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2012 Buick LaCrosse: Hush hybrid

Posted by Bill Griffith  December 16, 2011 10:54 AM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe). Click photo for larger version.

There’s no way this review is going to start off with another of those “This is not your father’s Buick” lines. Anyway, that axiom now is so old it should be “This is not your grandfather’s Buick.”

Nope. Not today. Instead, Mrs. G is stepping up to say, “This is my Buick.”

It started when she spotted today’s test car, a 2012 Buick LaCrosse, in the driveway.

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One of the loose “rules” about doing auto reviews is that you generally don’t comment on the color of the test car (even if it’s fuchsia) because buyers will pick their own shade of the rainbow; however, it’s certainly OK to critique the quality of the paint job.

Mrs. G isn’t big on recognizing manufacturer’s logos, but she really liked the looks of this full-sized sedan, enough to prompt her to walk around the back of it (it was backed up to a fence) to see what brand it was.

“That Buick LaCrosse is a really nice looking car, and it’s got a great paint job, too,” she announced as she came into the house. And so it did — a $195 optional carbon black metallic finish.

Her praise continued for several days.

“There’s lots of space for the passengers. In the back seat, too.”

“I really like the leather.”

“This car has a terrific ride.”

“I like the interior design.”

“These seats are comfortable, and they heat up nicely.”

Even though Mrs. G gets to ride in a lot of different cars, she tends to regard many of them with minimal interest — unless she’s uncomfortable. Then she complains. So these unsolicited compliments were high praise.

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The LaCrosse was interesting to me for a different reason: It had Buick’s eAssist system that bumps EPA mileage figures to 25 mpg city and 36 on the highway. Buick doesn’t bill eAssist as a hybrid, but it is at least “Hybrid Lite.” The 15 horsepower motor-generator is mounted much like an alternator would be placed in other cars. It collects energy via the serpentine belt during braking and adds that 15 horsepower and 79 lb.-ft. of torque during acceleration via that same reinforced beltway.

The system also allows for start-stop technology (the gasoline engine stops when the car is stopped), fuel cutoff during deceleration, and the motor-generator keeps spinning when the car is at rest to both power electrical accessories and provide a seamless restart.

Power then goes to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission that was seamlessly smooth on acceleration but made itself known while downshifting.

While the base LaCrosse’s price is just over $30,820 (including destination), our test vehicle was a “Premium 1” upgrade with leather and an MSRP of $33,300. Add upgraded audio ($600.); driver confidence package with adaptive HID headlights, side blind alert, and head-up display ($1,440); Navigation and backup camera ($1,345); rear- seat entertainment system ($1,295); and the metallic paint ($195) and you had a bottom line of $38,175.

For me, the rear view camera and blind-side alert were the most desirable options because one of the LaCrosse’s few drawbacks is somewhat limited rear visibility. I also grew to like the head-up system, which offers several viewing choices but basically projects speed, time, and driving direction in the driver’s field of vision over the hood.

On the road the LaCrosse’s steering feel was steady and the ride was excellent on smooth roads. The occasional frost heave or pothole could be felt elsewhere, but when we took the LaCrosse on several trips over some really bad road, the suspension and ride proved to be amazingly refined.

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The LaCrosse has its quirks: The small-for-a-hybrid lithium ion battery back is behind the rear seat and cuts trunk space down to adequate. The center stack is loaded with buttons that, while not immediately intuitive, can be lived with comfortably.

GM has come a long way with its instrument panels in recent years and the design and quality in the LaCrosse is excellent, featuring leather with contrasting stitching. Gauges are nicely luminescent with a blue tone that carries over from the instrument cluster to the navigation system. That hue also is included in ambient lighting in the console, across the instrument panel, and in door pockets.

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An “eco” gauge on the instrument panel is supposed to show the driver how economically he or she is driving; however, it really only moves noticeably under extreme acceleration or braking.

We drove under less-than-ideal conditions, doing lots of Christmas errands and spending more time than normal in traffic and dealing with red lights. Still, the LaCrosse averaged 28.2 miles per gallon, a figure we thought would have been higher during a “normal” week of driving. Plus it uses regular fuel.

But actually it doesn’t matter what I say. Mrs. G had spoken first.

Bill Griffith can be reached at WGriffith@globe.com.



2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist

THE BASICS
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $33,300 / $38,175.
Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 25 mpg city / 36 mpg highway / 29 combined.
Fuel economy, Globe observed: 28.2.
Drivetrain: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 15 HP electric motor-generator, six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive.
Body: Five-passenger sedan.

THE SPECIFICS
Horsepower: 182 (gas engine) plus 15 (motor-generator)
Torque: lb.-ft. 172 lb. ft. (gas engine) plus 79 (motor-generator)
Overall length: 197 in.
Wheelbase: 111.7 in.
Height: 59.2 in.
Width: 73.1 in.
Curb weight: 3,835 pounds.

THE GOOD: Fuel economy, interior style and comfort, handling.

THE BAD: Limited trunk space, rear visibility, center stack controls.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Buick has to be considered in this near-luxury/full-sized segment and the eAssist will only help.

ALSO CONSIDER: Acura TL, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Genesis, Lexus ES 350, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon.

A version of this story ran on page J1 of The Boston Globe on Saturday, Dec. 17.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
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George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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