|The trademark waterfall grille is the
only thing linking to the past...
recently Buick was still seen as an aging brand serving conservative
customers in retirement age. Its cars were mostly crap, offering vast
of metal in tasteless shape and poor quality, using ancient pushrod
engines and outdated suspensions to achieve bargain prices.
Unfortunately, demand for Buick dried out as most of those old
customers had died. The old era went into history together with the old
General Motors. In the new age, everything starts all over again.
Brands and product portfolio are rationalized. Platform strategy is
simplified. Old mechanicals phased out. New school styling phased in.
Strictly speaking, the first “new age Buick” was Enclave, an SUV
launched in 2007. In the car side, it begins with the new LaCrosse.
A first glance at the new Buick LaCrosse arises a suspicion: is it
really a Buick? Yes, it retains the trademark waterfall grille, but
that is about the only thing linking to the past. This stylish and
sporty exterior design was penned by someone whose vision falls in
Europe. It combines a functional shape with a sense of understated
elegance rarely found in Detroit. It has none of the flamboyant or
muscular features of traditional American designs. On the contrary, it
has some very subtle details, such as the Bentley-style crease line
running around the rear wheelarch.
|Carrying 200kg more than Mercedes
E-class, performance falls short of class norm...
about its American roots. The new Buick is a product of international
cooperation. Opel of Germany contributed its Epsilon II platform and
provided fundamental engineering. American designers located at Warren
penned its exterior design; But most significant of all, its interior
design was done by Chinese designers located at Shanghai. Having seen
the gorgeous Buick Riviera concept in 2007, people no longer doubt the
competence of GM's Chinese designers. Especially now China has passed
USA as the biggest market of Buick, employing some Chinese flavors will
benefit its sales. The LaCrosse is to be assembled at two plants -
Oshawa of Canada and Shanghai (in the joint-venture with SAIC), with
the latter taking the majority.
The interior design looks stylish, elegant and luxurious from the first
sight. Features like blue-glowing instrument and chromed center console
catch your eyes. Spend more time with it, however, you may find it too
showy, lacking the understated beauty of the exterior. Like most
Chinese products, its visual quality is skin-deep. The flowing shape
sacrifices storage spaces and makes the door handles useless. Fit and
finish falls short of the standard of premium cars. The same goes for
materials - there are fake leather and wood, some soft plastics but
also many hard plastics. It's easier to satisfy farmers-turn-tycoons
Chinese than well-educated Western executives. Space-wise, LaCrosse is
more than competitive, especially its back seats. A long wheelbase
enables generous legroom for rear passengers. This is especially
important in the China market because many of the Buick will be bought
as company cars to take bosses and VIPs.
|Like most Chinese products, its visual
quality is skin-deep...
underpinnings come from Opel Insignia. Wheelbase has been stretched by
a full 100 mm to 2837 mm to suit its near-luxury market positioning.
With a length just over 5 meters and a kerb weight up to 1843kg, this
is the first Epsilon II car falling on the E-segment. A rigid chassis
and extensive NVH engineering such as triple door seals, laminated
glass and 6-point engine mounts result in good refinement. On the run,
the cabin is remarkably quiet. The strut and multi-link suspension is
absorbent without floating. Its setup is slightly softer than the
European car, but it still controls the body movement million miles
better than Buicks of the old. Like Insignia, you can opt for an
electronic adaptive damping to improve control further. However, the
car is not designed for sporty drivers. Push it beyond 8/10 and the
front-wheel drive chassis will understeer. The electrical power
steering is accurate but numb. The 6-speed automatic box is a tad slow
in reaction. All these mean the Buick is more a rival to Lexus than BMW.
Performance is another weakness. GM offers three engines for the car –
182hp 2.4-liter four-pot, 255hp 3.0-liter V6 and 280hp 3.6-liter V6.
Although the V6s are equipped with variable valve timing and direct
fuel injection, they fail to deliver competitive performance and fuel
economy. This is because the LaCrosse is really heavy - carrying some
200 kilograms more than an equivalent Mercedes E-class ! The smaller V6
lacks low-down grunt as it takes 5100 rpm to find peak torque. The
larger engine is 24 horses short of the same unit used in Cadillac CTS.
It takes 7 seconds to go from rest to 60 mph, half a second adrift of
class norm. Moreover, the 3.6-liter engine could induce some torque
steer if you are hard on throttle. Ridiculously, LaCrosse offers a
Haldex 4WD system as option only on the 3-liter car, leaving the more
powerful engine on front-wheel drive.
Nevertheless, the V6 engines are smooth and refined, especially the
smaller one. They suit the civilized character of the car very well. If
you can live with its interior and performance, Buick LaCrosse can be a
decent alternative to Japanese near-luxury cars. It just isn’t as good
as it looks.