California Autos Examiner

Friday, January 16, 2009

2010 Buick LaCrosse

Out of GM’s three new products on display at COBO, I spent the least time with the LaCrosse. It was scheduling more than anything else, but there must have been something else going on because it didn’t even occur to me to take more photos until I was on the plane and leaving Detroit. Somewhere, in that little oversight of mine, there must be a little insight into the brand’s challenges.

Buick executives will quickly tell you that they have had tremendous success with getting buyers to cross shop the Enclave and point to that model’s success as a sign that Buick can win over new buyers. However, I fear that the Enclave is the exception rather than the rule and here’s why: The Enclave’s crossover body style wasn’t around in the “bad old days” for the brand. There is no frame of reference for that model and crossovers in general. Your mother and father did not drive a crossover. For the LaCrosse, no matter how good it looks, it is a Buick sedan and there are plenty of references back to the Buick of old.

How can Buick escape that stigma? Well, sedans like the LaCrosse are certainly going to help. The previous lackluster LaCrosse had rental car written all over it, but the new design adds style and panache. The faux vents are less offensive on the hood rather than side, but I’d still lose them. In their place, if you must have something there, I’d swap it out for a turn signal repeater or some other functional element on the side of the front fender. That’s a minor complaint and overall the LaCrosse is very attractive. Line up this car next to the new Acura TL and there is absolutely no comparison. The new TL is overwrought and quite disastrous while the LaCrosse is flowing and elegant. In terms of exterior style, the LaCrosse also handily beats the Lexus ES. However, I can assure you that if I showed up to work in Buick, I would receive no end of grief from my coworkers. Who wants to endure teasing after they have just purchased a new car? Whereas if I showed up to work in the TL, they would probably be impressed, even though the styling is really atrocious.

Buick is packing more tech into its cars these days and that is a very good thing. Corporate-wide in-dash navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, auxiliary audio input and a USB port have become available and those features are found in the LaCrosse. You can also order up a DVD entertainment system with two display screens integrated into the seatback, Side Blind Zone alert, a rearview camera, heated and cooled seats, a heads-up display and adaptive headlights. Available features such as these will help the sedan cast itself as a younger buyer's car and I encourage Buick to jam even more tech options in the future. Just take a look at what Ford is doing with all of its offerings. It might be a crazy amount of tech, but as long as you keep most of it optional, folks can decide whether or not they want it in their own ride.

Standard spec is front wheel drive, but you can also request all wheel drive. Two direct injection motors are offered, a 255HP (est), 3.0L V6 which is estimated to return 18/27 city/highway mileage and a 280HP (est), 3.6L V6 which should serve up 17/26 city/highway. The same Hydra-Matic 6T70 six-speed services both engines. Wheel sizes range from 17 to 19 inches.

Reps from the brand promise a library quiet ride with euro-style handling in an American sedan. Since I haven't been able to take the LaCrosse for a spin, we'll just have to leave the LaCrosse's driving dynamics for another day.

Bottom line, the 2010 LaCrosse is a sharp looking sedan with a much improved interior. Launched by another brand, let's say Lexus, this car would be be giant sales hit. As a Buick it will certainly improve upon its predecessor's numbers, but I'm not sure it will be able to break the bonds of the Buick name. Rome wasn’t built in a day and attracting younger buyers to the brand won’t happen overnight. If Buick continues to churn out the hits, eventually, perception will be changed and someday it would be okay for anyone to show up proudly in a Buick sedan. We’re just not there yet here in the States. My only worry here is that towards the end, Oldsmobiles were looking pretty good too. Sometimes a brand's road to reinvention runs out before the negative perceptions do.

General Motors covered my expenses to attend the 2009 NAIAS.

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