The Relentless Pursuit of Lexus
We once had one of those bosses who would, for the smallest oversight or infraction, growl, stiff-spined and red-faced, "No, no, no, [expletive deleted] no!"
Pretty much all of you responded the same way after discovering our test-track results for the 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXL with its direct-injection 3.0-liter V6.
Come on, guys, you've got it all wrong. A 2-ton Buick powered by a 255-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 that gets to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds (8.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like at a drag strip) is not a car that General Motors needs to make apologies for. But OK, you're in full denial mode about the 2010 Buick LaCrosse. We've given you all the recognizable markers to compare cars when they're speeding along at their dynamic limits, but we haven't been able to program our satellite-based VBOX testing equipment to judge how serenely a luxury vehicle glides to a halt.
And you know what? The 2010 Buick LaCrosse does that serene thing brilliantly. This is not by coincidence. GM has targeted the Lexus ES 350, an automobile noted for utter serenity under circumstances that even average drivers doing average things will notice.
So as we approach this top-of-the-line 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS with its 3.6-liter V6, let us do so with fresh eyes.
Right, but What About 0-60?
Seven-point-five. That's how long it takes this 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS to get to 60 mph from a standing start. That is, 7.5 seconds to 60 mph (7.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). Keep your Rockport-wearin' right foot in it and the CXS will get through the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 90.3 mph. It wasn't that long ago that low 7s were considered sporty-car times for zero to 60 mph.
But, yes, the 280-hp LaCrosse CXS is not as quick as the 272-hp Lexus ES 350 that serves as GM's bogey for this Buick. The Lexus will get to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds (6.5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and reach the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at a trap speed of 96.7 mph. And let's face it; it's not as if the average driver of an ES is that much less likely to be a fan of Matlock reruns than the average buyer of the LaCrosse.
The Size Thing
One issue that the LaCrosse vs. ES 350 acceleration smackdown brings to light is the whole size thing. The LaCrosse CXS's 3.6-liter V6 makes 280 hp at 6,300 rpm and 259 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. The 3.5-liter V6 of the Lexus ES 350 makes 8 hp fewer than the CXS's engine, but the Lexus also weighs almost 500 pounds less than the Buick. That is exactly one butt-load, as the LaCrosse CXS weighs 4,155 pounds.
That the Buick is large compared to direct competitors such as the Lexus ES 350 and the Lincoln MKZ is part of the explanation. It measures 196.9 inches in length, 73.1 inches wide and 59.2 inches high. Its 111.7-inch wheelbase is longer by 2.4 inches than the Lexus and 4.3 inches longer than the Lincoln. This returns real benefits for the Buick, as rear-seat legroom is significantly better in the LaCrosse. It's roomier by 4.6 inches than the ES 350's rear quarters and almost 4 inches better than the MKZ.
Whether this is the influence of China, Buick's strongest market, we cannot say, as Buick is a very popular brand for executives, who are typically driven to work in that country. We can say that the LaCrosse's focus on rear-seat room has sacrificed cargo-carrying capability, as the CXS's trunk can swallow only 12.8 cubes. And worse, the opening through which those cubes must be finagled is small and oddly shaped.
Hubba, Hubba, Hubba
In an odd sort of way, the focus on rear-seat room has also informed the LaCrosse's exterior design. Look how long that passenger cabin is. Look how short the trunk lid is.
The base of the A-pillar is planted unusually far forward, and the long-cabin look is accentuated by the tall, bluff flanks and narrow side windows. The front-side windows are about 12.5 inches tall, which ain't much. The rear windows taper quickly to a scant 9 inches tall at the rear. And when you combine this with A-pillars that are 9.5 inches wide at eye level, visibility out of the LaCrosse is not especially good, and that's a largish demerit for a car in this class. (There is an optional blind-spot detection system available.)
But like Buicks from the decades before your narrator was born, the LaCrosse has style. Judging by the responses to our track test of the CXL model, not everyone likes the style. But reaction to this particular CXS test car proved overwhelmingly positive during our extended drive in the real world. And even those who didn't love it were interested in it. (Of course, not one of them guessed it was a Buick.) The LaCrosse certainly looks incredibly modern next to the ES 350, which reminds us of a sweet potato.
My Chi Is Happy
For all its relatively small glass area, the interior of the LaCrosse feels open and airy. Partly this is because the windshield is far ahead of you. But it's also because the dash is laid back toward the base of the windshield and curves smoothly from one door panel to the other. The effect is not totally unlike sitting in a bathtub — although it's a bathtub with a navigation system and Bluetooth connectivity, and where clothing is recommended.
It's also easy to find a comfy seating position, and even the intimidating mass of identical gray buttons in the center stack turns out to be easy to operate after a short acquaintance. Then there are these slashes of blue light incorporated into the dash, the center console, seemingly everywhere. We're told that these accent light strips are supposed to be to the interior what chrome is to the exterior. OK.
You know that childhood taunt: I'm rubber and you're glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you? Well, we miss saying that. In a related note, the handling of a Lexus ES 350 is more likely to be described as Buick-like than the handling of the Buick LaCrosse.
Based upon the latest evolution of GM's midsize Epsilon platform (it's underneath the Chevy Malibu and Saturn Aura), the Euro-tuned LaCrosse has a broad spread of talent. It is a far handier thing to drive than anything Lexus has thrown at this market. Our CXS makes it through the slalom at 62.3 mph and circles the skid pad at 0.80g. That's well ahead of what a floppy ES 350 will do. We should note that this is with stability control turned off. With the very apprehensive, Buick-style stability system engaged, the CXS's limits decrease to 61.1 mph in the slalom and 0.76g on the skid pad. This is still better than the ES 350, in which you can't turn off the stability control.
Whether as the luxury-oriented CXL or the sportier CXS, the LaCrosse is simply a well-balanced front-driver. It carries 58 percent of its weight on the front axle, which is not as much as many front-wheel-drive sedans. The steering system is responsive and naturally weighted, with good isolation from vibration. The brake pedal has a bit of initial mush but then proves surprisingly firm and progressive, and the LaCrosse CXS with 19-inch Goodyear all-season tires returns a good 60-0-mph braking performance of 127 feet.
About That Fuel Economy Thing
Why does the 3.0-liter V6 get worse gas mileage than its bigger, more powerful, 3.6-liter brother? They are, after all, the same basic engine. The CXL with its 3.0-liter V6 returns 17 mpg city/26 highway mpg, while the CXS with its 3.6-liter V6 gets 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway. Buick tells us that the 3.0-liter V6 has to work harder. Or maybe it's an anomaly with the EPA test.
Whatever the case, there is little reason to not get the 3.6-liter. This assumes you have the coin to get a CXS, the one trim line that's offered with the big motor. The 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS starts at $33,765 (including destination charges). That's $3,370 more than the CXL, but also includes cooled front seats, an upgraded audio system with a USB port, keyless entry and start, and a few other niceties. The CXS is also the only LaCrosse available with the Touring package option, which includes dampers that automatically adjust to conditions while you drive.
We have to say that the ride compliance and track performance of the conventional suspension with 18-inch tires featured by the CXL is as good as that offered by the Touring package of the CXS. Also, you can't get the 3.6-liter with all-wheel drive, something that is available for the 3.0-liter-powered CXL. But were we in the market for a LaCrosse, we can't imagine passing up on the better acceleration numbers, more plentiful midrange torque and the slightly better fuel economy of the CXS model with the 3.6-liter. But either way, the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is a vehicle about which General Motors should be proud.
Now, there's an upcoming version of the 2010 Buick LaCrosse with an inline-4 engine. We haven't driven it, but it might be dog-slow enough to justify a little derision from anyone who can't think outside the box. But really, people, you're going to have to get past your whole Buick thing. Wake up; times are changing.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Edmunds.com Automotive Content Editor Warren Clarke says:
The previous-generation LaCrosse had all the charm and appeal of a pair of Depends, and I figured the revamped model would serve up more of the same. I'd stand a better chance of seeing Berkshire hogs fly, I thought, than of seeing Buick roll out a sedan that could capably brawl with a Lexus.
Boy was I wrong. The LaCrosse brings it. It trumps the ES 350 on the road, offering the sort of ride quality usually associated with vehicles built in Heidi Klum's homeland — we're talking firm but not overly so, with no shortage of confidence. Its interior blows the ES 350's out of the water. There's a cool wraparound dash design that looks hip and modern, and handsome stitching all over the seats, dash and door panels.
Roll the windows up and hit the open road and the LaCrosse hits you with another surprise: its silent cabin. The best luxury sedans offer this sort of tranquility, and the LaCrosse earns a place for itself at that table. The car also looks pretty good — it even turned a couple of heads. (A Buick! Imagine that.) Sure, the vents on the hood could make you throw up a little in your mouth, but otherwise, the LaCrosse is as buff and ripped as an L.A. gym rat. The Lexus ES 350, by way of contrast, may as well come with a sign that says "Welcome to the 1990s." And too bad about the mushy ride quality.
When you consider that the Buick LaCrosse also costs about $4 grand less than the Lexus ES 350, it becomes a no-brainer. I think I just saw a little porker flit by my window.