Friday, February 5, 2010

LaCrosse sticks up for American engineering

This review originally published in the January 2010 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin' News published out of Folsom, California.--mg

Sacramento, California -- I liked the Buick LaCrosse when it made its debut in 2005, but not everyone shared my opinion.

Other auto-reviewing colleagues longed for the days of the old Buick Riviera, or the Century or the Regal.

Now that LaCrosse has been extensively redesigned for 2010, the Buick luxury sedan is winning some more converts, including Motor Trend magazine, a publication that often takes a tough line on American-made hardware.

I’m sure folks are pleased that the LaCrosse has a lot that’s new in 2010. But its original appeal sticks with me: It’s a true luxury model that’s not overpriced, with a fairly robust power plant under the hood. For those not looking to buy a Bentley, these considerations have serious appeal.

My tester was the CXS version, the most expensive of four trim levels, starting at $33,015 (a LaCrosse CX can be had for 27-grand and change). That price is within range of not only luxury car buyers but midsize car owners looking to trade up. For that price, you get a generously equipped LaCrosse that will likely earn you congrats from your neighbors.

First off, the LaCrosse looks good in the driveway. I have to wonder if Buick stole some DNA from the Lincoln brand as the LaCrosse has that same chrome-laden grille and aerodynamic wedge shape, with the side bodywork rising high to seemingly compressed windows.

And yet, from the cockpit, the 360-degree view around the car is good. Standard features on the CXS are what you’d expect from a sedan with the luxury label. The tester had soft leather seats (heated and ventilated, plus eight-way power adjustments in the front seats), a 384-watt Harman/Kardon audio system with 11 speakers, a power rear sunshade, dual-zone climate control and an easy-to-read driver information center.

Tastefully arranged chrome and woodgrain accents gave the CXS the feel of a top-tier Lexus. Nice touch.

The standard engine on the CXS is a 3.6-liter V-6 with 280 horsepower (17 mpg city/27 mpg on the highway). This is a robust motor that makes the CXS a worthy road-trip warrior, particularly when matched up with a real-time, active-dampening suspension. This marriage makes for a smooth-riding machine that makes the 250-mile driving session a snap. You want to gas up, get back in and get going all over again.

I remember that one of my gripes about the 2005 LaCrosse CXS was the presence of a four-speed automatic transmission. I wanted a five-speed to get the best out of what was then a 240-horsepower V-6. How much have times changed in five years? The standard gearbox on the 2010 CXS is a six-speed.

Also part of the 2010 CXS is contemporary connectivity. The interior package includes in-dash navigation, Bluetooth, an auxiliary radio input and a USB port. Good stuff to be sure, but I guess I’m getting old. I just like to DRIVE the car.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the ice-blue ambient lighting inside the LaCrosse. It had a soothing quality on night drives, but sometimes I felt like I had been transported to a lounge in Vegas. Just for your own personal tastes, you might want to include a night run if you go test driving a LaCrosse.

For customizers, the LaCrosse offers an inviting canvas. The sedan’s shape is contemporary aerodynamic, which means you have carte blanche to lower it or stick a monster air scoop on the hood. My tester was jet black, and I can absolutely envision it morphing into a blown monster.

Overall, I’d say the LaCrosse offers a pretty good counter-argument that the quality American-made sedan is a thing of the past. Luxury for less, and something good under the hood. A nice piece of work, I’d say.

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