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2010 Buick LaCrosse CX

Buick Proves It Knows How To Do Entry-Level Luxury

      In the 1980s, Buick’s jingle declared that “the great American road belongs to Buick.” As had been true for decades, this tagline was not an empty claim. Buicks from that era soaked up the pavement, comforting occupants in plush tufted couches that were passed off as car seats. However, it was during this time the once powerful line-up of LeSabres, Electras and Riveras was joined by smaller cars propelled by relatively crude 4-cylinders bearing the names of SkyHawk, Skylark, Somerset and Century.
      It wasn’t until the last Skylark rolled off the assembly line in 1998 that Buick purists could breathe a sigh of relief over the absence of a 4-cylinder Buick. So when news broke that Buick would offer an I4 in the well-received LaCrosse, skepticism was a natural reaction. After all, we rather loved the smooth V6 in the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink LaCrosse we fell for earlier this year. We put a base 2010 LaCrosse CX sedan to the test to find out if the skepticism was justified, or if a modern four-pot can get the job done.
      It’s not as if we we’re overly concerned about the genuine goodness of the LaCrosse’s 2.4-liter DOHC 4-cylinder. This four-banger is a direct-injected unit producing 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. The concern stems more from the idea that 182 hp isn’t a lot of power to tow around 3,948-pounds of Buick in all its venti-ported glory. As it turns out, the engine doesn’t feel too burdened under hard acceleration, though it won’t leave any tire marks or snap your neck into the headrest. Buick has managed to keep the natural 4-cylinder vibrations at a minimum, though a bit of engine noise makes its way into the cabin at idle. Hard acceleration also prompts a bit of reluctant noise from the engine compartment as the diminutive engine labors to post 60 mph in about 9.5 seconds.
      Fuel economy was where we expected this Buick to shine. The EPA rating on the 2.4L is 19 city/30 highway. So we were surprised, and not in a good way, that the Buick struggled to surpass 26 mpg during our testing, which included multiple 40 mile-plus highway cruises. This was a bit disappointing considering its nicely geared 6-speed transmission. Our lackluster mileage results do not compare favorably to the CXS model featuring the 3.6-liter that earned ratings of 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway and produces a substantial 280 hp and 259 lb-ft of torque.
      Though lacking in sheer power and offering a minimal advantage in the fuel economy game, the “base” CX offers nearly all the appeal of the mid-level CXL and upper-crust CXS. The classy exterior still has most of the glitz of the upper level models, save for the lack of fog lights. No one will even know of the money you saved by passing on the V6 since this Buick sports the same number of venti-ports as the top-line CXL. The interior is exceedingly easy on the eyes and probably the LaCrosse’s strongest asset. We were particularly impressed with the upscale ambient lighting at night. Though lovely upon entry, we were relieved to find that the illuminated blue strip spanning the width of the dash can be dialed off in order to reduce glare. The CX we tested had comfortable cloth seats, a welcome change in an industry that falsely believes every buyer prefers leather. The stitching on the dash and soft touch points throughout the cabin impressed us and even shamed several costlier vehicles we have recently tested. The interior frustrated with a couple of minor details: smallish door pulls felt a bit awkward to use and the gauges had oddly spaced increments of 20 mph.
      Outward visibility was a disappointment. The A-pillars are thick and the cowl is placed far forward; a combination that prevents the driver from catching a view of the hood. Visibility out of the rear is no better with a gun-slit rear window set above a high trunk-lid. This might be forgivable if it allowed for a large trunk, but that’s not the case as the trunk is unusually small for a sedan of this size. A third strike against this Buick is relatively tight headroom in the rear seat, although legroom is generous.
      On the great American open road the LaCrosse rides like a Buick should: well composed and amazingly quiet. Those familiar with the first-generation LaCrosse (and the old Regal and Century twins preceding it) will be pleased to discover that GM has learned how to make a front-driver corner. No longer will you find Buick’s midsize sedan plowing into corners with tires squealing reluctantly. While obviously no sport sedan, the LaCrosse serves up confident handling and good brakes that will suit the performance needs of mainstream midsize sedan buyers.
      So is there an advantage to the 4-cylinder LaCrosse CX versus the 6-cylinders in the CXL and CXS? The answer is in black and white at the bottom of the window sticker. The standard price for the CX at $26,999 (including destination) is quite a bargain considering that it is not easy to visibly distinguish this car–inside or out–from its higher priced companions ($30,395 for the CXL and $33,765 for the CXS). Further consider that the aging rental-grade Chevy Impala starts at a substantial $25,215 and the verdict is clear. Plus the 2.4L is sure to save costs and frustration down the road from a serviceability standpoint; something that often gets overlooked in the decision process when weighing the pros and cons of a 4-cylinder versus a V6. Even if the smaller engine doesn’t save much money on fuel, the base cost of the vehicle alone makes this model the compelling choice. For those sensible midsize sedan shoppers who have been longing for the genuine style that Buick now offers, the LaCrosse CX won’t disappoint.

The Good:
Bargain price, great looks, upscale interior, strong warranty coverage.
The Bad:
Disappointing fuel economy, tight trunk and rear seat headroom, outward visibility.
The Verdict:
All the style of a Buick for the price of a Chevrolet.

Photos by Jason Muxlow

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  1. Jim
    September 29th, 2010 at 11:39 | #1

    It must have killed you to write this review Erich. FWD, 4-cyl, automatic, unibody Buick!

    I test drove one (it was the 3.0 V6) during a local ride and drive event and agree with most points. The most dissapointing thing to me was the visibility. I like to be able to see! Even my Buick Riviera has better visibility out the back than this. Not liking the high beltline, but that’s becoming more and more common of newer “large” cars (e.g. new Taurus). I also wondered where that extra space looking over the data sheet. For a car its size, it’s neither particularly roomy inside, and the trunk is quite small?

    That being said, it sure rides/handles nice and the interior is top-notch, boasts a long list of features and has pleasant styling. It doesn’t win on all counts, but overall a more competitive sedan within its segment than Buick has done in some time. Looking forward to your review on the new Regal.

  1. November 30th, 2010 at 14:46 | #1
  2. December 5th, 2010 at 14:56 | #2
  3. December 7th, 2010 at 14:50 | #3
  4. March 1st, 2011 at 14:27 | #4
  5. March 10th, 2011 at 14:18 | #5
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