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Dan Neil: 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS is an American Lexus

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2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS is an American Lexus

GM's first new car since it emerged from bankruptcy is as good as or better than the ES350 in every way, and is actually desirable.

Dan Neil

August 7, 2009

Fighter pilots call it "target fixation" when you become so focused on a single adversary that you lose situational awareness and fly into something large and obvious, like the ground. Buick's 2010 LaCrosse -- a near-luxury, mid-size-to-large sedan -- was built to put the cross-hairs on a single bogie, the Lexus ES350, and I'll tell you right now, it blows the Lexus out of the sky. Pow. Parachute. Smoking crater.

Oh, you can quibble over one detail or another. The LaCrosse's roof A-pillars are huge and make it hard to look through a corner on a tight, two-lane road (it's also possible to lose sight of pedestrians in crosswalks). There are moments that the cabin, with its Aqua Velva-blue ambient lighting, thick chrome instrument bezels, luminous LCD screens and spread of glowing buttons, looks like the flight deck of some drug- addled dirigible.

But no fair appraisal of this car can conclude anything but that the Buick is as good as or better than the Lexus in every way: It's as dead quiet, as thoughtfully designed, as this-minute in its technology. My top-of-the-line CXS had a 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 under the scalloped hood, a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission, continuously variable suspension damping with Sport mode, Harman/Kardon sound system, touch-screen navigation and adaptive headlamps. Out the door at $39,195.

And yet with all of the semiconductor circuitry, servos, gadgets and displays, the LaCrosse feels deeply, foundationally sound. All is hushed and serene. Everything is damped. The whole car feels packed in ermine. It is an American Lexus.

But is that enough? In other words, has benchmarking the ES350 -- Lexus' bestselling sedan, by the way -- left the LaCrosse blind to challenges from other competitors in this segment? After all, the ES350 is a tarted-up Toyota Camry and enjoys its place in the market primarily because of the aspirational updraft of the Lexus brand. Personally, the ES350 bores me like nothing since "The Fountainhead."

How does the Buick stack up against, say, the Hyundai Genesis or the Infiniti G37 sedan, both finely tailored, tech-sodden sedans with rear-wheel drive? What about the brilliantly executed Acura TL, with its torque-vectoring all-wheel drive? The competition among near-luxury, mid-size sedans makes a Cuban cockfight look tame.

Born in a blizzard of pink slips and a tsunami of tears, the Buick LaCrosse -- the first new car launched by GM since it emerged from bankruptcy -- has to be more than on par with some middling Lexus. It has to be fantastic.

This is a brand in a hole the size of AIG's. Not only is Buick synonymous with "Matlock"-watching crapulence (the average age of a Buick buyer is 68); the parent company, GM, is feeling the unaccustomed disdain of Red State America on account of the Obama administration's $83.5-billion auto-industry bailout.

I have not got a single e-mail from anyone saying, "You know, I love and support my country, so I'm going to buy a GM car." But I've got maybe 100 e-mails that say, in effect, "I'll never buy a GM car until the government gets out of the car business."

Is the LaCrosse enough of a car for them to hold their noses past the stink of bankruptcy and the reek of government ownership? It's a pretty great car, but honestly, I think the LaCrosse would have to come equipped with naked wood nymphs to placate these dissidents.

Time for some shopkeeping: The base LaCrosse ($27,835, delivered) is powered by a 3.0-liter direct-injection V-6 good for 255 hp. The up-level trim package is the CXL ($30,395). Add all-wheel-drive (with brake-based limited-slip differential) and the price goes to $32,600. The top-shelf model is the CXS ($33,765), with a 3.6-liter V-6 putting out 280 hp. The Touring Package adds 19-inch wheels and variable-damping suspension and Sport mode, with electronics that put a sharper edge on the transmission, steering, throttle and suspension responses.

Daringly, Buick will offer a 2.4-liter four-cylinder (172 hp/182 pound-feet of torque) in the LaCrosse this fall. That will be just about when gas prices will spike again, I predict.

Some have wondered why GM kept the Buick division and shed Saturn, which has the freshest and most fuel-efficient product lineup. The answer: China. Buick is a prestigious luxury brand there and, in fact, the new LaCrosse was a joint effort between GM's American and Chinese design studios. The Chinese contingent was responsible for the LaCrosse's insanely fussed-over interior. Example: The dash material is synthetic leather but it's French stitched with real thread.

No corners are gracelessly cut here -- no ugly cover plates, no exposed fastener buttons and the barest minimum of seams. The whole transverse sweep of the cabin, the two-tone materials bisected by a lyric bow of ambient lighting and wood grain that plays into the doors, looks great, especially at night.

GM execs claim the cabin reflects feng shui design principles in its sculpted and harmonious form language, though I might have expected a red door somewhere. In any event, the interior is excellent. I parked the LaCrosse next to a new Lexus to compare and it wasn't even close.

Style aside, the biggest marker of Chinese influence is the car's enormous back seat. According to GM, about 25% of Chinese buyers -- entrepreneurs and corrupt bureaucrats -- will be chauffeured. If legroom is high on cross-shoppers' list, the LaCrosse will score a clean kill.

Complaints, I had a few. The exterior styling is really strong -- masculine, well planted, with a lovely roof arch -- in every direction but the front. I can't quite fathom the headlight design, which looks like Dame Edna's spectacles, and the odd chamfering of the hood, a design detail that doesn't seem to go anywhere.

And the car is about 250 pounds heavier than it ought to be, a fact that robs the LaCrosse of some much-needed verve and agility.

The CXS gets off the mark smoothly, and it hits 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds -- reasonably quick -- but the extra weight doesn't help it in corners and there is the inevitable tendency of a front-drive car to overwhelm the tires and understeer.

I look forward to trying the all-wheel-drive model. To say the LaCrosse handles better than the ES350 is the damnedest of faint praise.

The weight is telling because weight is the most expensive thing to get out of a car. I read the poundage as an artifact of the pre-bankruptcy GM -- indeed, a metaphor of the company before bankruptcy's radical dieting.

Still, the LaCrosse is the car that most thought couldn't be built by Buick. It's actually desirable. On the long road to recovery, it's a good start.

http://www.latimes.com/classified/automoti...,1586827.column

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2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS is an American Lexus

Complaints, I had a few. The exterior styling is really strong -- masculine, well planted, with a lovely roof arch -- in every direction but the front. I can't quite fathom the headlight design, which looks like Dame Edna's spectacles, and the odd chamfering of the hood, a design detail that doesn't seem to go anywhere.

I am one of the few dissenters on this car.

I am trying real hard to like the hood/greenhouse/deck lid proportions of this car. I'm not there yet. And I don't like the pointiness of the headlights as they turn the corner into the fenders, something already in the styling vocubulary of the large BMWs.

Kudos to Buick for making a likable vehicle, but there wouldn't be a G8 or LaCrosse debate for me if I was in the market at this time (the way I tossed around GP or LaCrosse)...it would be the G8, which is the best-looking sport sedan GM has released in the last decade.

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Now you've probably heard my rants on the base engine of the Lacrosse, so don't think I'm defending Buick just to defend Buick but..

First we have this:

Buick's 2010 LaCrosse -- a near-luxury, mid-size-to-large sedan -- was built to put the cross-hairs on a single bogie, the Lexus ES350, and I'll tell you right now, it blows the Lexus out of the sky. Pow. Parachute. Smoking crater.

Great! Awesome! Buick not only stacks up to Lexus's biggest seller, but exceeds it in many ways! Well, this is the automotive press. We couldn't let something like that happen. If Buick can build something that can beat the market leader, well then we'll just have to compare it to vehicles not in it's direct market!

How does the Buick stack up against, say, the Hyundai Genesis or the Infiniti G37 sedan, both finely tailored, tech-sodden sedans with rear-wheel drive?

Ahh... there we go. Nothing brings up the sweet smell of American failure like comparing domestic FWD V6 luxury sedans intended to be soft to RWD V6 and V8 import sedans intending to be sporty. The only way to make this comparison more perfect would be to put the Lacrosse up against the M3.

What about the brilliantly executed Acura TL, with its torque-vectoring all-wheel drive?

If by "brilliantly executed" you mean "skillfully killed"... then sure, that's what Acura did with the TL.

This is a brand in a hole the size of AIG's. Not only is Buick synonymous with "Matlock"-watching crapulence (the average age of a Buick buyer is 68); the parent company, GM, is feeling the unaccustomed disdain of Red State America on account of the Obama administration's $83.5-billion auto-industry bailout.

Buick may be associated with "old" but they've been highly regarded for reliability for years. Even still, the Enclave, and the Rendezvous before, it brought Buick's average buyer's age down quite a bit. His stats are out dated. Buick's average buyer age is actually 62 years old according to J.D. Powers.... but we wouldn't want to quibble with him over something like that because it might make people go look up Lexus's average buyer's age of 61 and we wouldn't want things like facts get in the way of a good Buick beating.

I have not got a single e-mail from anyone saying, "You know, I love and support my country, so I'm going to buy a GM car." But I've got maybe 100 e-mails that say, in effect, "I'll never buy a GM car until the government gets out of the car business."

Dan, I invite you to visit www.CheersandGears.com You could also instruct your readers in basic economics. The only way for the government to ever get out of the automotive business is for people to buy domestic branded cars. Every Camry sold keeps GM under government control that much longer.

Complaints, I had a few. The exterior styling is really strong -- masculine, well planted, with a lovely roof arch -- in every direction but the front. I can't quite fathom the headlight design, which looks like Dame Edna's spectacles, and the odd chamfering of the hood, a design detail that doesn't seem to go anywhere.

Since you didn't even mention the sweepspear and hood vents as a nod to Buick's past, I guess I'll have to give you a pass on this one. But so you don't like too much of a tard at all those domestic bashing party's you go to, I'll give you a hint:

f_17432243_1.jpeg

The Lacrosse does have it's flaws, the base engine being my personal gripe, but at least get your facts straight when you're going to bash Buick.

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The Lacrosse does have it's flaws, the base engine being my personal gripe, but at least get your facts straight when you're going to bash Buick.

Yup!

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Now you've probably heard my rants on the base engine of the Lacrosse, so don't think I'm defending Buick just to defend Buick but..

First we have this:

Great! Awesome! Buick not only stacks up to Lexus's biggest seller, but exceeds it in many ways! Well, this is the automotive press. We couldn't let something like that happen. If Buick can build something that can beat the market leader, well then we'll just have to compare it to vehicles not in it's direct market!

Ahh... there we go. Nothing brings up the sweet smell of American failure like comparing domestic FWD V6 luxury sedans intended to be soft to RWD V6 and V8 import sedans intending to be sporty. The only way to make this comparison more perfect would be to put the Lacrosse up against the M3.

If by "brilliantly executed" you mean "skillfully killed"... then sure, that's what Acura did with the TL.

Buick may be associated with "old" but they've been highly regarded for reliability for years. Even still, the Enclave, and the Rendezvous before, it brought Buick's average buyer's age down quite a bit. His stats are out dated. Buick's average buyer age is actually 62 years old according to J.D. Powers.... but we wouldn't want to quibble with him over something like that because it might make people go look up Lexus's average buyer's age of 61 and we wouldn't want things like facts get in the way of a good Buick beating.

Dan, I invite you to visit www.CheersandGears.com You could also instruct your readers in basic economics. The only way for the government to ever get out of the automotive business is for people to buy domestic branded cars. Every Camry sold keeps GM under government control that much longer.

Since you didn't even mention the sweepspear and hood vents as a nod to Buick's past, I guess I'll have to give you a pass on this one. But so you don't like too much of a tard at all those domestic bashing party's you go to, I'll give you a hint:

The Lacrosse does have it's flaws, the base engine being my personal gripe, but at least get your facts straight when you're going to bash Buick.

Sounding an awful lot like FOG there, which is surprising, because I thought it's the most positive review I've read of the LaCrosse ever.

His point about "target fixation" is a good one; the entry-level luxury segment is competitive, and to declare the LaCrosse a winner because it's better than one Lexus model would be missing the point. The Genesis sedan and G37 Journey are as comfortable and luxurious as the LaCrosse CXS, and all three hope to target the same well-heeled buyers.

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Sounding an awful lot like FOG there, which is surprising, because I thought it's the most positive review I've read of the LaCrosse ever.

His point about "target fixation" is a good one; the entry-level luxury segment is competitive, and to declare the LaCrosse a winner because it's better than one Lexus model would be missing the point. The Genesis sedan and G37 Journey are as comfortable and luxurious as the LaCrosse CXS, and all three hope to target the same well-heeled buyers.

Entry-lux is one crowded segment, certainly... there are sporty FWD models, softer FWD models, RWD sports sedans, AWD models...a little bit of everything. But it's a very important segment--if a maker can successfully hook a buyer in this segment, they can potentially keep them for life as they either stay in the segment w/ serial purchases or move to more upscale offerings by the same brand...

Rob

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Sounding an awful lot like FOG there, which is surprising, because I thought it's the most positive review I've read of the LaCrosse ever.

His point about "target fixation" is a good one; the entry-level luxury segment is competitive, and to declare the LaCrosse a winner because it's better than one Lexus model would be missing the point. The Genesis sedan and G37 Journey are as comfortable and luxurious as the LaCrosse CXS, and all three hope to target the same well-heeled buyers.

I don't mind criticisms of the Lacrosse. I mind intellectual dishonesty.

I'd argue that the market is a bit more segmented than just "entry lux". The CTS, LaX, G37, Genesis, ES350, and 3-series are all entry lux. It'd be a fools errand to hold them all to the same measure.

Edit: furthermore, if you're going to go on about Buick's average buyer's age, Matlock references then fair is fair for Lexus who's buyer age is only 1 year less

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He said it blows the Lexus out of the water--I really don't think you can ask for more than that. And I didn't think anything was intellectually dishonest--Lexus isn't all fogey cars, and Buick generally has been. Perceptions are different.

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