 350's 0.78 g, and contribute handily to the four-wheel vented discs' 127-foot stopping distance from 60 mph-that's identical to the Lexus's performance. So obviously the figure-eight deficit is mostly acceleration-related.

The problem is weight-to-power, as our full-tilt-boogie LaCrosse CXS weighs 4161 pounds-467 more than the Lexus ES 350. That differential overwhelms the Buick's slim eight-horse power advantage. A relatively lofty 3000-rpm torque-converter stall speed helps get the LaCrosse out of the gates quickly and shorter gearing helps narrow the gap, but our test car's 7.4-second 0-to-60 sprint is 0.9 second off the Lexus's pace. That gap is maintained through the quarter mile (15.8 @ 90.3), where the speed differential is 5.7 mph. But this 3.6L sings such a happy tune under the whip that the car feels quicker.

And that's kind of how it goes with this new Buick. It generally seems like more than it is. More space, better gear, fewer annoyances, more quiet, less total road isolation-and more value. All this Lexus-contending fabulosity starts at $27,835 for the CX, rising to $30,395 for the CXL, and $33,765 for the CXS (similarly equipped, the savings is about $2500 relative to an ES 350).

Is this would-be Lexus fighter perfect? Nope. In addition to its mild obesity, the 12.8-cubic-foot trunk swallows less than others in the class (though it features 60/40 seatback folding and an armrest pass-thru), the door pull cups are partially covered by the armrest and hard to grab without looking. But it's darned good, and winning the medical community back would be a health-care reform GM could really use about now.

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