Buick's new 2010 LaCrosse sedan is so completely redesigned that its interior was partially done in China, where Buick is hugely popular. Still, this is an All-American car, produced in Kansas.
Buick wants to build on the success of its popular, relatively new Enclave crossover vehicle to give it a more modern image in America, where the average age of Buick buyers is above 70.
Baby boomers consider 70 to be "the new 60," when it comes to aging, but Buick is after LaCrosse buyers in their 40s and 50s, while retaining older customers. In China, Buick says its affluent young professional customers are in their 20s and 30s.
Buick says its sporty Reatta two-seater and Grand National muscle cars of the 1980s are remembered--not to mention its potent 1960s and 1970s muscle cars. But it adds that many Americans feel that it has an "old folks" image.
"Americans in their 40s and 50s know of our brand, but say it 's just not for them," says Susan Docherty, Buick-Pontiac-GMC vice president.
Buick said at a media preview of the LaCrosse near Detroit that rivals to its new sedan include Asian cars such as the Acura TL and Lexus ES 350. The new Buick was partly developed in Europe and its interior was done by a U.S./Chinese team.
Buick feels it's in a good position at the "new" General Motors, which consists of Cadillac at the top, Buick in the middle and Chevrolet as the entry level division, with GMC remaining an upscale truck division.
In terms of luxury status, Buick fits nicely between Chevy and Cadillac, said Russell Clark, the brand and product development executive director for Buck-Pontiac-GMC.
The entry LaCrosse is the front-drive $27,085 model, which dips below the $28,000 barrier without the car's $750 destination charge. Next comes the front-drive $29,645 CXL, which costs $31,820 with all-wheel drive and is the only LaCrosse to offer that drive feature. The CXL is expected to be the most popular LaCrosse.
The front-drive $33,015 CXS is the top version.
The CXL with front- or all-wheel drive has a 3-liter V-6 with 255 horsepower and 217 pound-feet of torque. It provides lively acceleration, but needs lots of revs for the fastest acceleration, although it's happy to provide them via its responsive six-speed automatic transmission. A new 2.4-liter Ecotec dual-overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engine replaces this V-6 as the standard engine later this year.
The 3-liter V-6 delivers an estimated 17 mpg in the city and 27 on highways with front-drive and 16 and 26 with all-wheel drive. Buick says the four-cylidner will deliver an estimated 20 mpg city and 30 highway.
The CXS has a 3.6-liter V-6 with 280 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. It's considerably stronger and makes the LaCrosse a faster, more relaxed car that's quieter during hard acceleration. Fuel economy with this engine is an estimated 17 city and 27 highway. It also utilizes a six-speed automatic.
Both V-6s only require regular-grade gasoline, as will the upcoming four-cylinder.
Buick says the 0-60 mph time with the 3.6 V-6 is approximately 6.8 seconds. Figure on adding another second to 60 mph with the 3-liter V-6. Both engines provide easy 75 mph highway cruising.
The four-cylinder won't be a slouch, with a respectable 0-60 mph time of "9.2 to 9.3" seconds, says Buick, which expects it to attract new customers.
Those figures are OK, considering that the 197-inch-long LaCrosse is fairly heavy. The front-drive CX weighs 3,948 pounds. The CXL checks in at 4,018 pounds with front-drive and at 4,199 pounds with all-wheel drive. The CSX weighs 4,065 pounds.
The CX has such features as premium cloth seats and 17-inch wheels. The CXL adds heated, leather-covered seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, outside mirrors with LED turn indicators and 18-inch wheels. The all-wheel-drive system works with an anti-lock braking system and electronic stability control to provide sure-footed traction during most driving conditions.
The CXS has heated and ventilated perforated leather-covered seats and chrome 18-inch alloy wheels, with available 19-inch wheels.
As for safety, all models have front-side air bags and head-curtain air bags for front and rear occupants, with rear side air bags optional. GM's OnStar assistance system also is standard.
Other safety items include an optional side blind spot alert system, head-up instrument display, "rotating" headlights that let a driver see around curves better, rearview camera and an entertainment system with DVD screens behind the front seat head rests so they don't block rear vision.
The new LaCrosse is a mid-size car, as is its predecessor. Its 111.7-inch wheelbase is sightly longer, but it's a bit shorter overall at 197 inches. It's virtually the same width but is about two inches higher.
The car feels solid, thanks to a strong body structure that uses ultra-high-strength steel. A firm structure contributes to good ride and handling, as does an all-independent suspension.
The new, nicely sculpted styling is sleek. The hood behind Buick's traditional "waterfall grille" looks somewhat short, although three long, chromed, nonfunctional "portholes" on each side of the hood make it look longer. Portholes in front fenders are a Buick trademark going back to the late 1940s.
Buick occasionally dropped the portholes, then brought them back. They're a nice traditional touch. In any case, the LaCrosse has plenty of artfully located chrome, especially at the rear, and the chromed dual exhaust outlets of the CXS make ti look particularly sporty.
Large door openings and handles make it easy to slide in and out of the church-quiet interior, which looks decidedly upscale. It has ice-blue ambient lighting for the console, instrument panel and door panels. However, there are a few cheap-feeling plastic components here and there.
Gauges can be quickly read, but climate system controls are small and there's a mixture of small and large audio system controls. The available start-stop engine button is handy, but is buried behind the adjustable steering wheel.