The Truth About Cars » Buick The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Buick Cadillac Flagship, Redesigned LaCrosse To Be Made In Detroit By 2016 Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:30:16 +0000 2013 Cadillac Elmiraj Concept

In light of General Motors’ recent announcement of a $384 million investment in its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, two vehicles from Cadillac and Buick could wind up being produced alongside the next-generation Volt.

Edmunds reports IHS Automotive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley expects Cadillac’s all-new flagship to be produced in late 2015, with the Buick LaCrosse — currently assembled in Fairfax, Kan. — joining the flagship in 2016 for the latter’s next redesign.

Though GM hasn’t said much about the flagship, industry insiders claim the vehicle will be aimed at the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS and Mercedes S-Class, and may be priced as much as $100,000.

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GM Seeks Aid From NASA, Issues New Ignition-Related Recall Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:00:47 +0000 gm-headquarters-logo-opt

Autoblog reports 2.19 million of the same vehicles under the current General Motors ignition recall are under a new ignition-related recall, as well. The new recall warns of a problem where the key can be removed without the switch moved to the “off” position. According to GM, the automaker is aware of “several hundred” complaints and at least one roll-away accident resulting in injury, and is instructing affected consumers to place their vehicles in park or, in manuals, engage the emergency brake before removing the key from the ignition until repairs are made.

Regarding the original recall, The Detroit News reports has called upon NASA’s Engineering & Safety Center to review whether or not the 2.6 million affected Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Saturns are safe to drive with just the ignition key in position. The agency, which has performed similar reviews in the past, will look over the work performed by the automaker in the latter’s effort to make the affected vehicles safe to drive, as well as review its overall approach to safety concerns.

On the financial front, Automotive News says GM will take a $1.3 billion charge in Q1 2014 for the original recall, 40 percent greater than the $750 million charge originally estimated at the end of last month. The charge — which includes repair costs and loaners for affected owners — comes on the heels of a $400 million charge tied to currency challenges in Venezuela, the total sum of which threatens to knock out most if not all of the automaker’s Q1 2014 earnings set to be announced toward of end of this month.

Meanwhile, The Detroit News reports Michael Carpenter, the CEO of former GM financial arm Ally Financial, says his company will complete its exit from government ownership by Election Day of this year:

The U.S. Treasury is quite happy today. My own view is they will definitely be out before the election and we are close to having Treasury and U.S. government ownership in the rearview mirror.

By the end of trading Thursday, Ally’s IPO netted taxpayers $17.7 billion with a profit of $500 million on the $17.2 billion bailout of the consumer finance company, while the Treasury currently holds 17 percent of its remaining shares after selling 95 million for $25 per share at the opening bell; share price fell 4.4 percent to $23.50 at the closing bell.

In lawsuit news, Automotive News reports GM settled with the families of two Saturn Ion drivers who lost their lives in 2004 when their respective cars’ airbags failed to deploy. The two fatalities were identified by the publication as the earliest of 13 linked to the out-of-spec ignition switch at the root of the current recall crisis. In addition, while one case was settled out-of-court in September of 2007, the second case drew its settlement terms after the automaker filed for bankruptcy in June of 2009, placing the plaintiffs and their lawyer with other unsecured creditors.

The Detroit News reports Cadillac and Buick are at the top of their respective lists for dealer service satisfaction as determined by the J.D. Power & Associates U.S. Customer Service Index Study. Cadillac’s dominance over the luxury brand category comes as former No. 1 Lexus — who held the top spot for five consecutive years — falls to third behind Audi, while Buick leads Volkswagen, GMC, Mini and Chevrolet in the mass-market brand category.

Finally, Autoblog reports the last of eight Corvettes swallowed by the sinkhole that formed inside the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky. back in February has been recovered. The 2001 Corvette Mallett Hammer Z06 will need extensive work performed to bring it back to its original state, but not before it joins its brethren in a new exhibit entitled “Great 8″ beginning next week. The exhibit will last until the museum’s 20th anniversary in late August, at which point GM will begin restoration work on the eight Corvettes.

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GM Invests $449M Into Next-Gen Volt Production Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:10:01 +0000 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-001

General Motors announced Tuesday that it would invest $449 million into the two plants responsible for assembling the Chevrolet Volt in preparation for the next generation of the plug-in hybrid’s arrival in 2016.

The Detroit News reports $384 million will immediately go into the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant for body shop tooling, equipment and other plant upgrades, while the remaining $65 million heads for the Brownstown Township battery assembly plant for expanded production of GM’s advanced lithium-ion batteries, as well as any future technologies that come down the road. The investments are expected to last for the next two years, and would add 1,400 new jobs to both facilities.

As for what fruit the investment will bear, GM vice president of North American manufacturing Gerald Johnson announced the next generation of the Volt will roll into showrooms in 2016 as a 2016 model, with production slated to begin in the autumn of 2015. Though he didn’t go further into what the new Volt would bring to the table, a number of analysts said the PHEV would likely gain an improvement in range over the 38 miles currently provided in electric-only travel.

Further, two new vehicles will accompany the new Volt within the next couple of years, including the Buick LaCrosse — expected in mid-2016 — and an all-new large Cadillac sedan set to be the brand’s flagship that would begin production around the same time as the next-gen PHEV.

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GM Rallies Rentals, Braces For Further Investigation Mon, 24 Mar 2014 12:35:40 +0000 Saturn-Ion-RedLine

General Motors has issued a new recall for 355 vehicles, while also facing a possible lawsuit by an investor over “immorality”. GM may also face a new probe involving the automaker’s bankruptcy and its relation to the original recall that thrust GM into the headlines, just as the agency responsible for investigating the problem at GM faces an audit from the Department of Transportation.

The New York Times reports the Justice Department has added an additional probe into their ongoing investigation of the 2014 recall of 1.76 million vehicles over a defective ignition switch linked to 31 crashes and 12 deaths.

The probe questions whether GM knew everything about the problem going into the 2009 bankruptcy — the automaker said they were alerted as early as 2001 — and failed to disclose the defect in full to both the federal government and the public during bankruptcy proceedings. This separate probe is being handled by the same group of FBI agents and federal prosecutors in New York who also brought forth the fraud case against Toyota that ended in a $1.2 billion settlement last week.

Meanwhile, Automotive News reports Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has asked the Department of Transportation’s inspector general Calvin Scovel to conduct an audit of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as to whether or not the agency properly looked into the issues leading up to the February 2014 recall, in light of the aformentioned crashes and deaths. The audit, according to Foxx, is to ensure “that DOT and NHTSA have a full understanding of the facts regarding the GM recall and can take corrective actions to enhance NHTSA’s safety function to the extent necessary and appropriate.”

On the investor front, Bloomberg reports a GM investor has filed a lawsuit against both the automaker and current CEO Mary Barra over every recall issued since late February this year.

In filing his complaint with the U.S. District Court in Detroit, George Pio called the automaker’s lack of immediate action “illegal and immoral,” and that news of the recalls, investigations et al surrounding GM as of late “triggered a sharp decline in the company’s share price, wiping out billions in shareholder value.”

The suit is filed on behalf of any individual who purchased stock between November 17, 2010 and March 10, 2014; no money damages have been specified.

Adding fuel to the fire are two stories from Edmunds, with the first related to the original recall regarding free loaner vehicles to those affected while their own vehicles are serviced beginning next month.

GM has called upon Enterprise, Hertz, Avis and other rental companies to help the automaker assemble a fleet for affected owners to use until the ignition switch is replaced. Though the original policy states GM owners are placed into GM vehicles, the scope of the original recall means if no related loaners are available, owners will be placed into vehicles from Ford, Honda, Chrysler et al. Underinsured owners will see a temporary boost in coverage from the automaker, as well. One source in the rental world tells us that this has been a massive undertaking for GM – with so many owners of the affected cars being under 25 (the minimum rental age at many companies) arranging coverage for these owners has been an extraordinary task.

As for the second report, Edmunds says 355 vehicles will be recalled within the week due to a transmission shift cable adjuster defect that could lead to a handful of 2014 models rolling away from where they were parked. Affected models include the Buick Regal, LaCrosse, Verano and Enclave; Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu and Traverse; and the GMC Acadia. All affected have the issue in their automatic transmissions.

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Review: 2014 Opel Astra Manual Diesel Wagon Mon, 10 Mar 2014 12:00:16 +0000


Recently, Mark Reuss told media that he would like GM to have an American wagon. If this happens, the prime candidate is the Chevy Cruze Wagon, which already exists – and is also offered with diesel engine and manual transmission. But what if GM wanted something more upscale? What if Reuss’ dream wagon is meant to be a Buick?

Several cars in the Buick line are siblings to European Opels (or Vauxhalls, in Great Britain). Two of them are also available as wagons – the Insignia Sports Tourer is basically Buick Regal Estate Wagon, and the Opel Astra Sports Tourer would make, with some re-badging, a nice Buick Verano Estate Wagon. The Astra/Verano is probably the better candidate for the American wagon, since it’s almost as roomy inside as Regal/Insignia (with seats folded flat, it actually has more cargo space), and is significantly cheaper.

Why not go all the way, and make it a sporty diesel, manual wagon. Last year, the Astra’s engine line-up was enhanced by addition of the 190hp 2.0 CDTI Biturbo version. Actually, it’s more than just an engine option – Biturbo comes as  a separate equipment level, somewhere half-way between ordinary Astras and the full-on sporty OPC version. It doesn’t have the same clever Hi-Per strut front suspension the OPC and GTC (that’s the three door hatch coupe version), but it’s been lowered, fitted with stylish 18” wheels and dual exhaust tips, special seats and a trick front spoiler.

The core of the Biturbo package is the engine. Two-liter diesel plant with common-rail direct injection offers some 190 horsepower and 235 lb-ft (320 Nm) sent to the front wheels through the six-speed manual gearbox. That puts the Astra Biturbo right on the border of the diesel hot hatch/hot wagon territory – but the Biturbo is not nearly so ostentatious. In fact, seeing that it’s not called the “OPC diesel”, it seems that Opel really wanted it to be more of a fast GT than a realy sports wagon.

The Biturbo’s exterior is quite restrained – no wings or flares or vivid paint to tell everyone you bought “the fast one”. Thanks to the slightly different front bumper, large (and really pretty) wheels and lowered ride height, the Biturbo looks more handsome than “ordinary” Astras, but unless parked beside one, most people will never notice why it even looks different. They’ll just like it a bit more than they usually like Astras. It makes for a wonderful sleeper.

Once you open the door, things change. The seats with red highlights and a silly “tire tread” motif seem incongruous with the discreet exterior. And I suspect that older people will have slight problem getting out of the front ones, since they’re really heavily sculpted.

But as the driver, you will probably love them. They offer lots of support, and even the base version is widely adjustable (you can add more adjustment as an option). I would really like to have an adjustable headrest, as it was too much forward, but overall, the seats are nice. And it gets even better once you reach for the wheel. The fact that it’s adjustable both in rake and reach is pretty much normal these days, but most cars are lacking in the range of adjustment. If you like to sit in the “proper” position, with the steering wheel high and close to your chest, and the backrest as vertical as you can bear, you run into all sorts of problems – usually with not enough range. In the Astra, it took me just a few moments to find a nearly perfect driving position. And the steering wheel’s thickness and diameter was spot-on as well, although the shape was not. I have never understood what was wrong about steering wheels being round… this ain’t no racecar, dudes!


Remember everything you heard about the modern diesels being so refined you hardly even know that you’re not running on gas? This is not the case, even though the Astra uses a very sophisticated common-rail system. The Biturbo two-liter may sound more refined than the old N/A plants from W123 or W124 Benzes, but it isn’t that much quieter.

Shifting into first brings much more positive thoughts. The shifter action is light and quite precise. Maybe not the best in the business, but certainly pleasant to use. Leaving the parking lot, you notice the first difference between the Biturbo and ordinary Astra, in the form of loud scratching sound when the front splitter hits the ground for the first of many times. In the beginning, you drive slow and carefully to prevent this from happening. Then, you realize it’s pointless exercise and just wonder when you’ll rip it off (as I found out later, Opel employees bolted the splitter to the bumper to prevent journos from losing it somewhere).

From a European perspective, the Astra feels massive inside. Compared competitors like the Ford Focus or Renault Mégane, it seems to be just so much bigger – which gives you a feeling of safety, but also makes parking quite tricky. If you’re buying one, don’t forget to add both front and rear parking sensors, or, better yet, a back-up camera.


I may have criticized the Tesla Model S for having no tactile controls, but the Astra is at the other end of the spectrum. There’s incomprehensible sea of buttons, captioned with confusing acronyms. If you’re new to the car, you will be hopelessly lost. I did find myself acclimating to this layout as I drove it, but I’d be worried if that didn’t happen.

Quibbles aside, the Astra is a nice car to drive. Even with the Biturbo’s stiffer suspension and on large 18” wheels, it’s reasonably supple. Hit the sport button and you’re treated to less steering assistance, quicker accelerator response and the red glow of the instruments – of, and the adjustable dampers firm up, making the ride a bit more brittle. Luckily, you can disable any of these. I really hated the red instruments.

While most of the diesel hot hatches seem stuck on getting the best Nurburgring lap time – and suffering for it in the real world- the Astra feels more grown-up, more comfortable . On our drive into the twisties, with sport mode on and the radio turned down, the Astra delivered a competent, but not exactly exhilirating performance. Handling was fairly neutral, even with the heavy diesel engine up front. Like most modern racks, the steering has a bit of a dead-zone on-center, but it’s well weighted. The clutch and gear change are all nicely done.

But American wagon enthusiasts need to temper their expectations. This is not a fiesty hot hatch like the Focus ST. It feels much more like a GT, at home on highways rather than back roads, and all its heft – perceived or real (it weighs about 3700 lbs) makes it feel like it was meant to be a Buick from the beginning.

The only trouble is that once you get to cruising speed and the engine noise fades into background, it’s replaced by even more unpleasant road and aerodynamic noise. At typical A-road speed of 50-70mph, it’s a bit annoying, but not terrible. At highway speeds of 80 or 90mph, it starts to bother you. And if you’re in the hurry and try to keep the Astra at 110-120mph, it’s hard to even listen to the radio.

Fuel economy is one area that doesn’t disappoint. At a typical relaxed pace (55-60mph on major roads), the Astra can get over 40 mpg. And only when driven really hard in the twisties, with the pedal to the metal on each and every straight and the speedo needle sometimes nudging 100mph, it barely gets under 20mpg. High-speed, cruising with speeds in the triple digits brought similar numbers.


 But, would the diesel Verano (GSD, maybe?) be a good car for America? I’m not sure. First of all, the economics for a diesel passenger car rare make sense with fuel prices so low (yes, I know, resale and all that matters too). And as much as North Americans may fetishize the idea of a diesel performance wagon, I’m not sold on the tradeoffs in refinement that the Biturbo Astra requires. In Europe, this car costs as much as a Ford Focus ST wagon, which is much faster, much more fun and not much worse on fuel when cruising on the highway.

But if you’re really hell bent on getting a diesel, manual wagon, this would be a nice choice.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, and serves as editor-in-chief at After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a borrowed Lincoln Town Car. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

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Barclays: GM Suffering From Worst Large Pickup Launch In 15 Years Fri, 28 Feb 2014 15:29:25 +0000 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Exterior

Though the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado took home North American Truck/Utility of the Year at last month’s Detroit Auto Show, the large pickup and its brother, the GMC Sierra, have suffered from “the least successful large pickup launch over the last 15 years” according to Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson.

Automotive News reports the truck twins “faced a full-court press” from the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500, though winter weather also played a role in lower sales across the board. General Motors executives have come to the defense of their products, proclaiming average transaction prices of $4,000 to $5,000 more than the previous generation pickups and a combined market share hovering around 33 percent over the past few months, though the latter point held between 35 and 40 percent of the market in years past.

With dealers begging for stronger promotion and better incentives for the pickups, Chevrolet will host its Chevy Truck Month promotion. The month-long sale will offer supplier pricing (dealer invoice plus destination charges and a $150 fee) on light- and heavy-duty Silverados, and will be heavily pushed during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with television advertising beginning March 18.

In addition, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC will all hold Open House events throughout the month of March. The month-long sale will offer supplier pricing on nearly every 2014 vehicle sold under each brand, with the exception of the SS and Corvette Stingray for Chevrolet.

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Opel Adam Entering Chinese Market As A Buick Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:55:15 +0000 2013-Opel-ADAM-Models

When the Opel Adam enters the Chinese auto market in 2015, it will do so with a Buick badge as General Motors’ first high-end city car.

CarNewsChina reports the Adam will sell for somewhere between 169,800 yuan and 268,800 yuan, the same price range as that of the city car’s main competitor, the Fiat 500. Buick will import the Adam at first, though local production could come to fruition further down the road.

Under the hood, two engines will be available to future Adam owners, including a 1.2-liter engine driving 69 horses through the front wheels, and a larger 1.4-liter with 100 horsepower. Both engines are gasoline-powered.

The customer base for the Adam are those seeking a trendsetting lifestyle machine that has little to do with their parents’ Regal or other sedans.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Buick Regal Turbo AWD Mon, 03 Feb 2014 14:00:23 +0000 2014 buick regal

Time: 2332, Eastern. Outside temperature: six degrees. Speed: 83 mph, climbing.

 One needs to remind himself of following distance when letting the dogs run.

Thoughts appear as bullet points in the frontal cortex.

  • Led Zep II makes me hammer down
  • The left lane is clear, but there are some right lane travellers that could become obstacles.

One thousand one…

One thousand two…

“I should have quit you, baby, long time ago…”

One thousand three…

“down on this killing floor, break it down for me now…”

One thousand four…

  • Prius just oozed into the left lane to pace, not pass, the fuel tanker putting up considerable spray.
  • Headlights are dirty. Need to slow down anyway.
  • Too bad.

Wait a second, I’m lamenting having to back off while driving a Buick!

“People worry I can’t keep you satisfied…”

This 2014 Regal Turbo AWD is a parts-bin car. A re-badge, and yet, it’s one hell of a highway flyer. The Regal is also surprisingly adroit in kinkier situations. It’s kind of a damn shame that this car is an automotive Palestinian. It’s sold as a Buick, but it started off as an Opel with a side of Saab, and was supposed to be a Saturn. For many, the Regal does nothing to recommend itself. That changes when you drive it, but if you think about it too much, it’ll piss you off.

The Regal Turbo AWD makes me angry with General Motors. Where the hell were cars like this in the ’80s and ’90s? GM passed those decades playing Program Objective Bingo. Does the under-engineered, over-budget, late-to-market shitbox du jour tick all the boxes for the Vehicle Line Director? If yes, proceed directly to market. Lather, rinse, bankrupt.

Regals then were GM-10 (later W) platform garbage. Nostalgia has already kicked in. The myth goes that a vicious public bought in to so much “hype” over the Camry and Accord and didn’t give the all-around-solid GM front-drivers a fair chance. Fiction. In reality, now is the only time in a generation that General Motors has built a modern midsize sedan that isn’t lashed together from pig iron and offal.

2014 buick regal

General Motors is making complete-package cars that compete. Why did it take so long? Did it really require kicking the blue-collar backbone in the jewels and a quick-rinse bankruptcy for GM to get it? It didn’t have to. It shouldn’t have had to, and that’s why I’m upset by the Regal.

The last time a Regal wasn’t a total shitbox was…gosh, was it ever not a shitbox? Maybe the first Colonnade Regal, or the last-gasp G-body? It’s been at least thirty years since the Regal was anything but woefully assembled with dull orange-peel paint covering slap-dash bodywork with chintz horror chamber interiors.

Now we have this 2014 Regal, which wasn’t even supposed to be a Buick. Inside left me more impressed than a Lexus ES. On the road, you can feel the benefit of the Russelsheim engineering. Punch it and will fly. The structure feels brick-outhouse solid. This is the kind of car we used to wish GM could make. What the hell took so long?

2014 buick regal

There’s a whole bunch of cousins built off the Epsilon II architecture the Regal is based upon. Among the Malibus, LaCrosses and XTSes, the Regal Turbo with AWD is the most compelling.  Yup, it’s not that roomy, but neither is the Audi A4, the revered BMW 3 Series or even the Infiniti G37. The reality is that the back seat space, while snug, is actually better than those other cars, and the Regal has a 14.2 cubic foot trunk, also actually pretty good.

The Regal draws an inevitable comparison to the Cadillac ATS. It’s only natural, the cars are priced closely together, and they appear a close match size-wise. You can’t knock the Regal on space and then turn around and say “king me” to an ATS. It’s got a teensy 10.2 cubic foot trunk, and there is no interior dimension that is larger than the Regal. It’s no surprise, then, that the ATS interior is just 90.9 cubic feet, noticeably tighter than the Regal’s 96.8 cubic feet.


Ah, but the Regal is also too expensive to play in this sandbox, even if the ATS and its weaker value are on your automotive fantasy team. The Regal definitely isn’t as special as the ATS, the 3 Series, or heck, even a milquetoast-spec Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But if the Regal with turbo engine, AWD, leather, Driver Confidence Package #2, Premium II Package, and Power Moonroof is too pricey at $40,000, then what does that make the ATS equipped roughly the same way at about $47,000? Remember, there’s less space all around and the maddening burden of CUE, so clearly the differentiator is the driving experience. The ATS is indeed better to drive, but is it $7,000 better?

That’s a question best answered on your own, but most would say no. If you’re the practical sort, wait a year or two and take advantage of the Buick’s more prodigious depreciation for a great pre-owned deal. The Regal is great to drive. It’s precise, responsive and powerful. The ride is on the stiff side of compliant. The exhaust is on the drone-y side of throaty. Switch the traction control off, though, and you will be shocked to find that you can rotate this thing with the throttle. It may be FWD-based, but that tail will wag. The HiPer Strut front end, with its tuned-up geometry does its thing like a grown up. All the smooth wheel control would be better served by more feedback at the steering wheel rim, though.

The Regal gets a cleaned-up dashboard for 2014. There’s fewer buttons on the center stack, and the layout is logical. Ergonomics for the hard controls are good, though a knob for fan speed control would be more elegant than the up/down buttons. The touch panels for temperature and seat heater control look great, but are dismal to use. They’re unresponsive and distracting. The latest version of Intellilink drives the larger in-dash LCD, but it suffers from organization problems and too many sub-menus. The system also has a speed issue, sometimes hanging up for a few seconds while tuning through radio stations or calling up functions. I’d be especially upset to be making monthly payments for that kind of underachievement.


The Driver Confidence Package, by the way, is something you can completely live without. Skip it and drop the price of this weaponized midsizer back into the $30,000s. The dynamic cruise control is pretty well-tuned, but everything else is just unnecessary for an attentive driver. Of course, the flip side of that is that it may be more than necessary to offer the blinking lights, beeping warnings and last-ditch interventions. Those features give Buick some safety talking points, and when buyers opt for it, the profit margin puffs up.

The Regal Turbo AWD is a good car in a tough spot. From behind the wheel, it’s surprisingly good. But it’s between a rock and a hard place. Even within the GM family, it’s not as good as the ATS, but it’s a lot better than the ho-hum Malibu. The Regal does have the chops to keep a reasonable enthusiast entertained, but it falls short in the cars-by-the-pound measures of space and stuff for the lowest price.

The 2014 Regal Turbo AWD is a charmer of sorts, but its like trying to get someone’s attention in a room full of Kennedys. There’s pressure on all sides, and even though the Regal has done yeoman’s work to drop the average age of Buick buyers and driven a bunch of conquest sales for Buick, it will probably finish its life as it started: a carpet-bagger Opel that’s mostly irrelevant, nice enough, and surprisingly frisky.

Regal_Ext_11 Regal_Ext_5 Regal_Ext_6 Regal_Ext_4 Regal_Ext_3 Regal_Ext_10 Regal_Ext_9 Regal_Ext_8 Regal_Ext_7 Regal_Ext_2 Regal_Int_12 Regal_Int_11 Regal_Int_10 Regal_Int_9 Regal_Ext_1 Regal_Int_8 Regal_Int_7 Regal_Int_6 Regal_Int_5 Regal_Int_4 Regal_Int_3 Regal_Int_2 Regal_Int_1 ]]> 143
Review: 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD (With Video) Thu, 23 Jan 2014 14:00:11 +0000 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior

In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble,  VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW as the German alternative to Toyota and Chevrolet. This left a gaping hole in the market for shoppers looking to step into a European near-luxury vehicle that flew under the radar. And then Buick stepped in.Buick’s Opel-based product offensive has transformed the brand from Barcalounger wheels for the octogenarian, to a window into the soul of GM’s German brand. This transformation isn’t an easy one as Buick’s problem wasn’t just blue-haired buyers and slinky-soft springs. Buick is the penultimate middle child. Jammed between Chevrolet and Cadillac, brand B’s mission is to give Chevy buyers something to aspire to and Cadillac buyers something to graduate from.

Click here to view the embedded video.


When you say “Regal GS” my mind immediately leaps to the fourth-generation Regal (2nd generation W-body) with the supercharged 3.8L V6. When I was car shopping in 2000 I dearly wanted a Regal GS but there were two problems: Buick’s grandmotherly image and the price tag. As a result I bought an entirely different old person car: a Chrysler LHS. But I digress. This GS is an entirely different beast. Buick’s latest middle child is none other than Opel’s largest sedan, the Insignia. Refreshed for the 2014 model year, the differences between the Insignia and the Regal are most pronounced on the exterior where a Buick waterfall grille and logo have been inserted into the same opening as the Opel and ventiports have been added to the hood. And… that’s about it.

Two things are obvious when looking at the Buick Regal: it was designed in Europe and it was designed to to be both a Buick and an Opel from the start. Rather than looking out of place (like the Chrysler 300 to Lancia Thema transition) the Regal looks “meant to be.” Although the Regal is related to the Chevy Malibu, there’s essentially no exterior resemblance. The Regal GS I spent a week in gets the tweaked front and rear bumpers from Opel’s Insigia OPC model which ditches the foglamps for extra ventilation and integrates the exhaust tips into the rear bumper cover. Circling back around to those ventiports: I still think they look silly, but thankfully the Regal has the right number (four) and they are smaller and less conspicuously placed than on other Buick models I could mention.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003


2014 brings a new interior to the Regal based around a standard 8-inch touchscreen and new center console. Although you will still find a few hard plastics in the cabin, overall materials quality has improved and is firmly competitive with the Volkswagen CC, Audi A4 and Acura TL. Most cabin touch points feel more premium than the more expensive Lexus ES but the Volvo S60/S80 still lead the segment. Non-GS shoppers can opt for a handsome two-tone interior that combines a brown steering wheel and upper dash with a light grey/tan seats and carpet which would be my preference. GS models however are stuck with a very Germanic black-on-black theme. Part of the GS package is an 8-inch LCD instrument cluster and a chunkier steering wheel with sport grips, soft leather and a flat bottom. The disco dash is not as configurable as Chrysler’s 7-inch unit but the graphics are more modern and the system allows you full access to your media device, something uConnect still lacks.

For reasons unknown Buick chose not to borrow the Recaro seats found in the Insignia OPC, opting instead for more aggressively bolstered versions of the standard seat design. This may be because Buick owners are less likely to need the 5-point harness design, but it is most likely because we Americans are fatter so fewer of us would fit in the narrow seats. My 6-foot and slightly overweight frame fit snugly and comfortably in the front seats but the ceiling in the rear of the Regal proved too low for me to sit without cocking my head to the side. The lack of rear seat headroom was disappointing because the Regal offers several inches more rear leg room than the RWD Cadillac ATS and CTS and three inches more than the Volvo S60 and S80.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link


Like the LaCrosse, the Regal and the Opel Insignia now uses a modified version of Cadillac’s CUE. For reasons I don’t understand however, Buick doesn’t get Opel’s interesting touchpad with “finger writing” recognition that Opel has been advertising across the pond. I’m guessing this is so that Buick doesn’t step on Cadillac’s toes. Compared to CUE there are a few other changes for Buick-duty. The expensive glass capacitive touchscreen (looks like a modern smartphone) is swapped for a resistive unit that isn’t as crisp or as glare reducing and we have physical buttons for some system features, a marked improvement over Cadillac’s touchscreen only interface. Aside from these charges, the majority of CUE remains.

Like Ford’s MyFord Touch system, IntelliLink is sluggish in general and sometimes totally unresponsive. The software also suffers from unintuitive menu layouts and old-school mapping software that doesn’t jive with the system’s high-resolution screen. Like CUE, some multi-touch gestures are supported, but the different touchscreen is less able to decipher your intent leading to some frustrating moments. On the bright side, CUE’s selling points remain. The system’s voice command system features natural language commands and instead of treating the USB ports as separate inputs, the system aggregates them into one large music library allowing you to voice command songs without specifying the device.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001


Nestled sideways under the hood is the same 2.0L direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder engine that the Cadillac ATS and CTS use. Good for 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of twist, this is the same engine that you find in the “regular Regal.” That’s right, no longer does “GS” stand for “more power.” This means the GS looses 11 ponies vs 2013 but the turbo Regal gains 39 vs 2013. To differentiate things, GM does alter the torque curve to deliver all 295 twists at 2,500 RPM instead of 3,000 in the non-GS model. GM hasn’t completely ruled out the 325 horse 2.8L twin-turbo V6 the Insignia OPC uses for the American market, but I’d call it a long shot.

GS shoppers can choose either a 6-speed manual transaxle or a 6 speed automatic, but if you want the optional Haldex AWD system you’re forced to select the auto.  Although the GS uses the same AWD system as the regular Regal AWD, the engineers tossed in an electronically controlled limited slip rear differential. GS trims also bump the suspension up a notch by combining GM’s HiPer Strut technology with active dampers on all four corners. The suspension offers three modes: normal, sport and GS. The feel ranges from European family sedan to firm.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001


GM’s HiPer Strut suspension is designed to bring the steering axis more in line with the tire centerline, something you typically find in rear-wheel drive cars. Aligning the axis more closely results in better tracking, less torque steer and a front tire with a more consistent camber across the suspension’s travel. Versus the outgoing model, the front tires contact patch is improved in corners when the front suspension is loaded resulting in higher grip. Coupled with an AWD system that sends 50% of the power to the rear under hard acceleration, we get the first Buick in a long time with virtually zero torque steer.

The downside to the trendy new steering knuckle design is feel. Steering is very precise but suffers from the same Novocaine-laced feedback as everything else out there with electric power steering. Despite a 58/42 F/R weight distribution, the Regal GS has impeccable manners up to 9/10ths, where it starts to lose composure. Trouble is, without steering feedback it’s hard to tell where 9/10ths is located. In contrast, the Volvo S60 T6 AWD and S80 T6 AWD offer less grip but more feel.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007

Driving a FWD Regal back to back with our AWD tester, I kept thinking “there’s just something I dislike about the FWD model”. As it turns out, there is a reason the FWD Regal felt unsettled in the rear over broken pavement, the AWD model gets an entirely different “H-Link” independent rear suspension. Coupled with the active dampers, the Regal felt well composed on a variety of road surfaces despite being tuned firmer than the rest of the American and Swedish competition. Rather than being the softest entry in the segment, the GS is among the firmer.

Put your foot to the floor and the GS will run to 60 in 6.7 seconds, exactly the same as the W-Body Regal GS I remember with fond memories. The difference is, the W-Body’s torque steer made the car feel like it was part car, part carnival ride. The 2014 model tracks straight and true with zero drama all the way to a 15.2 second 1/4 mile. Stacking this up with the competition, the Regal is notably slower than the Cadillac CTS/ATS 2.0T and Volvo’s S60 T5 AWD; and a hair slower than the 3.7L Lincoln MKZ, Lexus ES 350 and Acura TL. Despite similar power figures, the Volvo ran to 60 nearly 7/10ths faster which caused me to question my numbers. However, a loaner provided by a local dealer confirmed my findings. The reason seems rooted both in the GS’ gear ratios and the more advantageous torque curve from Volvo’s funky 5-cylinder.

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010

At $37,830 starting, $40,195 with AWD and $44,975 full-loaded, the Regal undercuts the Volvo S60 T5 AWD and Acura TL by a couple thousand across the board (comparably equipped) and is more than $5,000 cheaper than the Lexus ES depending on your configuration. The Acura TL is in its final year of production and is, as you would assume, outclassed by the Regal in most ways. The recently refreshed Volvo delivers better road feel and a slightly more premium interior at the expense of more cash and less grip. The Lexus ES suffers from soft springs, an uncompetitive interior and steep price tag.

Over 611 miles I managed a reasonable 22.1 MPG in the GS which bests the real-world numbers from the V6 competition but comes short of the turbo Caddy and Swede. Why do I keep coming back to Cadillac? Because as hard as GM has tried to keep Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac from stepping on each other’s toes, the Regal GS is about the same price as the 2014 Cadillac ATS. It’s hard enough to go up against what is probably the second best vehicle GM has ever produced, but it is made doubly hard when there are so many combined Buick/Cadillac dealers. This means you’ll frequently find the Regal GS next to a sharp handling Caddy is on the same lot. Trickier still is the base Cadillac CTS which is slightly cheaper than a loaded GS, and, you guessed it: is often parked right next to the Buick.  Buick seems to have finally gotten the hang of being the middle child and in the process they have given not only Chevy owners but Volkswagen owners something to aspire to. That said, I’d be hard pressed to choose the Regal over an ATS 2.0T.


GM provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.67 Seconds

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15.2 Seconds @ 93 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 22.1 MPG over 611 miles

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 68.5 dB @ 50 MPH

2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Buick Link 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Engine 2.0L Turbo-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-006 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-007 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-008 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-009 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-010 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-011 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-012 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Exterior-013 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Gauges-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-001 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-002 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-003 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-004 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Interior-005 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Trunk-001 ]]> 114
Review: 2014 Buick Enclave (With Video) Wed, 13 Nov 2013 14:00:18 +0000 2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I’ve dished out plenty of Buick love lately. The Verano beats Acura and Lexus at the entry-luxury game and the tiny Encore is an oddly attractive (albeit underpowered) crossover that is outselling the Mini Countryman and Range Rover Evoque by a wide margin. What can we attribute this sales success to? I posit that the original Buick Enclave is the impetus. Landing in 2007 as a 2008 model, it was the poster child of the “new Buick.” On the surface, the Enclave was the replacement for the Buick Rainier, the only GMT360 SUV I haven’t owned. (Just kidding, I’ve only owned 2 of the 11 varieties.) But that’s a simplistic view. In reality the Enclave was intended to elevate the brand enough to compete with three row luxury crossovers from Germany and Japan. This brings us to today’s question: six years and a mild face-lift later, does the Buick still have the goods?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Like Rainier, the Enclave is closely related to a GMC and Chevy version. Unlike the Rainier, the Enclave has only two doppelgängers instead of the 6-11 stablemates the Rainier contended with (depending on how you count your GMT360 and related SUVs.) The Chevy Traverse tackles the bottom of the market, the GMC Acadia handles the middle, and Buick occupies the top rung. That means the $38,740 to $52,925 Buick is targeted at the same shoppers as the Acura MDX, Infinti JX35/QX60, Lincoln MKT, the aging Volvo XC90 and if you believe GM, the Audi Q7.


Although there is a strong family resemblance, GM managed to style the closely priced Acadia and Enclave differently enough that the Buick looks more expensive when parked next to the GMC. The Traverse, on the other hand, shares very similar styling cues and the family resemblance is more pronounced. This could be a problem for potential shoppers as the only other entry in this segment that shares heavily with a mass-market variant is the Infiniti. (The Nissan Pathfinder’s twin.)

Despite the parts sharing, the Buick cuts an elegant form that my eye hasn’t tired of. The mid-cycle refresh brings new front and rear end styling to bring the Enclave up to date with the rest of the Buick lineup. Although I like the look of the Enclave, I don’t find it as appealing as the new MDX or Q7. In terms of style, I’d call it a tie between the Buick, Infniti and Volvo. Even though Buick’s questionable “ventiports” are continuing to grow and migrate to the top of the hood, the engineers made sure you can’t see them from inside the car.

The other thing the engineers managed to hide is the sheer size of the Enclave. Buick’s curvaceous design language managed to fool a friend of mine who said he was looking at an Enclave because he thought his Escalade was too big and too hard to park. Let’s look at the numbers. The Enclave is exactly 6/10ths of an inch shorter than the big Caddy and rides on a wheelbase nearly three inches longer. The Buick is 5 inches shorter than the Cadillac making it easier to get in a short garage, but it’s just as wide at 79 inches. Don’t assume it’s easier to park wither since it cuts a turning circle one and a half feet bigger. This is the kind of Buick I remember: ginormous.

2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior

I consider myself something of a dashboard connoisseur. I like my dashboards elegant, tasteful, squishy and preferably made from cow. I was therefore surprised to find the Enclave has best injection molded dashboard available. GM starts out with a single piece molded dashboard designed to look like leather with different textures pieced together. The molded product is then stitched with a sewing machine to insert thread along the injection molded faux-seams.

The result is impressive. Unfortunately the rest of the Enclave’s interior didn’t receive this level of attention. This means the old Enclave’s thin steering wheel is still shared with the defunct Buick Lucerne and the only real wood you’ll find is on that optional half-wood tiller. Odder still is the fact that no attempt is made to have the real wood look like the face wood in the car with the fake wood having a grey hue and the steering wheel veneer being nutty brown. I know I’m going to get complaints from this statement, but here I go. In a market where everyone but Acura is doing real wood, the aces of forest-substitute stick out like a sore thumb. (Note: the Canadian MDX can have real tree as an option.)

2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Enclave counters these interior mis-steps with large and comfortable front seats and the only 8-seat configuration in this class. That 8th seat is important because it allows the Enclave to compete not only with the competition we have mentioned so far, but also with large body-on-frame SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX 570, Infiniti QX56/QX80. In this context the Buick has a significant price advantage over the larger competition starting $25,000 lower than the Cadillac. Because those large competitors are aging and often draw heavily from their mass-market donor trucks, the Buick represents a decent value without looking like a cheap alternative.

As with all three-row SUVs, seats get less comfortable as you move towards the back. The middle captain’s chairs in the 7-seat Enclave are the most comfortable among the 3-row crossover segment while the optional three-seat middle bench drops  to class average. Due to the Buick’s age, you won’t find power flip/fold seats like the Acura or kid-friendly second row seats that can move forward with a child seat strapped in place. The Enclave regains its class leading comfort status in the third row with the most head room and cushiest thrones.

2014 Buick Enclave Interior, Buick Intellilink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Being a refresh and not a redesign, 2014 doesn’t being an infotainment revolution to the Enclave. As it turns out this is a good thing. GM created a new integrated navigation and entertainment system that could be fitted to all their older vehicles to make them competitive with the systems coming out of Ford, Chrysler and BMW. This “stop-gap system” (my words, not GM’s) is one of my favorites on the market regardless of class. Although it is sold under the same Intellilink brand name as the Cadillac CUE derived system in the new LaCrosse, this system is totally different and in my eyes, superior.

Shared with the Encore, Verano and a few other GM products, the software is responsive, intuitive, and makes use of a bank of physical buttons that make navigating the system easy. As with other systems that I lean towards, Buick’s allows you to use either a control knob, the touchscreen or an extensive voice command library to interact with the system. Although a 7-inch screen is smaller than many of the competitors, I’d rather interact with Buick’s interface on a daily basis than Audi’s MMI. For a complete dive into the touchscreen interface, check out the video at the top of the review.

2013 GM 3.6L V-6 VVT DI (LLT) for Buick Enclave


GM’s ubiquitous 3.6L direct-injection V6 is the only engine on offer in the Enclave cranking out the same 288 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque as in the other Lambda crossovers. (The Traverse also uses a 281 horsepower variant on base models.) Those power numbers put the Encore in the middle of the pack with the 240 HP Volvo being the least powerful and the Lincoln MKT being the most powerful at 303 ponies from its 3.7L V6. Having the HP crown wasn’t enough for Ford, so they also make their 365 HP twin-turbo V6  available.

Sending power to the front wheels is a 6-speed transaxle that has been reprogrammed for more civilized shifts and less lag when downshifting. Like last year, you can add AWD for $2,000 more. I should point out now that although the Audi Q7 is still a front heavy crossover, it is the only rear-wheel biased crossover in this segment and as such uses ZF’s silky-smooth 8-speed automatic.

2014 Buick Enclave Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The Verano may be an Opel in American clothing, but the Enclave is traditional Buick out on the road. The enormous and high-profile tires (255/65R18), soft suspension and quiet cabin soak up the road around you allowing you to comfortably rack up the highway miles. When the road starts winding, the same tires and springs that allow for a compliant ride conspire with the nearly 5,000lb curb weight to take a toll on handling. That heavy curb weight also has an effect on performance, with the Enclave talking 7.3 seconds to hit 60, nearly a full second behind the Acura. Why? It’s all about the weight with the Acura being 700lbs lighter and even the cast-iron Volvo is 400lbs slimmer. Although I can’t say that 7.3 seconds to get to 60mph is excruciating, even the Infiniti JX35 with a tall first gear and the least torque in the group manages the task before the Buick. Only the ancient Volvo XC90 and the diesel Q7 slot in after the Enclave.

If you’re the kind of shopper that wants to hit the back country roads after dropping the kids off at preschool, the MDX is the clear winner in the segment. Surprisingly, the Enclave didn’t end up at the bottom of the segment when it comes to road manners. That’s where you’ll find the soft, CVT equipped Infiniti and the Volvo. Middle of the road manners and segment average pricing means the Enclave manages a “decidedly Toyota” middle of the pack finish. Unless you select that eight-seat option.

Now I must come back to that full-size SUV digression. If you’re looking for a three row vehicle that seats eight, you don’t have many options. If you want something that seats 8 and had some luxury pretense you have even less choice. It also means you’re going to end up with either a GM Lambda platform crossover, or a luxury body-on-frame product that dates back to the 1990s when “tarted up Tahoes” were all the rage. When pitted against this competition, the Enclave’s handling, steering feel and fuel economy go from class middling to class leading. While the Enclave isn’t as fast as the Escalade or the QX56/QX80, it beats the Lexus to freeway speeds. The Buick is also easier to park, easier on the eyes and easier on the wallet.

After six years on the market, the Buick that started the brand’s resurrection is starting to show its age. The Enclave is crossover in the truest sense of the world straddling the middle ground between the minivan like entries like the Infiniti and the large and thirsty truck-based options like the Cadillac Escalade. My final word is that if you’re looking for a 7-seat three row utility vehicle, there are plenty of better options out there, but if you’re looking for an 8-seat utility vehicle then the Enclave should be on the top of your list. In the end, that 8th seat is probably the best thing the Enclave has going for it.

Buick provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

0-30: 3.06 Seconds

0-60: 7.3 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.9 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 17.5 MPG over 559 miles

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 68 db

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Chevrolet In Duel With Volkswagen For The Heart of China Mon, 28 Oct 2013 17:53:54 +0000 #8 Chevrolet Cruze. Picture courtesy

When one thinks of General Motors’ relationship with China, Buick flashes into the mind like a brake light in the Beijing smog. Sometimes, Cadillac comes up, as well. However, with Volkswagen preparing to slingshot past them in a manner akin to Danica Patrick being flung toward the front of the pack with help from Tony Stewart, CEO Dan Akerson is planning to aggressively push Chevrolet through the choking air, and into as many Chinese garages as he can find.

As Automotive News reports, the push will be directed by GM China’s chairman Tim Lee, who will also add SUV sales goals to the maturing market:

We got still a lot of mother brand-building to do for Chevrolet and we will resource that appropriately and get that job done… It’s a brand that has a total history in the country of about seven or eight years, so based on that relatively short time in the marketplace, our brand awareness is good, our product consideration is good. But can it be better? I guess.

The first volley fired in the upcoming battle for Chinese automotive supremacy will be the introduction of the second-generation Cruze to spur demand in the country’s burgeoning western sector, as well as smaller — and, one hopes, fully occupied — cities. GM aims to add 1,000 dealerships to this area by 2017, backed by an $11 billion investment through 2016 that promises to establish four new assembly plants manufacturing locally around 5 million units per year. GM also plans to bulk up Cadillac’s presence in China with a locally built version of the ATS come 2014.

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Review: 2013 Buick Encore (Video) Mon, 01 Apr 2013 15:00:37 +0000

Buick’s been on a roll this year, their sales are up and their owner demographics are younger than they have been in recent memory. The cynic in my says that’s because half their clientele died of old age, but it has more to do with their product portfolio. Say what? Yep, it’s true, the brand I wrote off for dead last decade is targeting younger buyers with designs imported from Europe and finding sales success. The Verano turbo shattered my preconceptions, but can Buick do it again? A brown Encore arrived one rainy morning to see if it was possible.

Click here to view the embedded video.


The Encore isn’t new, but neither is it an American rehash of a tired Euro model. Instead, it is “badge engineering” 21st century style. When I was a kid you knew a new Buick was coming when Chevy or Oldsmobile announced a new product. You also knew what to expect: the same sheetmetal with a Buick logo on the grille and some padded velour thrones. 30 years later Buick is up to the same old game with an important twist: Buick takes Opel models from Europe. Consequently you won’t find a brother-from-another-mother running around with a Chevy logo.

Like its sister-ship, the Opel Mokka, the Encore is a small crossover/hatchback closely related to GM’s other small car offerings. Euro origins are obvious when you park the Encore in an American parking spot, this Buick is tiny. The Encore’s tall profile further accentuates the Encore’s 168-inch overall length, which is surprisingly 6-inches longer than a MINI Countryman. My usual panel of passengers were mixed in their opinion of the styling, I found it slightly cartoonish, in a bubbly and cute sort of way. I kept resisting the impulse to smile every time I walked out to the car, but then again I’ve been told my style sense is not to be trusted. (Seriously Sajeev, what’s wrong with a sports coat over a Hawaiian shirt?) My only complaint on the outside, and this is a big one for me, are the trademark “Ventiports” which seem to be growing like a disease. In addition to getting larger, they have migrated from the fenders (where you only had to see them on the outside) to the hood where they are now visible behind the wheel as well.


Buick’s reinvention has focused on value pricing and interior quality. The latter is something new for Buick, and something that has impressed me the most about Buick’s latest vehicles. The Encore isn’t a terribly expensive crossover starting at $24,950 and ending at $31,110 for a full-loaded AWD model. Despite the low starting price, the cabin makes extensive use of soft touch plastics lending a more premium feel to the cabin than vehicles like the MINI Countryman, Acura TSX or Lexus CT. Speaking of MINI, the Countryman, (like the rest of the MINI lineup) is a mixture of trickle-down BMW technology, great switchgear, high-style, cheesy plastics and chintzy headliners. Of course MINI’s biggest asset is brand perception while Buick’s brand is more of a liability in some demographics. That’s really a shame because the Encore has not only a quality feel but a very uniform feel as well. While MINI’s cabins are full of highs and lows, everything in the Encore is consistently a notch above the rabble. Equipping the Contryman and Encore as closely as possible reveals the Encore is about $1,500 cheaper once you add to the MINI the features standard on the Encore. Comparing the top-trim of the Encore to the MINI the difference grows to $3,800 in the Encore’s favor. Want AWD? The difference grows by about three-grand.

It seems journalists have a genetic condition that causes us to love brown interiors. The trouble with most manufacturer’s attempts at “thinking outside the black” however is they go half-way. They give you brown seats and some brown trim on the dash, but they leave out the carpets, button banks, etc. Not so with the Encore. GM took the extra step to color-match the Encore’s interior which makes the transformation look well-executed instead of half-assed. I should point out that our Facebook readers didn’t feel the same sort of brown-love as I did, but they are of course wrong. (Sorry guys.)

The Encore may be small, but the interior is spacious thanks to the tall profile, stubby nose and upright seats. Taller folks will have no problems getting into or out of the front or rear seats thanks to large door openings and a low step-in height. I grabbed a few willing tall people for lunch and successfully (and comfortably) took two 6’5″ passengers, one 6’2 gentleman and myself (6′) on a 50 minute trek to the prefect burger joint without a single complaint.

Because the Encore shares seat frames with GM sedans, there are a few compromises. The lack of a power recline mechanism seems odd, especially considering the 2-positon memory seat found in our tester. Using the sale seat frames and rails as a sedan or coupé meant creating some unusual “platforms” in the floor stamping so the seats could be mounted high to get an SUV-like seating position. Consequently the rear footwells might be a problem for big-footed passengers on long trips. A manual front passenger seat is standard, but most models on dealer lots have the optional power seat

Four adults can travel in comfort in the Encore, along with four large carry-on roller bags in the back thanks to a cargo cubby that holds 18.8 cubes with the seats in place. Just don’t push your luck with a 5th passenger unless the trio in the rear are skinny folk, the Encore is a narrow vehicle. If you’re a skier or love box furniture from IKEA, the Encore’s front passenger seat folds flat allowing you to put long, wide items all the way from the dashboard to the rear hatch.

Infotainment and Gadgets

The Encore uses the same standard 7-inch “IntelliLink” infotainment system I praised in the Buick Verano. There’s just one problem, it isn’t exactly the same. Instead of positioning the LCD within arm’s reach, Buick located it in a “pod” on the dash. While the location keeps your eyes closer to the road, it makes the screen look smaller and it means it’s too far away to touch. Logically because of this Buick removed the touchscreen feature and that’s what I find vexing. The same software I found so intuitive and easy to use with a touchscreen made me tear my hair out when entering an address via an on-screen keyboard and the control knob in the dash.

Thankfully I didn’t need to use the keyboard often and the rest of the system is still one of the best infotainment units on the market at any price. The graphics are pleasing to the eye, its responsive and the menus are logical and intuitive. The system also sports one of the best iPhone/USB/Media voice command interfaces available. Compared to the Ford/Lincoln systems, the voice is natural sounding. Compared to the Toyota/Lexus systems, IntelliLink handles large media libraries with ease rather than turning off certain voice commands if you exceed a certain library size. I’d like to compare it to Cadillac’s CUE but I’m trying to forget that experience.

As if Buick’s hushed cabin wasn’t enough, even the base $24,950 Encore models use active noise cancelling technology by Bose. All Encores also get XM satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming/speakerphone and a backup camera. Stepping up to the $25,760 “convenience package” adds dual-zone climate control, remote start and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Leather will set you back $27,460 and brings with it heated seats, a power passenger seat, heated steering wheel and 2 memory positions for the driver’s throne. The $28,940 Encore “Premium” brings rain sense wipers, park assist, collision warning and lane departure warning. The $800 sunroof, $795 navigation system and $595 Bose premium audio system are standalone options on all trims. The collision and lane departure systems are worth skipping in my book since they are warning-only systems and not combination warning and prevention as found in other vehicles. Unless you want the rain sensing wipers and parking assist, spend the money on AWD, navigation or the excellent Bose speakers.

The Encore uses the same 1.4L four-cylinder engine as the Chevy Sonic and Cruze. Producing 138 HP at 4,900 RPM this mill isn’t targeted at speed addicts. On the bright side, thanks to a turbocharger and some direct-injection magic, the engine manages 148 lb-ft of twist from 1,850-4,900RPM.

GM wisely mated the 1.4L engine to their “small” car 6-speed transaxle which features a low 16.17:1 effective first gear (including the 3.53:1 final drive) which helps make the Encore feel more sprightly in the stop-light races. A tall 2.65:1 effective top gear ratio is what allows the Encore to deliver fuel economy numbers of 25/33/28 (City/Highway/Combined) and 23/30/26 when equipped with the $1,500 optional AWD system. During our week with the Encore we averaged an impressive 32.1 MPG over 862 miles of mixed driving, 0-60 tests, photo shoot idling and my mountain commute.

The day the Encore arrived I needed to take a road trip to Sacramento (100 miles away) so I piled a few day’s worth of supplies in the Encore and hit the road. The Encore devoured highway miles, but not in the way I had expected. The small crossover’s cabin is eerily quiet, the driver’s seat is comfortable and upright but the suspension isn’t marshmallowy soft like my father’s Buick. This meant I changed course and decided to take the long way (you can’t get very excited about Sacramento anyway) through some of my favorite California coastal roads.

My opinion of the diminutive engine changed constantly during my week with the Encore. In the city the low-end torque provided by the turbo and the low first gear make easy work of 0-40 MPH traffic and the Encore effortlessly zipped into narrow gaps on busy expressways. Thanks to the way the throttle is mapped the engine doesn’t feel out of breath cruising on the highway, until you need to pass someone as getting from 60 to 80 MPH takes a Prius-like 8 seconds. Load the Encore up with two people and some luggage and forward progress is noticeably stunted in all situations. However, every time I wished for more power I glanced down at my fuel economy and was reminded that more power consumes more gasoline.

On the coastal switchbacks in California’s mountainous redwood forests, the Encore is back in its element thanks to a low 1st gear, moderately low 2nd gear and a well-tuned suspension. Let’s go over that statement again. A Buick that is “in its element on tight mountain roads.” Never thought you’d hear that did you? Neither did I. The Encore’s relatively low center of gravity, 215/55R18 rubber and tight turning radius make [relative] mince meat of tight curves. Let me be clear, the Encore is still down on power, but I have always said I prefer the slower, better handling vehicle to the vehicle that’s only fast in a straight line. The Encore’s suspension handled broken pavement with such composure I was surprised to find it still uses ye olde torsion-beam suspension in the rear. Could the Encore have what it takes to become Buick’s first hot hatch? I hope GM decides to put the Verano’s 2.0L turbo under the hood so we can find out.

It’s right about now that I realized I had the love that dare not speak its name. Could I have fallen for the charms of a Buick? Had I suddenly aged 30 years without knowing it? That is the only real problem I found with the Encore: brand perception. In many minds, people need a new car and their first thought is “I’ll pop over to the Buick dealer” are the same people in the market for a new mobility scooter. If Buick keeps producing products like the Encore however that may change.

Back in the Encore’s native habitat (the Taco Bell drive-thru or the parking garage at the mall), engine power complaints once again disappear. With a ground clearance of 6.2 inches, the Encore is about average for the modern crop of crossovers meaning you won’t catch your bumper cover on parking lot “headstones” and only tall curbs will cause you worry. The well-appointed interior will make you feel special and the value pricing will keep your accountant happy.


Hit it

  • High quality interior for a vehicle in this price range.
  • Buick continues to “think outside the black.”
  • The second Buick in 2 months I would actually buy. Seriously.

Quit it

  • Top level Encore trims still have a manual front seat recline mechanism.
  • Collision warning this late in the game without auto braking seems silly.
  • Buick’s reputation for elderly clientele.


Buick provides the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.27 Seconds

0-60: 9.6 Seconds (9.1 with overboost)

1/4 Mile: 17 Seconds at 80 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 32.1MPG over 862 miles.

2013 Buick Encore 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-004 2013 Buick Encore-005 2013 Buick Encore-006 2013 Buick Encore-007 2013 Buick Encore-008 2013 Buick Encore, Infotainmane, Buick Intellilink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-010 2013 Buick Encore-011 2013 Buick Encore-012 2013 Buick Encore-013 2013 Buick Encore-014 2013 Buick Encore-015 2013 Buick Encore-016 2013 Buick Encore-017 2013 Buick Encore-018 2013 Buick Encore, Engine, 1.4L Direct-Injection Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-020 2013 Buick Encore, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore, Interior, Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-023 2013 Buick Encore-024 2013 Buick Encore-025 2013 Buick Encore, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-027 2013 Buick Encore-028 2013 Buick Encore-029 2013 Buick Encore, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Encore-031 2013 Buick Encore-032 2013 Buick Encore-033 2013 Buick Encore-034 2013 Buick Encore-035 2013 Buick Encore-036 2013 Buick Encore-037 2013 Buick Encore-038 2013 Buick Encore-039 2013 Buick Encore Rear Seats Folded, Front Passenger Seat Folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 93
Review: 2013 Buick Verano Turbo (Video) Tue, 19 Feb 2013 14:00:38 +0000

The popular wisdom among folks in the auto-biz of my generation (1970s) is that Buick only exists because of China. Why didn’t GM kill Buick in America and keep it in China? The answer is obvious: you can’t sell your brand on its “Americanness” if it isn’t also sold in America to Americans. Buick then is a brand hunting for a mission. It’s also a brand hunting for fresh customers that don’t remember the Century and Skylark, two abominations firmly burnt into my mind. In attempt to solve these problems Buick has ditched their badge-engineering mantra and is rolling out new products targeted at folks from the 80s and 90s. Forced induction and a manual transmission aren’t new to Buick, but the possibility of a desirable small sedan from the triple-shield is earth shattering. Have they managed it? GM tossed us a set of keys to find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Buick has never been about visual excitement. Even the Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera was more exciting than the Buick Century. (Admittedly that’s like saying lidocaine is a more exciting party drug than novocaine.) The Verano doesn’t depart from Buick’s past in the style department wearing the least exciting sheetmetal among its direct competitors. Speaking of competition let’s get that out of the way.Now that Volvo has killed the S40 and there is no sign of the V40 on our shores, the Acura TSX, Acura ILX, Audi A3 and Verano are really the only compact front-driving near-luxury options in America. If you want to expand the pool slightly, you can include the hybrid-only Lexus CT 200h, and maybe (and this is a big maybe) the new Mercedes CLA (which isn’t shipping yet anyway).

Why such limited competition? At 184 inches long, and sharing the FWD setup with the Cruze, the Verano is almost a foot shorter than the Lexus ES, one inch shorter than the Acura TSX and about the same length as the new Mercedes CLA. Although the Verano is essentially the same size as a Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3-Series, let’s be honest, you won’t find these fish in the same pond.

Although the Verano shares platforms with the Chevy Cruze, it isn’t a “Buick Cruze.”Instead it’s the American market twin to the Chinese Buick Excelle GT and the strangely named Opel Astra Limousine. This means the Verano shares little with the Cruze (or any other American market GM product) save for an identical wheelbase and common transmissions. Helping take the Verano up a notch our refrigerator-white tester had perfect panel gaps and a paint job worthy of Lexus. Seriously. My question for you is: is there enough visual flair to differentiate it from GM’s more plebeian offerings? Let us know in the comment section.


My impression of the interior differed from Michael Karesh’s review of the base Verano last year. Is the Verano Turbo a nicer place to spend your time? No, it all boiled down to color. The Verano Turbo I was send wore Buick’s “Choccachino” interior which replaces the black dash, doors and steering wheel with a dark brown version of the same. (The “Cashmere” interior gets a similar swap). The simple (and no cost) color option changes the interior feel dramatically without changing the quality of the materials. There are still some hard plastics within reach of the driver (like the lower dash and portions of the doors) but I must give kudos to GM for thinking “outside the black.”

Regardless of your color choice, the Verano’s ample button banks feel exceptional for a vehicle with a price range of $23,975-$32,000. While the fake wood isn’t going to fool anyone, it is used tastefully and [thankfully] sparingly in the cabin. On the other hand, the satin “aluminum” trim around the infotainment cluster had me fooled until I looked at the Verano’s spec sheet. While a power driver’s seat is standard on most Verano models, I had hoped the Turbo trim would add a power recline feature and adjustable lumbar to the throne but that still can’t be had for any price. An unexpected nicety is a passenger seat with the same range of motion as the driver’s seat albeit with manual levers. As you would expect from a vehicle in the near-luxury category dual-zone climate control is standard and the heated steering wheel on all leather-clad models is a welcome touch not found on most competitors.

Rear accommodations are rarely a selling point with compact sedans of any description. That being said, the Verano’s rear thrones provide as much head and legroom as the TSX or current Audi A3. Compared with its Chevy platform mate, the Verano’s rear cabin is slightly smaller thanks to thicker front seats and a touch more padding in the rear. Although the seats are no closer to the floor than those in the TSX or A3, the shape of the rear door openings made it easy to hit your head when getting in and out of the back, something to keep in mind if you shuttle adults regularly. Despite being longer than the Cruze, the Verano’s trunk is 10% smaller, although its 14 cubes are identical to the TSX’s trunk and in the same ballpark as most of the small luxury sedans from Europe.


Whichever engineer was in charge of the Verano’s center stack channeled their inner Acura, between the infotainment and HVAC controls there are no less than 41 buttons, 4 knobs and one joystick. Despite the button overload, Buick’s standard 7-inch touchscreen “IntelliLink” system is one of the best on the market combining Buick’s previous interface with improved voice recognition, app integration and snappier response times. (If you want so see the system in action, check out the video at the top of the review.) Much like Infiniti’s infotainment systems, you can either use the knob/joystick control in the dash or you can touch the options on the screen. This arrangement works well giving you the option to minimize fingerprints if you so desire.

Buick’s new software package is the close relative of Chevy’s MyLink system and uses the same intuitive voice recognition system for phone, navigation and complete USB/iDevice control. Compared to the MyFord/MyLincoln Touch elephant in the room, Buick’s voice responses are more natural and polished, entering an address requires fewer commands and the system is much, much more responsive. Base Verano models get an unbranded 6-speaker system while all other models can option up to the 9-speaker, 7-channel Bose system which adds a subwoofer, center speaker and some extra adjustment options. The up-level system was well-balanced as you would expect, but compared to other systems in the near-luxury segment the Bose system doesn’t play as loud without noticeable distortion.


Instead of the Cruze’s 1.8L naturally aspirated and 1.4L turbo lineup, we get a new 2.4L direct-injection four-cylinder engine and an optional 2.0L direct-injection turbo. The 2.4L “LEA” mill is a new engine for GM, based on their “LE9″ engine with an increased compression ratio and some direct-injection sauce to boost power to 180HP and 171lb-ft. That’s not the engine you want, and it’s not why we borrowed the 2013 Verano. This time it’s all about the turbo.

Strangely this is not the same 2.0L turbo found in the ATS and Malibu, this is an older engine found in the Saturn Sky, Fisker Karma and of course, the Regal GS. This upgraded engine is only found in the top-of-the-line “Verano Premium” which starts at $30,000. When jammed under the hood of the Verano, output drops slightly to 250HP and 260lb-ft of torque. Don’t fret about a few lost ponies, the torque still comes to a boil at 2,000RPM and stays strong all the way up the tach.

On the competition front, the TSX V6 may churn out 280HP and 254lb-ft, but in typical Acura fashion it all arrives at high RPMs. We’re told to expect 208HP and 258 lb-ft from the CLA when it lands and the current A3′s 2.0T engine covers the rear at 200HP and 207lb-ft. Sending power to the front wheels is GM’s ubiquitous 6-speed automatic transaxle, or the an all-new (to America) 6-speed manual transmission making the Buick and the Audi the only cars in this small segment that offer a DIY gear changer.


If the Regal made you think Buick’s path to sales success was Euro driving manners, you’d be wrong. The Verano is a modern Buick, but a Buick none the less with fairly soft springs and one of the quietest cabins available at any price. Think of it as the FWD compact luxury sedan Lexus never built. Even our “sporty” turbo tester with the manual transmission is on the softer side of most sedans. The downside to the quiet cabin is that you can’t hear the turbo mill revving which is a pity since Buick tuned it to be one of GM’s more pleasing exhaust notes.

With 250 ponies and 260 dollops of twist I had prepared myself in advance for massive torque steer and was pleasantly surprised to find strangely little. A quick inspection of Buick’s PR literature clearly shows that the Verano does not get GM’s lauded HiPer Strut tech favoring a less expensive traditional MacPherson arrangement.

The power bump from the base engine is noticeable in every driving situation causing a serious 2.5 second drop in the 0-60 time and improving driveability across the board. With most of the engine’s torque available just over idle there’s far less downshifting to be done on hilly terrain both with the manual and the up-shift-happy automatic. In our testing we clocked a 0-60 run in 6.5 seconds with me at the shifter and the traction control enabled, this more than a half second faster than my time in the FWD A3 2.0T but slightly behind the TSX V6′s 6.2 second time.

The Verano tips the scales at 3,300lbs, a bit heavier than the Audi A3′s 3,219lbs but substantially lighter than the 3,680lb TSX. The relatively light weight, fairly grippy 235/45R18 all-season rubber and well sorted chassis proved engaging and one might even say nimble on the winding roads of Northern California. The same cannot be said of the steering however which, even in this age of electric power steering, has to be one of the numbest vehicles I have piloted in a long time.

Despite the numb steering the Verano was an eager companion on my mountainous commute on California highways 92, 35, 9 and 17 thanks to the slick shifting manual. Buick’s row-it-yourself transaxle is not the same notchy unit found in the Regal, instead this has been lifted from GM’s European lineup and the change is welcome with shift quality equaling the Audi A3 and Acura TSX. (Bold statement I know.) Third pedal effort is fairly similar to the TSX although I actually preferred the predictable and linear engagement of the Buick.

Compact [near] luxury is about fuel economy as much as discount pricing. The Buick scores 20MPG around town and 31 on the highway with the manual, 21/30 with the automatic and 24 combined with either transmission. This slots the Verano at the top of our small segment essentially matching the FWD A3′s numbers and a few MPGs higher than the TSX V6. Thanks to a tall 6th gear in the manual transmission, the engine barely hits 2,000RPM at 70MPH and contributed to our weekly average of 25.6MPG.

Back in 2008 I argued that Buick should be killed for the sake of the company. I figured any Chinese repercussions could be written off in the bankruptcy proceedings and nobody would miss the tripple-shield. Five years later Buick has created a car that I not only rank above the Acura TSX and Audi A3 for overall performance and value, but also because it was also truly fun to drive and live with for a week. The only problem is that Buick image, which for anyone born in the 1970s and 1980s is full of Centurys and Skylarks.


Buick provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.0 Seconds

0-60: 6.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile:15 Seconds at 98 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 25.6MPG over 712 miles


2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtsy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, Front 1/2, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, 2.0L Direct-Injection Ecotec Turbo Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Engine, 2.0L Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, gauges , Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, gauges , Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, gauges , Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, gauges , Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Interior, Front and Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Infotainment, Buick IntelliLink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Infotainment, Buick IntelliLink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Infotainment, Buick IntelliLink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, Infotainment, Buick IntelliLink, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


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Review: Buick Verano Take Two Sun, 15 Apr 2012 18:25:57 +0000

What is a Buick? Having saved the brand, GM must now figure out what to do with it. Traditionally Buick occupied the middle ground between Chevrolet and Cadillac, originally closer to the latter but from the 1970s onwards dangerously close to the former, which had expanded upwards in lockstep with archrival Ford. Aesthetically, Buicks have been the yin to Cadillac’s yang, curvier, less aggressive, and potentially more appealing to women. (Or metrosexuals? Did women ever drive a significant number of Rivs and Park Avenues?) Logically, there ought to be a position within this position for a compact car. Some people want a softly styled, upscale car, but don’t need a large car. But successfully fielding a car in this position has been tricky. The Lexus HS finds only a couple hundred takers each month. Jaguar abandoned the segment a few years ago, and Volvo quit it more recently. So does the Buick Verano stand a chance?


A car needn’t be beautiful to sell—but it doesn’t hurt. Based on spy shots of prototypes I expected the Verano to be downright ugly, with an overly raked windshield and its requisite windowlettes throwing off the proportions. But in production form, with appropriately styled 18-inch alloy wheels (GM has for once made the right size wheel the only size), the Verano is a handsome car. No Jaguar, but certainly more attractive than the HS and more upscale than the Chevrolet Cruze (with which it shares a platform). But it’s not the strikingly attractive car it could have been. Will many people notice the compact Buick on the street? Will any of them have a “gotta have it” reaction? One thing is certain: the Verano won’t step on the Cadillac ATS’s toes.


The Verano’s interior isn’t as nice as that of the Lexus, but is a half-step up from that of the Chevrolet Cruze. You’ll find no cheap bits, yet the sense lingers that this isn’t quite a premium car. While intelligent design stylishly inserts a soft-touch face into the hard plastic instrument panel, the overly hard, overly thin door pulls seem pedestrian. The seats, though comfortable and supportive, lack power recline. Even compact Mazdas and Suzukis—hardly makes known for luxury—offer this feature. Can a car be “premium” without it? Rear seat legroom is marginal for adults, though ample space for feet beneath the front seats helps. A non sequitur: the steering wheel is too thick, which could turn off many potential female buyers.


Luxury car buyers don’t typically make runs for the redline. But this is entirely the point: they don’t want to feel the need to go anywhere near the redline. Instead, they want a car’s acceleration to feel effortless and for its engine to be felt but not heard. The Verano’s 180-horsepower 2.4-liter engine is stronger than the Cruze’s 138-horsepower 1.4 turbo, but it’s also naturally aspirated with a high (4,900 rpm) torque peak. To move 3,300 pounds of compact Buick, the four has to rev. It’s willing and able to do this, and with a modicum of refinement, but like the styling the engine isn’t going to inspire people to reach for their checkbooks. GM plans to also offer the Verano with a 250-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo, and this engine should be a better fit for the car’s mission.


So far we have nothing making Buick’s new compact sedan a “must have,” but also nothing that’s likely fatal. But then, as Ed Niedermeyer pointed out in his thorough evaluation of the Verano, there’s fuel economy. EPA ratings of 22 city and 31 highway don’t even compare well to four-cylinder midsize cars, much less other compacts. In suburban driving, the trip computer usually reported between 20 and 25, with high 20s happening only with favorable traffic signals and a feather-light right foot. Even the two-ton, 240-horsepower, all-wheel-drive 528i does a bit better (in my real-world testing as well as on the window sticker). Of course, the Lexus HS has sold poorly despite 35/34 ratings, so fuel economy isn’t everything.

Ride and Handling

The biggest surprise here is how the Verano rides and handles. It’s more tightly damped than a Chevrolet Cruze, with nary a hint of the float that once typified Buicks. Yet the car’s ride is still comfortable, with admirable composure over rough pavement. You’ll feel and hear the bumps and divots, but not overly much (this is a VERY quiet car), and they’re quickly dispatched. Hard cornering flushes out moderate amounts of body roll and front tire scrub, but overall the car is well controlled. The largest killjoys are visibility-impeding A-pillars and numb steering. Fix the last, and they’d about have the chassis where it needs to be—if people can get their heads around the idea of an athletic Buick. (Lexus can’t seem to overcome a similar perceptual challenge.)


Some good stuff so far, but nothing outstanding. Sow how is the compact Buick outselling the compact Lexus by nearly an order of magnitude (2,497 in March)? Pricing. A leather-upholstered Verano like the one tested lists for $26,850. For a sunroof add $900, for nav $795. Not cheap, surely. After adjusting for feature differences (with TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool) the compact Buick checks in about $2,000 above a Cruze or Focus. But this leaves it about $5,000 below an Acura TSX and nearly $12,000 below a Lexus HS 250h (details). Even if we allow a generous $4,000 for the HS’s hybrid bits, the reason for the car’s slow sales becomes clear.

The midsize Buick Regal is about $3,000 more. Notably, its sales in March were down about 1,000 from a year ago. The suffering will increase once the Verano is available with a more powerful engine (assuming reasonable pricing). The new car’s sales suddenly seem less impressive.


The Buick Verano, like the larger Regal, is positioned a quarter-step above the related Chevrolet. A little more style, slightly upgraded materials, a smattering of additional features, moderately firmer suspension tuning, a two-grand bump on the window sticker. A pleasant car, even surprisingly so in some areas (quietness, suspension tuning), but not an outstanding one. Not enough of an upgrade to directly compete with Acura, Lexus, and the Europeans, but not priced to directly compete with them, either. The upside: no direct competitors. The downside: no direct competitors—potential buyers might have trouble categorizing the cars. In appearance, content, and pricing the Verano (like other Buicks) is much closer to the related Chevrolet than to its alleged competitors. While this minimized the effort required to create it, GM should do what it takes to split the difference more evenly.

Buick provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist Fri, 17 Feb 2012 16:17:27 +0000  

GM’s track record has been less than stellar. First we had the Saturn Vue Green Line, a very “mild” hybrid that paled next to competitors like the Ford Escape. Next came the extraordinarily expensive 2-mode hybrid system used in GM’s pickup trucks and full-sized SUVs, which cost far too much and delivered far too little. Finally, we have the Volt – ’nuff said. No wonder GM’s latest hybrid endeavor has come to market with little fanfare, no “hybrid” logos on the vehicle and no hybrid branding from GM. Can we honestly call the 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist a hybrid?

While the LaCrosse’s styling is dominated by slab sides and FWD proportions, the overall look is handsome, even elegant. Compared to the ES350, the Buick looks a touch more sedate while looking less like its kissing cousin the Chevy Malibu. The fairly high belt-line and increasingly popular four-door-coupe roof-line give the 16.5 foot long Buick an almost modern flair (without being so modern as to drive away traditional Buick shoppers.) Despite the modern styling, Buick has stuck to their dubious “ventiports” which make even less sense now than before with our 4-cylinder LaCrosse sporting six portholes. Maybe port 5 represents the motor and 6 is the battery?

While the new LaCrosse’s interior is not class leading in any way, it is uniquely styled. Personally I’m not a fan of the steeply sloped doors but the 40-inches of rear leg room may compensate for that. The dashboard in our tester sported Buick’s new “stitched” dash which is an injection molded plastic dash that has “cuts”  molded in and is then stitched with thread to give the look of a stitched dash without the cost. Overall, the effect works, but the acres of fake wood are less convincing. I understand the need to differentiate between Cadillac and Buick, but the lack of real tree in the LaCrosse is a problem when Buick’s self-proclaimed Lexus competition having plenty of burl-forest standard.

While many hybrid vehicles ditch the folding rear seats due to the battery pack’s location, the LaCrosse continues to offer a pass-through – although it is about 50% smaller than the V6 model’s hole-in-the-trunk. Also on the list of complaints is a trunk that has shrunk to 10.7 cubic feet and is still hampered by trunk hinges that restrict the cargo area. The lost space is given to the hybrid battery pack and associated cooling ducts. Instead of a spare tire in the trunk you’ll find an empty cavity with a tire inflation kit. Why not toss the battery into the unused spare tire space?

The first generation Belt-Alternator-Starter or BAS system GM used in the Saturn Vue and Chevy Malibu “hybrids” was unloved by the press, ignored by shoppers and euthanized after a short time on the market. Instead of trying to resurrect the fantastically expensive “two-mode”  system, GM went back to basics and fixed what was wrong with the BAS hybrid in the first place. GM threw out the ancient 4-speed automatic and replaced it with a new 6-speed unit. The two extra gears allowed Buick to change the final drive ratio for better “hybrid” performance while still having a fairly broad range of lower gears for passing and take-off. Next, they ditched the low-capacity 36V NiMH battery replacing it with a modern 115V lithium-ion pack. The transformation was finished off by a liquid-cooled motor/generator packing three times the punch of the previous generation (15HP and 79lb-ft of torque). In addition to being more powerful, the motor and electronics are designed for nearly continuous use allowing the hybrid system to operate over a broader range of speeds and conditions. The result is a 0.2 second improvement in the LaCrosse’s 0-60 time and a 25% improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing un-eAssisted LaCrosse. Despite the improvements, GM decided to take a cautious approach and is not calling the new system a hybrid, nor are they including the motor’s assistance in the 182 horsepower or 172 lb-ft torque numbers. The ES350, on the other hand, is inexplicably unavailable as a hybrid.

The addition of a battery and motor alone didn’t achieve the 25 MPG city and 36 MPG highway numbers – the Lacrosse eAssist relies on  active grille shutters, altered gear ratios, low rolling resistance tires, a new trunk spoiler, and aero improvements under the car to help get these numbers. The combination of eAssist and the other improvements are what increase the all-important combined economy score from 23 mpg to a 29 mpg. The highway figure of 36 mpg is possible due to the new final drive ratio, which allows the 2.4L engine to spin at a leisurely 2,000 RPM at 70MPH. Without eAssist, this would be a problem upon encountering a slight rise in the terrain as GM’s 6-speed auto is notoriously reluctant to down shift. Fortunately, the 79lb-ft of torque provided by the BAS motor enables the LaCrosse to deal with freeway overpasses and gentle rolling hills without downshifting or slowing. In comparison, the Acura TL delivers 20/29 MPG, the ES350 is less efficient at 19/28 and the Lincoln MKS rounds out the bottom of this pack at 17/25. The Buick is by far the least powerful in this group and some might rightly compare it to Lincoln’s premium hybrid, the MKZ, which returns 41/36 MPG, but the MKZ is a smaller vehicle.

Our LaCrosse averaged 29.9MPG during our 674 mile week with the car. While the start/stop system helped keep the LaCrosse from sipping fuel at stoplights, the system has to idle the engine to run the air conditioning so your mileage in hotter climates is likely to vary considerably. If you value MPGs over cool air, there’s an “ECO” button which tells the car to sacrifice cabin cooling in the name of efficiency. The transmission is fairly smooth, but to aid energy-regeneration, the 6-speed unit is programmed to be as eager to downshift when slowing as it is to upshift when accelerating. No matter what the engine and transmission are doing, the cabin remains eerily quiet due to some extensive work on the sound insulation. This car isn’t just quiet for a near-luxury car, it’s quiet for any car, period. Serenity does have a downside, as my better half was quite put off by the engine start/stops and downshifts when stopping, which were made somewhat more prominent by the silence. Personally, they didn’t bother me at all so be sure to get in a good road test before you live with the car.

On the tech front, our LaCrosse was equipped with the standard 8-inch touchscreen radio and optional navigation system. I found the user interface considerably easier to use than the system in the Cadillac CTS, and was amused by graphics and colors reminiscent of Star Trek The Next Generation. Buyers not willing to spend $1,345 on the optional nav system, can still get turn-by-turn directions via OnStar, although only the first 6 months of the service are free. iPhone and iPod integration are easy to use, and the user interface is very responsive. Unfortunately the maze of physical buttons are not as intuitive as the on-screen menus. Even after a week, I was unable to stab a button in the dark without taking my eyes off the road. Buick offers blind-spot monitoring on the LaCrosse in a $1,440 “confidence package” which also includes steering xenon headlamps and GM’s vacuum-fluorescent heads up display. You can see some images of the HUD in the gallery below. The monochrome display shows basic navigation instructions, speed and a digital tach but falls well short of the polish BMW’s HUD possesses. Absent at any price is adaptive cruise control or collision warning, features available in a majority of the competition including the ES350.

Out on the road the LaCrosse handles just like you’d expect from 3,835lbs of Buick; it squats, dives and serves up plenty of body roll in the corners, but then again so do the Lexus, Hyundai Azera and Lincoln MKS. If you want sporty and can handle the looks, roll into an Acura dealership for a TL. Buick has set pricing for the LaCrosse eAssist at $29,045 for the base model. Should you step up to the “LaCrosse with Convenience Group” at $29,600, you can choose between the 303 HP V6 or the eAssist drivetrain for the same price. AWD LaCrosse models are available only with the 3.6L engine. While Buick is quick to call the engines choice a “no-cost option”, the eAssist base model is $2,830 more than last year’s base four-cylinder model. At essentially 30-large, the base eAssist LaCrosse compares favorably with the $36,725 base price of the ES350.

As our week with the LaCrosse ended I was more confused about eAssist than I was when it started. This confusion has nothing to do with the actual system itself which worked flawlessly and had a decent impact on fuel economy, it had everything to do with GM’s naming conventions. Somehow I’m not be surprised that the first hybrid viable hybrid from GM, mild or otherwise, would receive little fanfare. While the LaCrosse will never set your heart alight with excitement, it combines an excellent ride, cabin noise levels that Rolls Royce engineers are probably trying to replicate and decent fuel economy with a $35,195 as tested MSRP. While I’d probably still buy the more expensive ES350 ($41,240 similarly equipped), the Buick is a solid product with decent mileage at a compelling price.

Buick provided the vehicle, one tank of gas and insurance for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30 MPH: 2.8 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 7.9 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.22 Seconds at 85.7 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 29.9 MPG over 674 miles

2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, ventiports, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat folded, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, battery cooling, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, spare tire well, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, ventiports, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Exterior, front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, fuel economy, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, tach, auto stop, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, tach, auto stop, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, infotainment screen, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, center console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, HUD heads-up display, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, infotainment controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, infotainment screen, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, ambient lighting, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, ambient lighting, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, ambient lighting, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, passenger's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, passenger's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, dash controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, headlamp and HUD controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, radio and HVAC controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, window switches, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat HVAC, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, steering wheel controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, steering wheel controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, Interior, rear seat, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist system, Picture courtesy of General Motors buick-lacrosse-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 78
Capsule Review: 2012 Buick Regal GS Take Two Mon, 13 Feb 2012 22:36:48 +0000

The official reasoning behind GM failing to bring the Opel Insignia OPC, according to Buick PR staff, is that the all-wheel drive, twin-turbo V6 powered sedan with 321 horsepower “didn’t fit with the brand image”. Right. The real reason is likely that a Buick Regal GS outfitted like this would cost far more than the already expensive $35,310 that GM wants for a car. And if the market for a $35,000 manual transmission Buick is limited, well – imagine who would buy a $45,000-$50,000 AWD Regal.

The 270 horsepower Regal GS is, say it with me front-wheel drive. If  that means “wrong wheel drive” in your books, close the browser window immediately and go back to The Car Lounge. GM has something called a HiPer strut front suspension, a modified MacPherson strut design that reduces torque steer and increases steering feel by playing with the suspension geometry and separating the steering and suspension components. When paired with the adjustable shocks and sticky rubber available on the Regal GS, the system allows the Regal to maintain exceptional composure through the sweeping curves (and crappy pavement) of Northern Michigan.

The sweet chassis is backed up by a 2.0L turbocharged Ecotec making 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. While torque steer is present, it’s manageable and only presents briefly. 60 mph comes up in 6.7 seconds according to GM – the Regal GS feels much faster than that. No hero-launches were attempted during our drive, but the Regal GS is what the British rags would call a “fast point-to-point car”. The Regal GS really shines when covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time. A broad torque band, a composed chassis and a docile nature can allow most people to exploit the considerable performance of a Regal GS. On paper, it may not be as impressive as an Audi S4 but in the real world, on an open road, there’s little to suggest that the Regal couldn’t hang with the 4-ringed car. The Brembo brakes on the Regal GS are also outstanding, with great feel through the pedal and strong, consistent performance even with repeated hard uses.

In typical GM fashion, there are more than a couple of flaws that are tough to overlook. The steering is weighty when the “GS” button on the dash is activated, but offers as much feedback as a bad boss. The 6-speed manual seems so promising but delivers so little. The shifter’s throws are a pastiche of every negative adjective in the auto journalism handbook – rubbery, dead-feeling, long and inaccurate. Furthermore, the pedals are totally unsuited to heel-and-toe shifting, making rev matching out of the question unless your feet are child-sized. Heretical as it may be, opting for the automatic gearbox on the Regal GS might not be a bad thing. (At launch just the manual transmission is being offered). Only the most fanatical DIY-shifting types need apply for this dreadful bit of engineering. The interior of the Regal isn’t bad overall, but has a very particular “General Motors” feel. Many of the buttons, cabin materials and readouts are sourced from the common parts bin, something that is barely acceptable on a vehicle that’s ostensibly positioned as a luxury car. The center console is a mess of buttons that’s confusing to the eye. The front seats do a good job of keeping you in place without being uncomfortable, but the back seats are tight. Don’t expect to use them for anything more than taking friends to dinner.

The subtle additions to the exterior, like larger wheels, tasteful chrome accents and dual exhausts help the Regal GS keep a low profile. Order it in an understated color like black or silver and you’ve got a genuine sleeper on your hands. The big hurdle for the Regal GS will be finding buyers, even true enthusiasts, who may not be able to look past its discreet exterior (some may consider it boring) and the front-drive/turbo 4-cylinder powerplant. The notion of “wrong-wheel drive” is laughable given that the Regal GS is a far superior driving machine to the dreadful base CTS trim levels and Audi has no trouble pushing the A4 2.0T (which is about as engaging as a PBS telethon) onto the status-hungry masses.

Which is exactly the problem. A lot of people need to tell their friends just how good their purchases. Think how ridiculous it sounds to the average person that someone bought a turbocharged, stick shift Buick for $35k. Others have suggested it’s not quite up to snuff compared to the competition – that’s nonsense. The Regal GS has enough power to get you some serious speeding tickets. And unlike a BMW 335i, your fuel pump won’t explode. The big problem with the Regal GS is getting consumers to sign on the dotted line. The Regal GS would probably be a fine product for anyone who ever bought a turbo Saab, but how many of those were sold in the last decade or two?

Derek Kreindler originally drove the Buick Regal GS in August, 2011. Buick provided airfare, lodging and meals for the trip to Traverse City, MI.

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Review: 2012 Buick Regal GS Fri, 09 Dec 2011 10:01:49 +0000 Judging from the emails I receive, some of you badly want to love the new 2012 Regal GS. In my review of the Buick Regal 2.0T, I noted that its strengths are “subtle,” and therefore unlikely to inspire love at first sight. The GS adds more aggressive styling, 50 horsepower, Brembo front brakes, an upgraded suspension, and better-bolstered seats. Should you prepare to be smitten?

The exterior tweaks work for me. They lend the Regal a sportier face, without going over the top. The optional dubs—perhaps a bit over the top. Even the standard 19s look a bit too large for the car. Inside…well the interior is pretty much the same, just with larger bolsters on the seats. So the parts look and feel high in quality, and are subtly stylish. But why no tweaks to take the GS up a notch?

A little colored thread could go a long way towards relieving the cabin’s almost overwhelming darkness. While they’re at it, my brain would much more easily process a tach numbered in the thousands to the current one, which is numbered (late model VW style) in the hundreds. The revised front seats do provide more lateral support, but like those in the regular Regal aren’t especially luxurious or comfortable. The rear seat is more cramped than it ought to be given the car’s generous exterior dimensions. The average adult will it, but not very comfortably.

Quite a few people were disappointed upon learning that the Regal GS would be propelled by a 270-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four driving only the front two wheels. In Europe you can buy the closely related Opel Insignia with a 325-horsepower turbocharged V6 and all-wheel-drive. But GM is likely correct that the over $40,000 price the OPC’s powertrain would require would be too high for too many potential North American buyers.

My personal fear: the hi-po 2.0T would sound and feel too much like the raucous earlier incarnation that powered the initially-hot-soon-afterwards-dead Pontiac Solstice GXP and Saturn SKY Redline. Perhaps good for rekindling memories of turbocharged 1980s Regals, but not fitting for a semi-premium brand. I needn’t have worried. If anything the new engine is too smooth and too quiet, revving all the way to its 6,350 rpm fuel cutoff with absolutely no drama and surprisingly little noise. You can cruise down a residential street with the tach needle at 5k and fail to attract a glance. At idle the exhaust is barely audible, above idle there’s just a refined whir. Evidence of the turbo is limited to a faint puff when getting on or off the throttle. There’s no sharp transition as boost builds.

The downside of this unexpected refinement: if I didn’t know better, I’d never have guessed there were anywhere near 270 horsepower under the hood. Could Oshawa have installed the wrong engine? On paper, GM’s latest 3.6-liter V6 isn’t as strong through the midrange, with twenty fewer pound-feet (275 vs. 295) at a much higher peak (4,900 vs. 2,500), but my butt dyno reports otherwise. While the car’s 3,710-pound curb weight doesn’t help, the larger problem is the engine’s flat torque curve and lack of aural feedback: the Regal GS is quicker than it feels. If you must choose, would you rather a car be quick or feel quick?

The shifter for the six-speed manual (the only transmission offered initially) glides smoothly and with a minimum of effort from gear to gear. Though I’d personally prefer more “snick” as each gear is engaged, this is a huge improvement over GM’s past manuals in front-drivers (that in the late, unlamented Pontiac G6 GTP was among the worst I’ve ever experienced).

Even with nearly 300 pound-feet of torque delivered entirely through the front wheels, there’s no evidence of torque steer. Credit GM’s HiPer strut front suspension, where the upper steering pivot moves from the strut mount to a ball joint located outboard of the strut. This yields a more vertical “kingpin” axis about which the wheel and tire revolve as the steering wheel is turned, a reduced offset between this axis and the tire’s contact patch, and a reduced scrub radius (the distance between where this axis hits the road and the tire’s contact patch).

Though this suspension design was first offered in the Buick LaCrosse CXS, the tauter, better damped suspension tuning of the Regal GS much better realizes its potential. Driven aggressively along a curvy road the car feels, if anything, too poised and planted. With the HiPer Struts’ superior geometry keeping the wheels nearly perpendicular to the road surface through much of their travel, the 255/35ZR20 Pirelli P-Zero tires provide a surprising amount of grip given the Regal’s front-heavy weight distribution. On any but the most challenging public roads you’ll remain far from the sticky rim protectors’ limits, and will detect hardly any understeer. Partly because the front tires slip so little in typical driving, and partly because of some side effects of the HiPer Strut suspension geometry, there’s not much in the way of steering feedback. The Regal’s helm is nevertheless reassuringly precise while the chassis exudes the calm competence most often found in the best German sedans. Drama? Not here. A Cadillac CTS Touring Edition or Volvo S60 R-Design (reviews in the near future) feels rambunctious in comparison. Much larger and heavier, as well. The Regal drives smaller and lighter than it actually is. You point, the Regal goes. Just pay attention to the speedometer—it’s likely going much faster than your senses perceive.

The Regal GS has adaptive shocks with three selectable modes as standard equipment. I didn’t notice much difference between the settings aside from a slightly jiggly ride in “GS” mode. But even in that mode the ride is far from harsh—the Regal is one of the best-riding cars I’ve tested in recent memory. Not remotely cushy or floaty, but maintaining an even keel and precise body control over all but the worst pavement. Some cars with premium labels will toss you about and jostle you considerably more.

Load up a Regal GS with all available options, as with the tested car, and the sticker climbs from $35,310 to $38,785 (including $495 for the “white diamond” paint). Too high for a not-quite-midsize Buick? Problem is, if you’re seeking a powerful manual transmission sedan, you don’t have many less expensive options. Make that a single less expensive option, by my quick count: a Subaru Legacy GT runs about $3,400 less. But adjusting for feature differences using TrueDelta’s Car Price Comparison tool cuts this in half—even though the Subaru has all-wheel-drive go for a $1,700 adjustment in its favor. The Buick is a much more solid car with a much higher level of content.

Every other sedan with well over 200 horsepower and a manual transmission costs significantly more. The least expensive roughly equivalent car, the Infiniti G37, lists for over $4,000 more. A 211-horsepower Audi A4 2.0T? About $6,600 more even after a $1,700 adjustment for its all-wheel-drive system (the two are otherwise closely matched in terms of features). Of course, if you want (or at least need) an automatic there are far more less expensive choices, including a couple from Korea.

The major fault with the Regal GS follows from its greatest strength. Some team within GM clearly put a tremendous amount of effort into refining the powertrain and chassis of this car. The end result is smooth and quiet to a fault. Want a car that you can drive quickly with a minimum increase in your pulse? The Regal GS will deliver. But if you’re looking for a car that will elevate your heart rate, you’ll likely be disappointed unless the roads you regularly drive twist and turn like an epileptic snake. Even in GS form the Regal remains a car of subtle strengths.

Tested car provided by Carol Moran-Charron of Art Moran Buick in Southfield, MI. Carol can be reached at 248-353-9000.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Buick Verano Thu, 03 Nov 2011 22:32:54 +0000

In a luxury market that’s always looking for the next big thing, “Compact Luxury” has become something of a hot trend. And with GM’s Buick brand saved from the bailout-era brand cull, a compact Buick is a key test of whether The General has moved past its bad habits of cynical badge engineering. Thus the 2012 Buick Verano is a hugely important car to The General, not only serving as a bellweather for the health of the Buick brand, but also proving whether or not GM “gets” the tough-to-crack entry-luxury market. So, does the Verano measure up?

From the get-go, it’s clear that GM wanted the Verano to be a clean break from its ignominious past of rebadging Chevy compacts. In sharp contrast from Buick’s last compact, the Skylark which died out in 1998, the Verano hides its Chevrolet roots well from the outside. With only a subtle “hockey stick” character line betraying its Opel roots, the Verano is neither a rebadged Euro-market sedan (like the Regal) nor a “pure” Buick design like the LaCrosse. But it does split the difference between the two designs, marrying a subtle design with a few discrete Buick cues like the hood-mounted ventiports. The overall impression is of a clean, classy car that is, if anything, possibly a bit too substantial and anonymous… which, upon further reflection, makes it quite Buick-like.

Inside, GM’s newfound parts-bin savvy takes center stage: just as the Regal was rebadged from a different market, the Verano’s interior is borrowed but not duplicative. The seats, which are some of the best available in the compact class, are the huge, well-bolstered thrones from the LaCrosse. The IP, which is visually and ergonomically more approachable than the somber, button-laden Regal unit, is borrowed (with a few modifications) from the Opel Astra… which just so happens to be getting a new sedan variant soon. Especially in the warmer, lighter shades that Buick makes available, the soft-touch interior with its subtle chrome accents makes even the LTZ Cruze seem a bit cold and cheesy.

On the other hand, I do have one beef on the materials front. At Chevy’s Centennial event in Detroit a Chevy interior specialist told me that GM’s mass-market brand was moving away from “materials that look like something they’re not,” a direction I find highly laudable. Sadly, GM’s “thoughtful luxury” brand is a bit behind the curve in this respect, employing great swaths of brushed-nickle-look plastic around the IP and elsewhere. Though it looks good from a distance, it takes only the most superficial contact (or even thought) to realize that it’s just another hard plastic. In an interior that otherwise hits its cues well, this is something of a letdown, especially from a brand that seeks to emphasize subtlety and substance.

With the Cruze already earning accolades for being one of the most quiet and refined cars in the Compact segment, one had to wonder just how far GM would go to differentiate the Verano in this respect. The answer: much farther than you’d think. The Verano is packed with more sound-deadening foams and sealants than a Guantanamo Bay interrogation room, adding several hundred 10-15 pounds to its weight (additional weight increases compared to Cruze come from wheels, drivetrain, and additional length, say Buick reps) but delivering a shockingly quiet cabin. Puttering around town in a deathly silence, I rolled my window  down a few times for contrast, and was blown away at the wealth of aural feedback that would flood in only to be blocked when I rolled the window back up again. If you’re looking for a quiet compact, you’d be hard pressed to find a more effectively isolating model than the Verano.

That principle applies to the Verano’s 2.4 liter inline four-cylinder as well. Though frequent drivers of GM products will recognize the unmistakable buzz of an Ecotec under the hood, a special airbox gives the mill a more refined, intake-dominated engine note. Though I’d stop short of calling it musical, it sounds and feels considerably more sweet than any other Ecotec, especially at higher RPMs. Which is where you’ll probably spend quite a bit of time: though this 2.4 also does service in the larger Regal and Malibu sedans, it still has to work hard to hustle 3,300+ lbs of compact car around. Stuck behind a log truck on one of Oregon’s winding two-lane country roads? Make sure you have plenty of room and time to pass, as pickup is adequate rather than luxurious. On the other hand, if you kick back and cruise, said truck could jake-brake for miles without ever disturbing the cabin’s serene ambience.

Normally a Buick tuned for quiet, refined cruising would not be let down by weakness in the engine room. But strangely, the Verano has far more responsive (even twitchy) steering than you might expect, and it rotates around its short wheelbase to an extent that surprises… even coming from the more sport-oriented Regal. Though I personally prefer the Regal, the Verano can be even more fun than a base Regal, which is even more let down by the underwhelming 2.4. There’s no hiding the Verano’s heft, and too much fun will leave it a bit breathless, but there’s more directness and feel from the ZF electric steering rack than you might expect. If you’re looking for some real sport to go with your compact luxury, the Verano may not quite fit the bill… but a forthcoming Verano Coupe is starting to look quite promising.

Perhaps what makes the Verano feel more sporty than I expected is the simple fact that it’s a compact car… because from the driver’s seat it doesn’t feel like one. There’s a good impression of space up front, and the LaCrosse-sourced seats are large and excellent. Unfortunately, the large size of those front seats do cut back on rear-seat legroom, which loses an inch and a half compared to the Cruze (front and rear combined legroom is 76 inches, the same as an Audi A3). As a result, the rear seat impression is considerably less luxurious and less Buick-like than the front-row experience. Is this the price of entry into the compact luxury field?

This brings up another important question, and one that gets to the heart of the Verano’s most basic flaw: why do buyers want a smaller luxury car? Though marketers may bring up a number of reasons, it seems the most key consideration is fuel economy rather than smallness for its own sake. And here the Verano lets down its entire mission: 21/31 (city/highway, GM’s estimate) isn’t even competitive for a midsized car, let alone a compact. For comparison, Audi’s A6, Chrysler’s 300 V6, and BMW’s 528i xDrive and 640i Convertible are all rated at 31 MPG on the freeway or better. Closer to home, Buick’s larger Regal also gets a 31 MPG freeway rating with the same 2.4 liter and even does one better on the freeway with its optional turbo engine.

Of course, the Regal is a very different car than the Verano. Whereas Buick’s compact is a quiet, comfy cruiser with an emphasis on isolation, the Regal is pure Euro-market, with its firm, flat seats, sombre interior and handling-tuned suspension. In other words, the Verano’s engineers hit their brief dead-on: they built a well-executed, refined baby Buick that avoids direct competition with other models in the range. Unfortunately, GM’s managers seemed more intent on building a compact luxury car for its own sake (or for Buick-GMC dealer throughput numbers’ sake) than really understanding why compact luxury appeals to buyers. Until Buick decides to equip Verano with its EcoAssist mild hybrid system, it seems to be a compact luxury car without the key appeal of its segment, namely competitive fuel economy. As the saying goes: great landing, wrong airport.

Buick made the Verano (as well as a Regal for comparison) available for this review at a media event. Buick provided lunch, and later sent a set of water glasses made from old wine bottles to me, to commemorate the event’s presence in Oregon’s Pinot Noir wine country. 

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Review: 2011 Buick Regal Turbo Take Two Wed, 30 Mar 2011 20:26:35 +0000

Sometimes love strikes at first sight. Other times it emerges more gradually over months or even years. When I first drove the new Buick Regal nearly a year ago, I found a fair amount to like, but love didn’t instantly happen. The Regal just isn’t that kind of car. Its strengths are subtle. Perhaps if we spent a week together, and a turbo was added to the mix?

Ours being an open relationship, I also played the field, driving an Acura TSX V6, Chrysler 200 Limited, and Volvo S60 T5 to better evaluate how the Buick measured up. Those reviews will follow. First, the Regal CXL Turbo.

The Regal isn’t as flashy a dresser as the half-size-larger Buick LaCrosse, but it will likely wear better over time. Over the course of the week the car looked better and better to me. The proportions are outstanding for a front-driver, with the ends of the car pulled tight to minimize their perceived mass. In a clear sign of Lutz’s involvement, the fenders swell out deliciously to barely contain the optional 19-inch wheels. Inspired by the 1998-2004 Audi A6, but further refined. Current Audis, with more kinks in their curves, appear stodgy in comparison. I took many photos in an attempt to do the Regal justice, but failed. Its complex surfacing simply cannot be captured in two dimensions. One exterior flaw that can be remedied easily: there’s far too much badging on the trunk. Does any owner really want to broadcast that their car can burn E85?

The Regal’s interior similarly grew more attractive over the course of the week. Though less overtly styled than the interiors in the Acura and Volvo, there’s beauty in the details. Look closely and, like its exterior, the Buick’s interior is filled with curves. These flow together so harmoniously and are so tastefully highlighted with piano black and lustrous metallic trim that no element draws attention to itself. (Okay, the chrome trim plate surrounding the shifter does, but without a few pieces of jewelry the interior would be too dark.) At night, ice blue lighting proves both attractive and easy on the eyes.

When I first drove the Regal I reported that its interior materials didn’t quite measure up to those in an Audi or Acura. Perhaps I was thinking of past Audis and Acuras. The interiors of the current A4 and TSX—and of the new Volvo S60, for that matter—seem plasticky compared to that in the Regal. Within the Buick most surfaces are soft to the touch and even those that aren’t have a reassuringly solid feel. The door pulls—historically a GM weakness—deserve special note. Tug on them and they don’t budge a bit. Yet they also have a soft-touch inner surface. Regal production is shifting from Germany to Canada. Hopefully these materials survived the move.

Ergonomics are much better than in the LaCrosse, with the shifter properly located and the many knobs and buttons all within reach. But there are so many knobs and buttons, unconventionally arranged (for North America, at least), that even basic operations require considerable hunting at first. By the end of the week I’d figured out how to perform most functions. Perhaps after a year the location of audio controls on the steering wheel, the center stack, AND the center console would start to become intuitive? Even the tach is a bit of a bother; since like that in some VWs it’s numbered in hundreds rather than thousands, making it easy to confuse at a glance with the speedometer. As is often the case, the gear indicator is mounted low in the instruments, where it’s not possible to read at a glance. (I was spoiled the previous week by the head-up display in a GMC Acadia.) Thankfully the driving position requires no such acclimation. Compared to the styling-uber-alles LaCrosse, the Regal has a lower, shallower instrument panel and thinner, more upright pillars.

Then there are the seats. Because the headrests jut far forward, it took me a few days to find a position that wasn’t downright uncomfortable (for me; your neck might be less vertical). Supposedly this torture is required for safety, but both Acura and Volvo earn equally good rear crash protection scores with much less intrusive headrests. The problem: GM isn’t willing to fit its cars with active head restraints that move forward in the event of a rear impact. Even excluding this factor, the Regal’s seatbacks lack contour and their bolsters are too widely spaced. They have four-way power lumbar, vs. the two-way manual lumbar in the Acura and Volvo, but the seats in these competitors are nevertheless both more cosseting when cruising and more supportive when the road turns twisty. Of the Regal’s shortcomings, these seats would be the largest impediment to a satisfying long-term relationship. I might eventually learn to live with them, but it would be a struggle.

The Regal is, in the GM fashion, a few inches longer than its closest competitors, and this pays some dividends in rear seat legroom. Even so, the rear seat isn’t a comfortable place for adults. Knee room, though relatively plentiful, is still limited and the cushion is too low to the floor—the price of the arching roofline. Adding insult to injury, rear seat passengers don’t get lustrous metallic trim on their door pulls—to save a few dollars? But they do get rear air vents and an AC outlet (which will only work with a three-prong plug.) The trunk is a little larger than most, and the rear seatbacks fold to expand it.

I first drove the Regal with a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and found this engine adequate. Over the course of a week with the optional 220-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four I found it…also adequate, only more so. Tipping a friendly scale at 3,671 pounds, the Regal Turbo weighs hundreds of pounds more than most competitors. Consequently, the turbocharged engine merely achieves parity with the base engines in the Acura TSX, Audi A4, and Volvo S60. (And the much less expensive Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, for that matter.)

Why did GM opt to offer the 220-horsepower four as an option? Virtually everyone else offers base engines that are a little less powerful along with optional engines that are much more powerful. To more effectively compete with the latter the 2012 Regal will also be available with a 255-horsepower version of the 2.0-liter turbo. But this will still be 20-40 horsepower short of parity when the Regal needs a stronger engine to compensate for its additional poundage.

In terms of refinement, the Regal Turbo’s engine is better behaved than previous GM fours, but idles less smoothly and quietly than the best and makes pedestrian four-cylinder noises when revved. Casual drivers will notice little amiss—aside from a very faint occasional whistle the boosted nature of the engine isn’t evident—but there’s also nothing here to thrill. The soulful sixes offered in the Acura and Volvo are in entirely different league. These sixes also feel much stronger when starting off from a dead stop, where the normally lag-free Buick engine sometimes hesitates for a moment.

Fuel economy is rated 18 city / 28 highway by the EPA. Competitors usually do a few MPG better, especially in the city. An Audi A4 2.0T, which weighs about 270 pounds less: 22/ 30. Even in turbocharged six-cylinder all-wheel-drive form the Volvo S60 manages 18 / 26. The even heftier Cadillac CTS with the 3.6-liter V6: 18/ 27. So the fuel economy benefits of the four-cylinder turbo are not evident. In casual suburban driving I observed about 22.5 in the Regal.

The chassis is easier to admire, even if love still proves elusive. Going down the road the Regal feels unusually solid and well-mannered for a non-German car. Except it is a German car. Or was until it moved to Canada. The ride-handling balance is about the best you’ll find in a nose-heavy front-driver. The ultra-low-profile 245/40WR19 tires audibly clomp over road imperfections, but despite the absence of any sidewalls to speak of the ride remains smooth and steady on all but the worst roads. The Acura and Volvo aren’t as composed. There’s some lean in turns, but no more than in other sedans without hardcore performance ambitions.

Understeer? With nearly sixty-percent of the Regal’s many pounds on its front tires, of course it understeers. But the situation is more complicated than it initially appears. The Regal’s overly light steering has a relaxed feel to it, and when the wheel is first turned the car’s nose seems somewhat reluctant to follow. But override this feedback and tweak the wheel another twenty-or-so degrees, and the front tires mysteriously hook up and carve a tight line. Once you know this hidden capability is there, it’s easy to exploit. But it might never become intuitive. If and when the stability control intervenes it does so very effectively and relatively transparently. The systems in the Acura and especially in the Volvo are much more intrusive.

The Regal’s top option packages pair the 19-inch-wheels (a big aesthetic improvement) with adjustable shocks. Prominent “Sport” and “Tour” buttons respectively firm up or relax these shocks along with the steering and the throttle. At least they’re supposed to. Even after a week to familiarize myself with the car I could not tell the difference between the default setting and “Sport.” The latter might make the ride a little more abrupt, but handling is not perceptibly affected. Supposedly the system adapts to your driving style, so it might simply have defaulted to something near “Sport” for me. In “Tour” the steering felt a little more vague and the suspension felt a little less tied down, but the differences are again so small that I doubt I could reliably distinguish them in a blind test. So, are the trick shocks a waste? Not for anyone who cares about driving. They simply do such a good job left to themselves, that they should simply be left to themselves.

The steering is another matter. A much more significant difference between modes, as in Audi’s latest “Drive Select” packages, would be better than the current system. But an excellently tuned, single-mode system would be best of all.

The price: $35,185 with all the toys. Adjust for feature differences (like the trick shocks) using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool and a similarly-equipped four-cylinder Acura TSX is a few hundred less. The two cars are very similarly priced. This puts the Regal about $5,000 over the much more powerful Hyundai Sonata Limited 2.0T (about $2,800 after the feature adjustment) but about $7,000 under an Audi A4 2.0T.

Buick would of course prefer that you focus on the latter comparison, and they’d have justification for this. As suggested by its highly refined styling and hefty curb weight, the Regal was designed and engineered well beyond normal $25,000 car standards—which might explain why it starts at $27,000 and ends up at $35,000 when fully loaded. Want the basic car and the performance bits, but need a lower price? Cutting the nav would save $2,000 and cutting the sunroof would shave another grand.

Ultimately, even when turbocharged and fitted with the industry’s quickest-reacting shocks the Buick Regal simply isn’t a driver’s car. Instead, it’s a solid, exceedingly well-behaved machine that, if it proves reliable, I’d readily recommend to casual drivers without overly vertical necks. Driving it for a week, I came to admire the Regal’s subtle strengths. Perhaps given a year or two of commutes this admiration might turn to love. Prefer to fall in love more quickly? Perhaps the upcoming Regal GS with its more aggressively boosted engine will do the trick.

Press Car, insurance and one tank of gas provided by GM.

An earlier Regal Turbo was provided by Dick Johnson of Lunghamer Buick in Waterford, MI (248-461-1037).

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Review: 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS HiPer Strut Wed, 09 Jun 2010 20:18:59 +0000

Even more than the Cadillac SRX reviewed last week, the 2010 Buick LaCrosse reflects Bob Lutz’s influence at GM. Soon after assuming responsibility for the corporation’s new product development in 2001, Lutz deemed the styling of the original Buick LaCrosse, recently approved for production, unfit for sale. The car was sent back to the designers for late revisions to the front end, delaying its launch by over a year. But not much could be done so late in the process. What would the LaCrosse be like if Lutz could oversee its entire development? With redesigned and re-engineered 2010 Buick LaCrosse we now have an answer.

I previously reviewed the Buick LaCrosse in CXL AWD form. This time around I spent a week with a LaCrosse CXS that differed from the earlier car in two notable ways: a more powerful 3.6-liter V6 (instead of a 3.0) and GM’s new “HiPer Strut” front suspension (a midyear change).

Lutz’s most notable act at GM was to return a high degree of autonomy to the designers, freeing them from the constraints imposed by engineering and manufacturing, the short-sighted meddling of marketing, and the time and budget restraints of product line executives. So the new Buick LaCrosse should look great, and for the most part it does. The designers did very well with the tall, cab forward body structure they were given—even with Lutz they clearly didn’t have an entirely clean sheet of paper to work from. While the front fender line would ideally be a little lower, as executed the curvaceous exterior has presence, catches your eye, and is clearly a Buick from stem to stern. This ain’t no rebadge. The LaCrosse looks special.

The artful curves continue inside the car. The door-mounted armrests and the smooth transition from the door panels to the instrument panel are especially nicely done. Real stitching molded into these panels, sufficiently convincing faux wood, and extensive ambient lighting contribute to an upscale ambiance. Lutz’s push for richer materials has had mixed results. Unlike in some recent Cadillacs, even the lower door panels are padded. But the center console and the switchgear still don’t look or feel quite as nice as those in the Audis Lutz upheld as benchmarks or the Lexus Buick hopes to steal buyers from. It might have Acura beat, though.

Unfortunately, giving designers so much power also has downsides. The thick chrome band around the center stack sometimes reflects bright sunlight directly into the driver’s eyes. The prominent console and curves that look so good detract from perceived roominess—it remains to be seen whether GM can offer an Epsilon-based sedan that feels roomy. The fashionably high beltline and ultra-wide pillars (why?) severely constrict the driver’s sight lines, especially in turns. They also bury preteens in the basement-like back seat. The artful curve of the center stack into the center console looks sharp, but it positions the shifter too far rearward. Driving the LaCrosse with one’s hand on the shifter requires a rightward twist. Design might not have driven the number of buttons, but there are too many that look too much alike.

As in pretty much every GM car in recent memory, the front seats could be better. They provide a fair amount of lateral support, but only after considerable fiddling with the power adjustments, which include four-way lumbar, did I find a setting that was passably comfortable. Even then the ultra-firm head restraint juts too far forward. Other manufacturers manage to combine much less intrusive headrests with good safety scores. This isn’t a good place to opt for the lowest-cost solution. The rear seat, a bit low to the floor in the traditional GM manner, offers plenty of room for legs, but not so much for shoulders. The trunk would be narrow regardless, but fully encapsulating the conventional hinges further constricts it.

Disregard the mere ten-percent difference in the peak horsepower. The Buick LaCrosse CXS’s 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 spins the front wheels all too easily. It feels far stronger and sounds much better than the CXL’s 252-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. The difference in torque is more substantial, 259 vs. 217 pound-feet, and the LaCrosse’s two-ton curb weight is a poor match for the relatively torque-free 3.0. Yet for 2010 all-wheel-drive, which adds another 170 pounds, was only available with the 3.0. With the 2011 car this mistake will be rectified—the 3.0 will be exiled and only the 3.6 will be offered with all-wheel-drive. Better late than never, but how did the 3.0 ever make it out of the gate during Lutz’s watch? Did the car blow through its curb weight targets, and yet no one reconsidered the powertrain plan? Lutz has acknowledged that curb weight became a low priority during his quest to improve the cars, and that his successors must now work hard to take the pounds off. Even so, why not offer all-wheel-drive with the 3.6 from the start? EPA fuel economy ratings? Perhaps, but in general the 3.6 has earned equal or better EPA ratings than the 3.0.

Putting 259 pound-feet of torque through the front wheels is a recipe for torque steer. And, with the MacPherson strut front suspension fitted at intro, it was more than just hypothetical. The tested car was fitted with GM’s oddly named HiPer Strut front suspension, a midyear change. With this suspension design, the upper steering pivot moves from the strut mount to a ball joint located outboard of the strut. This yields a more vertical “kingpin” axis about which the wheel and tire revolve as the steering wheel is turned, a reduced offset between this axis and the tire’s contact patch, and a reduced scrub radius (the distance between where this axis hits the road and the tire’s contact patch). In theory, this should reduce torque steer, improve grip in turns, and improve steering precision but also increase steering effort at low speeds and reduce steering feel.

To study the real-world differences, I dropped by a dealer to test drive a LaCrosse CXS with the old suspension. Steering effort at low speeds isn’t notably affected—no doubt the level of assist has been tweaked to compensate. There’s not much steering feel with HiPer Strut, but there also isn’t much with the old suspension. In either case there’s a slight amount of slop, and you only learn of tire slip from your ears.. Torque steer is all but eliminated, though the nose does continue to feel like it wants to wander this way and that under hard acceleration. This is probably a matter of weight distribution and suspension tuning rather than suspension geometry. Even in CXS trim the LaCrosse’s suspension is relatively soft, so under hard acceleration the car squats and weight transfers off the nose. HiPer Strut does keep the tire’s contact patch more parallel to the road surface as it moves up and down over bumps and in turns. With it the car feels more planted and stable.

Alas, planted and stable are not the same as fun and sporty. I also dropped by dealers to compare the Nissan Maxima and Acura TL. Each has unfortunate exterior styling, and the Nissan’s interior looks and feels much cheaper than the others. But either car provides a much more engaging and entertaining driving experience, the Nissan’s abundant torque steer notwithstanding (the TL avoided the same via SH-AWD). Credit driving positions that provide a clearer view over the hood (sportily bumped up over the wheels in the Nissan’s case) and that seem to place the driver closer to the action. Also credit powertrains and steering systems that react much more quickly and sharply to driver inputs and tauter suspensions. In terms of cornering speeds the HiPer Strut Buick compares well, but the Nissan and Acura feel sportier and are simply much more fun to drive. Buick doesn’t do “visceral.” For mainstream drivers this could well be a plus. But not for driving enthusiasts.

The LaCrosse does gain back some points for ride quality, as it soaks up bumps much better than either the TL or the Maxima. Still there’s some tire clomping (but there’s more of both it and other noise in the other cars) and some fore-aft pitching (generally absent from the other cars, which react to the same bumps with a sharper but quicker and more vertical jolt). The impact of the pitching is magnified by two factors. The Buick’s head-up display is very helpful when manually shifting the six-speed automatic, as it displays not only the vehicle speed but also the engine speed and the current gear. (Bonus: song titles when they change.) But when the car pitches over bumps, the HUD dances up and down, and you’re tracking the bouncing ball. Worse, if you’re built like me then each time the car pitches over a frost heave that overly firm, overly far forward head restraint smacks you in the back of the head. On roads with lumpy surfaces this gets old quickly.

The LaCrosse with the MacPherson strut suspension was also fitted with the optional Touring Package, which includes more attractive, one-inch larger wheels (19s instead of 18s) and auto-adjusting shocks. Theoretically, these shocks should improve both handling and ride quality. Perhaps the lower profile treads were to blame, but while the Touring Package improves the appearance of the car it yields a busier, harsher ride and provides no evident handling benefit to compensate.

The conclusion with the new Buick LaCrosse is much the same as it was for the new Cadillac SRX. In both cases we have attractive styling, a richer interior ambiance, and improved refinement coupled to too many pounds, poor visibility, and an insufficiently visceral driving experience. Design has clearly benefited from Lutz’s influence, but by giving it more power relative to other groups, not by enabling and encouraging all functions to work better together towards the shared goal of an all-around better car. HiPer strut does improve the Buick LaCrosse’s handling, but doesn’t transform the character of the car. For the potential of this innovative suspension to be realized, it must be paired with quicker, sharper steering and a more agile chassis. Lutz has often been heralded as the ultimate car guy, but like the car guys from GM’s glory years seems to have focused more on how cars look than on what they’re like to sit in and drive. Now that GM has fixed the styling, perhaps they can provide more attention to the driving experience.

GM provided the press-fleet vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of vehicle pricing and reliability data.

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Review: 2011 Buick Regal Turbo Wed, 26 May 2010 21:20:47 +0000
Taut. Trim. Modern. Sporty. Developed in Germany. Aimed at youthful enthusiasts. Stop me when it starts sounding like I’m describing a Buick.

Since the launch of the Enclave in 2007, Buick has repeatedly touted a decline in average buyer age that still has yet to push the brand’s demographics into the fat sections of America’s population pyramid. Though the year-old LaCrosse appears to be helping Buick’s central PR narrative, even it is, at best, not your grandfather’s Buick. Despite a brand heritage based on a traditional, suburban American image whose fading appeal is evidenced in Buick’s pre-Enclave demographics, the long-term health of GM’s entry-luxury (or “premium,” to use GM-speak) marque depends on continued progress away from the “blue hair” image it has so richly earned over the past several decades.

It should come as no surprise then, that the 2011 Regal is the most substantive break from Buick’s past to date. And no wonder: born in Germany as the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, the Regal is as traditionally American as a Kraftwerk album. In Europe, the Insignia is sold as fashion-forward competitor in the mass-market, midsized segment. In the context of a Buick that still offers a taste of the geriatric image it’s desperate to escape in the G-Body Lucerne, the Regal is unapologetically marketed as a sports sedan. And until a recently-approved high-performance GS version arrives, the 220 horsepower Turbo version is the bellwether for both the Regal’s sporting pretensions and Buick’s desire to attract a new kind of buyer.

The decision to launch the Regal on 200 miles of twisting road east of San Diego, California is testament to just how much Buick believes in the Regal’s sporting credentials. And this was no mirror-smooth, touring course either. Tight hairpins, deep compressions, nasty potholes and impossibly narrow, rough roads left the Regal no opportunity to fake the funk. Nausea-control armbands left in each Regal’s center console weren’t just for show either: several of Buick’s reps were looking decidedly green around the gills at the stops between driving stages.

And no wonder. The Regal Turbo we tested proved not only to be the best-handling Buick ever (damning with faint praise, to be sure), but also an accomplished athlete by any reasonable comparison. The Regal Turbo is by far the most enthusiast-oriented application of GM’s Epsilon II platform to date, and was, throughout the test, a poised and willing dance partner. The front-drive chassis provided considerable grip through fast sweepers, performed sharp direction changes with aplomb and carried its 3,600 pound claimed curb weight with unexpected grace. And though a far cry from the squishy, all-day touring comfort that previously defined Buick chassis and suspension setups, it never felt overly harsh or hard-core. Even fitted with optional 19 inch wheels (reminiscent of the Jaguar XF’s), the ride remained impressively smooth.

Of course, on the kind of roads that one finds in the hill country east of San Diego, a well-settled chassis alone isn’t enough to deliver true enthusiast performance. The loaded Turbo model we drove was equipped with an active damping system that will be optional on Turbo models when they arrive at dealer lots later this year. With this option comes the choice of three modes, Normal, Touring and Sport, selectable with buttons on the instrument panel. According to the engineers responsible for developing the Regal Turbo, the car itself will even choose between the different modes based on its analysis of real-time telemetric data.

With Sport mode engaged, the difference in suspension, steering and drivetrain settings were immediately noticeable, and is clearly responsible for many of the superlatives in this review. Because Sport mode is self-activating, however, it’s hard to say how a Turbo model without active damping would perform, and its advantages are based on an imperfect comparison to the 2.4 liter, normally-aspirated base Regal with 18 inch rims.

But even with the performance-enhancing wheel and active suspension upgrades, the Regal Turbo we drove was not a perfect athlete. The impressively-fettled chassis, and firm, flattering suspension were consistently let down by a hydraulic-assist steering setup that failed to live up to the Regal’s promise of sports sedan performance. From the moment I slid behind the wheel, it felt almost comically disconnected from the wheels, and driving through downtown San Diego in Touring mode, my concern with the super-light, feedback-free, and vague on-center feel through the Regal’s helm only grew. Based on the number of fellow testers who waggled their wheels in curiosity on the way out of town, like Formula 1 drivers breaking in their tires on a warm-up lap, I wasn’t the only one who took notice.

And sure enough, as soon as the drive’s first leg got into the curvy stuff, the steering came into focus as the weakest link in the enthusiastic driving equation. The vagueness on-center, which was mitigated (but not removed) by pressing the Sport button, robbed the Regal’s driver of confidence when diving into an apex, while the overboosted lightness prevented a steady flow of communication between the road and the driver. As a result, it was extremely difficult to feel out the limits of the Regal’s capability, and one couldn’t help but get the impression that an otherwise capable chassis was going underexploited. Moreover, it limited the Regal’s ability to flatter the driver, an key consideration for an entry sports sedan.

These steering feel complaints are popular whipping boys for road testers, but I wasn’t the only one left cold by the Turbo’s aloof tiller. Halfway through the test, Vehicle Line Engineer Jim Federico admitted that our Turbos fell short on steering weight and feel. He insisted that he understood the need to improve the steering heft on Turbo models, and promised that this would be “dialed in” by the time Turbos hit dealerships later this year. Federico is clearly an engineer who takes his job seriously, but we’re bound by the Great Communicator’s principle of trust but verify on this count.

In contrast to its steering, the Regal’s two-liter, twin-scroll turbocharged Ecotec engine is extremely well-suited to this application. Making 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the direct-injection engine provides plenty of usable power. Buick’s reps were quick to point out that the Regal Turbo offered comparable torque to the Acura TSX V6 (which makes 254 lb-ft), despite coming up a good 60 horsepower short of its arch-rival. And despite the many on-paper similarities between these two cars, this comparison offers a keen insight into the Regal’s soul.

The turbocharged Ecotec is not a rev-happy screamer, preferring to focus on mid-range power, and offering surprisingly refined performance. A subtle but unmistakable turbo whistle greets the driver under acceleration, before being drowned out by a restrained, though less-than-entirely-musical note as the engine charges up the rev counter. The results are certainly effective, feeling at least the claimed second faster to 60 MPH than its normally-aspirated cousin, and in non-enthusiast driving it’s smooth, refined and quiet.

As an enthusiast-oriented engine, however, it could stand to offer more in the way of soul. In fact, the lack of rev-rewards almost make the wait for manual transmission versions (coming in Q4 of this year) a non-event. Almost. Unfortunately, the six-speed automatic also takes away slightly from the Regal’s dancing abilities. Letting off the throttle and brushing the brakes on the entrance to a corner almost always leaves the slushbox in a higher gear than the exit requires. Truly spirited driving requires almost constant contact with the gas pedal, and early, subtle throttle inputs to keep the transmission from confusing itself coming out of a tight bend (the transmission offers a “manual” mode which helps in this regard, but not paddle shifters which are even available on the Malibu). Luckily, the chassis can take corners at a high enough speed to allow earlier gassing than you might expect, but tight hairpins can take some wind out of the Turbo’s progress and stringing fast corners together takes some planning. Again, it  wouldn’t be at all fair to call the Regal “unsporty” on this count, but it also doesn’t flatter the driver the way a true enthusiast’s sedan can.

But there I go again, criticizing a Buick for failing to live up to “true enthusiast” standards. In the real world the Regal Turbo is not only more than capable of entertaining anyone currently considering a front-drive, four-door sedan, it also offers an experience that jives surprisingly well with my concept of what a Buick should be. The smooth, quiet powerplant is complimented by a an impressively quiet cabin, which in turn compliments the chassis’s well-moderated balance between ride and handling. The exterior styling, though an undeniable break from Buick’s heritage of ventiports and sweep-spear lines, is handsome and well-detailed but subtle nearly (although not quite) to the point of anonymity. How Buick is that?

Similarly, the interior is well-appointed with surprisingly high-quality materials, and more importantly, surprisingly few low-quality materials. The interior’s Teutonic simplicity is a refreshing (if somber) break from the often overwrought interior designs that have emerged from GM in recent years. Unfortunately, it does suffer similarly from GM’s propensity for IP button overpopulation. The only real letdowns: an all-too familiar steering wheel from GM’s corporate parts bin, and seats that, though comfortable, offer little meaningful side-bolstering for the sub-200 pound driver. This last point is yet another quibble with the Regal’s sporting pretensions, and a possible clue to the nausea that afflicted several Buick reps on the test drive, as the chassis also outclasses the seat’s ability to hold the driver in place during spirited driving.

Is the Regal Turbo a “real” Buick? That’s a debate that will likely rage on until the folks who can still remember a glory year for the brand have died off. It’s certainly different, but with a crossover already in its lineup and compact sedans and MPVs on the way, Buick’s managers aren’t letting fear of the unknown stop them now. And with this less-visceral, more refined alternative to front-drive sports sedans (notably the TSX), they certainly could have taken a less-Buick-like step into the unknown. But whether it will continue the sales momentum that the LaCrosse has undeniably built up over the last year still remains very much to be seen.

On paper, the Regal Turbo’s just-under $30k price point puts it in competition with the base, four-cylinder TSX while offering power closer to the $35k TSX V6. But what exactly the loaded Turbo I drove, with navigation, active suspension damping, 19 inch wheels and more will end up costing is an open question as GM has not yet released full Turbo pricing. And with Federico’s last-minute steering tweaks and a manual transmission as yet untested, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the Regal’s sporting capabilities… let alone any sporty Buick’s youthful-customer-attracting capabilities.

General Motors offered to fly me to San Diego and put me up in some swanky digs for this launch event. I turned down this kind offer, but over the course of the event I did receive three delicious meals, a 2 GB Buick-branded USB drive (which I instantly lost), and two small pies (one stop on the test drive was a pie shop) which I was afraid to take on the airplane, and gave to a friend.

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Review: 2011 Buick Regal Wed, 12 May 2010 17:25:29 +0000

With Pontiac and Saturn gone, Buick must assume a larger role within General Motors. It must now seek to win over enthusiasts who would have previously bought Pontiacs and the import-intenders who previously bought Saturns. The first product to follow from this expanded mission: the new 2011 Buick Regal. The Regal began life as the Opel Insignia—it will even be imported from Germany for the first year—and was to be marketed in the United States as the second-generation Saturn Aura. But it has been available in China as the Buick Regal for over a year now, so putting the tri-shield on the grille isn’t entirely an afterthought. This isn’t even the first time Opel has manufactured a car for Buick dealers—this tie goes way back. Even so, is the Regal a plausible Buick?

When I first saw the new Regal, in China, it really stood out. But the Chinese still get the rest of the world’s hand-me-downs. The circa 1985 MkII Volkswagen Jetta continues to be sold as a new car there, and decade-old designs are common. So recently designed cars tend to stand out. In the American context, the Regal blends. Yes, it’s handsome, but the same can be said for other clean, chunkily-proportioned, Audi-influenced sedans. The Suzuki Kizashi comes to mind. Thanks to a basically curvy shape, the Opel Insignia looks much more like a Buick than the similarly imported Opel Omega looked like a Cadillac, but this isn’t saying much. Within the Buick family, the Regal has been stuck with the role of Jan. Those seeking a distinctively styled car that is clearly a Buick will opt to date the family’s Marcia, the LaCrosse.

Inside the new Regal, the story is the same, with a more conventional, more straightforward design than you’ll find in the LaCrosse. Materials are better than the GM norm, and are certainly a step or two up from those in the Saturn Aura, but aren’t quite up to those in the Acuras and Audis GM hopes to steal buyers from. White stitching on the seats and upholstered door panel inserts and numerous chrome details provide welcome contrast within the “ebony” (i.e. black) interior—though the thick chrome shifter surround might be a bit much. Unlike in the LaCrosse, there is no stitching on the instrument panel or the upper door panels. The various elements of the IP cohere and flow together much better than they did in the Saturn Aura this car was to replace. Piano black trim runs along the base of the windshield to trace a continuous arc from door to door and also flows down into the center console from a band that runs mid-level across the instrument panel. For those who find the dark interior overly dark—and many potential buyers likely will, despite the contrasting bits—Buick offers a two-tone cocoa/cashmere interior with faux wood trim.

The Regal’s relatively conventional interior design pays functional dividends. Thanks to the car’s lower instrument panel and thinner (but still not thin) pillars, it’s much easier to see out of the Regal than the LaCrosse. The shifter is better positioned. And the various controls are easier to reach—though in the Regal as in the button-laden LaCrosse it’s often a challenge to find the one you’re looking for.

Oddly, while Cadillac no longer offers 4-way power lumbar adjustments in the CTS or SRX, Buick offers this feature in both the Regal and the LaCrosse. And yet the Regal’s moderately firm front seats aren’t especially comfortable, and only a German might find them luxurious. It doesn’t help that the headrests are very firm and jut too far forward in the interest of cheap whiplash protection. The bolsters provide a bit of lateral support, but in the GM fashion are too widely spaced for the average driver. Sure, the same could be said about the seats in a number of competing cars—it’s not easy finding great seats. But seats used to be a Buick focus.

Compared to the LaCrosse, the Regal rides on a four-inch-shorter wheelbase and, at just over 190 inches in length, is nearly seven inches shorter overall. These dimensional differences most impact rear seat room. While the LaCrosse offers 40.5 inches of rear legroom, the Regal provides 37.3, about average for a midsize car. Six-footers will fit, but the flat rear seat cushion is mounted far too low to provide thigh support—blame the fashionably arched roofline. One welcome premium feature: rear air vents.

Jan always was more practical than Marcia. So perhaps it should not come as a surprise that, with 14.2 cubic feet of cargo volume, Regal actually has a slightly larger trunk than the LaCrosse. In both cars GM opted for conventional gooseneck hinges, then fully encased the paths taken by these hinges to yield an especially narrow space. Why? Just to save a few dollars per car? Those who like big butts trunks will go elsewhere.

Partly to differentiate the Regal from the LaCrosse, Buick won’t offer the smaller sedan with a V6. The only engine currently available: a 182-horsepower direct-injected 2.4-liter. At 3,600 pounds, the new Regal could stand to lose a few (hundred), but the normally-aspirated four moves two tons (with driver and passenger) well enough in typical around town driving, and without making noises unbecoming a Buick. Most drivers won’t feel the need for more power.

For those who do, a 220-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four will arrive in the fall. Initially, as with the 2.4, a manually-shiftable six-speed automatic that isn’t always the smoothest operator is the only transmission. A six-speed manual will be available “for order” with the turbo in late 2010—don’t expect dealers to stock any. The turbo gets a different steering system that adds variable assist and adaptive shocks with “sport” and “tour” settings will be optional. Farther into the future a Regal GS will combine a 255-horsepower turbo four with a six-speed manual and all-wheel-drive. What do you know, Buick is seriously pitching this car at enthusiasts.

To an even greater degree than the specs suggest, the Regal feels more compact and lighter than the LaCrosse. The steering is a little heavier, feels tighter and more precise, and provides more feedback. There’s more body roll than in the performance-oriented LaCrosse CXS, but also a smoother, more composed ride. Chassis tuning is a Regal strongpoint—something not typically expected from Buick. When it’s taken up a notch with the turbo and manual transmission, the Regal should prove a very fun car to drive.

For the first year, because it will be imported from high-cost Germany, the Regal will only be offered in mid-level CXL trim. The starting price of $26,995 jumps to $28,840 when you add the tested car’s sunroof and Convenience Package (power passenger seat, rear obstacle detection, AC outlet). A V6-powered LaCrosse CXL is about $2,500 more, according to’s car price comparison. A similarly-equipped four-cylinder Honda Accord? About $500 less sticker-to-sticker, and about $1,800 less invoice-to-invoice—Buick dealers have much less margin to play with. Adjusting for the Regal’s higher content cuts the difference by about $600.

Buick would rather you compare the Regal to the Acura TSX. Do this and you’ll find that the Buick is about $1,300 less sticker-to-sticker, but only about $600 less invoice-to-invoice. The Buick has about $200 in additional content. So it appears that the Regal isn’t badly priced, but also isn’t likely to sell based on price. 

The Regal CXL Turbo will start at $29,495, but aside from the turbo this price will also include the $845 Convenience Package. So the turbo adds a very reasonable $1,655, and will undercut a similarly equipped Volkswagen CC, the closest European competitor, by about $4,000.

Overall, the new Regal looks and feels more like an Audi (with VW materials) than a Buick, while being priced midway between Honda and Acura. It’s a solid car with large number of standard features and a very good ride-handling compromise. But does it have what it takes to bring people who never saw themselves driving a Buick into Buick showrooms? As much as a German car at Japanese prices has a certain appeal, it’s perhaps too subtle. This formula certainly didn’t work with the Saturn Astra. More of the LaCrosse’s style or of the luxury for which Buick has traditionally been known would help. Or perhaps adding boost will do the trick, at least for those who enjoy driving? We’ll find out later this year.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data

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Review: 2010 Buick LaCrosse Wed, 14 Oct 2009 14:42:47 +0000

“The company’s survival depends on the success of this car.” Though regularly trotted out, this statement is almost always BS (not to be confused with the Bertel kind). Typically when the hyped new car fails, the company seems to somehow scrape by. But the 2010 LaCrosse might just warrant such an extreme statement, at least with regard to Buick’s survival outside China. GM has been on a brand-killing spree lately, and this car will test whether or not Buick is beyond saving in the U.S. The Enclave has proved that American car buyers are open to a Buick crossover. But a Buick sedan, with more baggage to overcome, poses a greater challenge. So, does the new Buick LaCrosse–and the brand that’s banking on it–deserve to succeed?

My initial impressions of the new LaCrosse’s exterior styling, during NAIAS press days last January, were mixed. The traditional Buick “sweep spear” seemed forced on the ultramodern, cab forward proportions. Ideally the line on the front fender would be an inch or so lower, which would require that the fender itself be lower. Out in the real world, the new LaCrosse stands out–in a good way–with a premium and somewhat futuristic appearance. The proportions and dimensions are similar to those of the new TL, but the Buick is far more attractive than Acura’s brick. Is that faint praise? Try this: one will mistake it for a Chevrolet. Because of its large wheels and stocky build, the LaCrosse appears smaller than it actually is–which is nearly full-size. In today’s climate this probably helps, more than it hurts.

Pick of the litterThe LaCrosse’s interior is GM’s best yet, dominated by flowing curves that encapsulate the driver and front passenger. Beyond the original and attractive design, I was especially impressed by the way real stitching was incorporated into the molded instrument panel, for the appearance of an upholstered IP at a much lower cost.

But there’s the rub: Buick’s interior ambition is lofty, but the bean-counter’s hand is still all over the execution. In sunlight, the materials aren’t as convincing and various small details (such as the sliding cover of the console’s storage compartment) seem less finished than they should be. I drove an HS 250 earlier the same day, and the LaCrosse’s interior materials simply can’t match one of the cheapest sedans Lexus makes. Still, it is a step up from the Malibu, and better than that of any Ford or Chrysler. GM is very close to getting this bit right.

The front seats are comfortable, and even provide a modicum of lateral support. The rear seat, a bit low to the floor in the traditional GM manner, and offers plenty of room for legs, but not so much for shoulders. It still remains to be seen whether GM can offer an Epsilon-based car that feels roomy. The specs are almost competitive, but subjectively the cabin fails to feel expansive. Credit the high beltline, prominent console, and organic curves that are otherwise so appealing. The trunk would have been narrow anyway, but the decision to fully encapsulated the door hinges further constricts the space.

Extraordinarily broad A-pillars (why?) and a high cowl dominate the view forward from the driver’s seat. Visibility in turns ranks among the worst I’ve experienced in a sedan. I found myself leaning forward to check that nothing was in the resulting front quarter blind spot. The transmission can be manually shifted, but the shifter needs to be repositioned farther from the driver for optimal comfort. The view rearward between the also thick rear pillars and over the high trunk…good thing there’s a rearview camera.

I spent most of my time in the LaCrosse CXL AWD. In case anyone has been wondering how well a 3.0-liter V6 engine, even one with 252 horsepower, can motivate 4,200 pounds of sedan…not so well. Especially at low speeds, acceleration verges on sluggish. Even in typical driving, with shifts occurring between 2,500 and 3,000 rpm, the engine sounds like it’s working more than a luxury car engine ought to. Things could be worse: the engine could sound as rough as it does overworked. Buick-LaCrosseback

I briefly drove the top-of-the-line LaCrosse CXS, and that car’s 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 feels much more energetic and sounds considerably less strained. On the other hand, the 3.6 too easily provokes both wheelspin and torque steer. Why isn’t all-wheel-drive available with the 3.6? Working with the same basic transmission, Ford now offers a twin-turbo 3.5-liter with AWD.

GM probably specified a 3.0-liter as the LaCrosse’s principal engine for fuel economy reasons. Or perhaps they figured that a 3.0-liter with the same peak horsepower as their previous generation 3.6 would provide the same driving experience as that 3.6. Either way, the 3.0-liter engine fails. In normal driving, it feels like a 3.0, not a 3.6. The 252 horses dwell at 6,900 rpm, where few Buick drivers will dare to tread. Peak torque, more constrained by displacement, is only 215 pound-feet. But there’s always fuel economy, right? Wrong. The EPA ratings of 16 city and 25 highway are no better than those of more powerful competitors. Even the Lincoln MKS, with a 355-horsepower turbo six and even more poundage, does a bit better. So what’s the point of the 3.0, when it’s both less powerful and less efficient?

The new LaCrosse being a Buick, sloppy handling might be expected. In truth, the CXL AWD feels composed and stable, with well-controlled body motions, an acceptable amount of lean in turns, and a minimal amount of understeer. The all-wheel-drive system includes the active rear differential pioneered by the Saab 9-3 Turbo X. This differential counteracts understeer by routing torque to the outside wheel in turns. Throttle-induced oversteer is theoretically possible, but this would require more twist than the V6 can deliver (or possibly an unpaved road surface.) Even with the trick differential and nicely-weighted steering, the LaCrosse doesn’t feel agile, but then nothing in this class does.

The ride isn’t quite as creamy as that of a Lexus, with some clomping over bumps but no untoward jitters. Aside from the engine under acceleration, noise levels are very low. In fact, even when the engine isn’t particularly loud, the absence of other noise makes it sound louder than it is. This solid feel and quietness partly justify why the new LaCrosse weighs so much. Stress the partly. A Lexus ES is also quiet inside, and weighs nearly a quarter-ton less than the front-wheel-drive LaCrosse. Even the bloated Acura TL weighs a couple hundred pounds less. Check the specs of any new GM product, and you’ll find that the company has a serious mass control problem. Too little room in the budget for ultra-high-strength steel?

the poison pill...So, what’s the verdict? The new Buick LaCrosse turns heads and is a viable alternative to the similarly sized Acura TL and Lexus ES, for less money. If Buick weren’t struggling with a load of baggage, this car would succeed. As it is, anyone looking for an excuse not to buy a Buick can still find one in the sluggish 3.0-liter, the EPA figures, or the driving position. The LaCrosse may be a step in the right direction, but Buick is still on a thousand-mile journey.

The last weakness isn’t fixable without a major redesign. But giving the 3.0 the heave-ho would make the largest difference, and it’s something GM could do, and should do, right away. Forget the 182-horspower four-cylinder that’s on the way–do they want to kill another brand? The 3.6 should be the base engine. For the up-level engine, offer a turbo 3.6 with all-wheel-drive. This shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge. GM was rumored to have a turbo 3.6 in development nearly a decade ago, and Ford has proven that the transmission can handle the resulting torque. More than anything else, Buick needs a sedan people feel compelled to consider. A LaCrosse with enough horsepower to fully exploit the fine chassis–a SHO-matching 365 for example–would be compelling.

Michael Karesh operates, a provider of car reliability and real-world gas mileage information

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Review: 2009 Buick Lucerne Super Thu, 20 Aug 2009 14:21:47 +0000

The last four years were rough sailing for Buick’s flagship, having traded its swank Park Avenue home for an understated Swiss bungalow. While its Enclave sibling received a halfhearted Presidential endorsement, Lucerne has been told gently that it has no place in Buick's future. But you don't need to be Jim Dollinger to see the silver lining in the Lucerne Super: it stands in sharp contrast to Buick's confusing dalliances with European chassis and a variety of puny powertrains. Perhaps the Lucerne Super is more than a Buick. It’s the last stand for what was right with the brand. ]]>

The last four years were rough sailing for Buick’s flagship having traded its swank Park Avenue home for an understated Swiss bungalow. While its Enclave sibling received a halfhearted Presidential endorsement, Lucerne has been told gently that it has no place in Buick’s future. But you don’t need to be Jim Dollinger to see the silver lining in the Lucerne Super: it stands in sharp contrast to Buick’s confusing dalliances with European chassis and a variety of puny powertrains. Perhaps the 2009 Lucerne Super is more than a Buick. It’s the last stand for what was right with the brand.

The Super is no slouch in the sheetmetal department, considering the Lucerne’s basic goodness has aged well. A redesigned front with a lower, meaner chevron-shaped grille walks the fine line between obnoxious Americana and contemporary Euro-flair. The fast C-pillar with a tastefully understated tail looks good enough to find their way on the Chevy Malibu. And while “Super” specific badging, unique 18″ wheels and distinctive portholes round out the package, the Lucerne does what we expect from Buicks: play second fiddle to Cadillac. And does it with gusto.

But wait a moment: this flagship’s interior has an inferiority complex in this price point or next to a Chevy Malibu. The dashboard’s lower hemisphere is work-truck grade rubbish, further punished by its uncanny resemblance to same part in the Chevy Impala. The Lucerne Super gets a “dash” of faux-aluminum paint around the impressive Harmon Kardon-tuned stereo, but the real upgrades come from a dash top stitched with leather-like trimmings and blessed with Alcantara-ish accents on the seats and doors. Too bad the Super’s extra touches couldn’t dress up that tasteless console and thrift store roll-top door: it’s a sad state of affairs when a Hyundai (Genesis) absolutely tramples a Buick in the luxury and refinement department.

That’s not to say that all is lost, the Lucerne Super has excellent seating for five, gadgets aplenty and a rich wood-rimmed wheel that feels substantial to the touch. Did I mention gadgets? XM Nav traffic, OnStar turn-by-turn guidance, Bluetooth, MP3 adaptability, heated/cooled seats and a heated steering wheel are the textbook definition of pure luxury ingredients for the near-luxury market.

If the Lucerne Super sounds like a compromised but obscurely appealing package from a brand normally associated with pure vanilla nothingness, you’re ready to take the Super for a spin. Buick took the outgoing Lucerne CXS’ dynamic shortcomings and did their best to make a less corner-averse package. Considering the curious starting point of a 4000 lb platform driving the wrong set of wheels though, the challenge is obvious.

The Super starts things off right with 17 more Northstar-bred horses in play. The Lucerne Super’s beautifully vulgar V8 has a hair-raising tenor, pulling harder to redline than the outgoing CXS, even with the four-speed slush box losing mucho revs between shifts. Maybe it’s the loss of 7 lb·ft of torque, but the Last of the Great V8 Buicks feels less likely to torque steer in all but the hardest maneuvers. Fuel mileage and horsepower figures be damned, the Northstar V8 cannot be replaced by GM’s “high-content” 3.6L six pot. Sonically speaking, it’s simply that rewarding at full throttle.

But things get serious when the road takes a turn for the better. And the Lucerne Super handles it with surprising authority: revised springs, a thicker front anti-sway bar and communicative steering rack (with more on-center feel) mate with Delphi’s absolutely sublime Magnaride system for a composed and borderline entertaining corner carver at less than Baruthian speeds. Push harder and there’s an oxcart full of front plow, with little body roll thanks to Magnaride’s magnetic magic.

Braking on such a compliant suspension means there’s more heart attack inducing dive in a panic stop: a genuine concern given the Lucerne’s demographic. Buick’s lane departure and blind spot warning systems keep Octogenarians cool and calm, but their annoyance level makes both gadgets useless outside the realm of pure Interstate travel.

So the Lucerne Super isn’t a credible threat to foreign competitors, but the geeky and ferocious behavior only paints a rich tapestry about this muscular Buick’s persona. The ride is stellar and amazingly quiet at part throttle, easily unseating a comparable Lexus ES: Quiet Tuning über alles, baby.

But what fails the Lucerne Super is the base model: pushrod-V6 Lucernes with even worse interior bits make sure the $45,000 Super is a tough sell. And the Super still straddles the uncomfortable ground between land yacht and sports tourer, but that gray area is now more rewarding.

Too bad the rethought, reincarnated Super cannot overcome the inertia of GM’s incompetence: shameful considering this brand once stood for building “Premium American Motorcars.” Hopefully Buick survives world-car synergies long enough to make a proper Lucerne replacement. If not, here’s a tribute to better days even if they weren’t that great to start.

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2008 Buick LaCrosse Super Review Wed, 30 Apr 2008 12:04:06 +0000 x08bu_lc055.jpgNormally, driving a car with a stonking V8 engine powering the front wheels is like watching Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh make out. It's so wrong on so many levels. Can you squeal like a pig? Just so. Will that pig's snout dart about like an amphetamine-crazed truffle-sniffer? Uh-huh. But here's the kicker: what if it doesn't? And what it you, uh, like it? Does that make you a deviant pistonhead? No, it makes you a closet fan of the quietly nutty, deeply cool Buick LaCrosse Super.

x08bu_lc055.jpgNormally, driving a car with a stonking V8 engine powering the front wheels is like watching Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh make out. It's so wrong on so many levels. Can you squeal like a pig? Just so. Will that pig's snout dart about like an amphetamine-crazed truffle-sniffer? Uh-huh. But here's the kicker: what if it doesn't? And what if you, uh, like it? Does that make you a deviant pistonhead? No, it makes you a closet fan of the quietly nutty, deeply cool Buick LaCrosse Super.

The LaCrosse Super is not cool in the traditional sense– as in sex-on-wheels or race-car-for-the-road. It's got that James Dean/Steve McQueen thing happening: effortless, been there done that, I don't need to show you shit (but I can and will). Alternatively, you could say the Super Buick has a large dose of that ineffable "WTF did you buy THAT for?" appeal.

x08bu_lc028.jpgThere is no flash. The Super's sheet metal offers clean, feline haunches, graceful proportions, a porthole or eight and some dual stainless steel exhausts– with chrome tips! Everything is round and fluid to a rental car lot fault. There is so little drama in the design that nothing grabs your attention. It flies completely under the radar; no bad thing for lead foots.   

Some say the Buick LaCrosse is ugly and cross-eyed. I'm not going to argue. Why spoil the hushed vibe inside the Super's cabin? Buick has touted its QuietTuning technology– but not loudly enough. Baffles, foam filler, sandwich windows and exhaust note-sculpting create a tomb-like still. Insert octogenarian Buick drivers remark here. And it's true: noise reduction isn't exactly a sexy selling point. It's got to be like tenth on most shopper's list (right after change holder). But the aural placidity certainly creates an impression of quality.

x08bu_lc027.jpgUnfortunately, first impressions don't last. This is a Potemkin cabin; the Super only looks sumptuous. The burled wood is buried under more plastic than a fetishist at a PVC party. Gary Wright fans will rejoice in the abundant DreamWeave leather, but the good stuff went to Lexus. As with most GM products of the past quarter century, the plastics are harsh and brittle. (Yes, it's important.)

On the positive side, the Concert Sound III nine-speaker audio system will have you believing Sean Hannity is in the back seat (making out with…?) And there's a lovely set of buttons across the center of the dash that are as easy to manipulate as BMW's iDrive (after you take the 10-week course).  But push those buttons and the whole housing moves ever so slightly. It squeaks ‘weak.'

Not so the Super's 5.3-liter 300hp (323 ft.-lbs. of torque) V8 engine. As a good little TTAC reviewer, I jumped on this rolling couch's throttle, making the tires squeal like a guest on Hardball. And yet, no torque steer. The LaCrosse Super goes like Hell– zero to sixty in a reported 5.7 seconds– directly forward. No steering wheel squirm to rattle the ice in your Manhattan.

x08bu_lc059.jpgI know, I know: every single review of this car bemoans the LaCrosse Super's massive torque steer. But, like so many GM products, The General's lieutenants have sorted this shit out– after the press pool party was over. It's a shame…

x08bu_lc013.jpgIn the corners, the LaCrosse Super is plenty fast and not much fun. A large front wheel-drive car is always going to be less of a hoot than a rear wheel-drive sedan. And yes, discerning drivers will certainly feel the difference in the curves. But the big Buick's biggest bugaboo has been beaten. Floor it, tighten your biceps and nothing. Buick achieves this without any obvious tricks (i.e. fatter tires on the front). The unobvious ones: closer-fitting gear teeth on the steering rack, tighter bushings, a stiffer torsion rod controlling the variable-effort power assist, and a tweaked Stabilitrak system.

Buick's magnetic steering is not what I would call track worthy, or feelsome, or engaging, or reassuring, or fun. It works well in enough. For parking or emergency lane changes, the amount of effort you don't need is astounding. If this is a deal breaker, buy a Subaru WRX STI. Same price, same power. (Cough. Different driven wheels, different weight.) While you're working up a sweat, the guy in the LaCrosse will give you a half smile. 

x08bu_lc054.jpgClearly, Buick's fastest-ever car (150mph top end) makes no sense. How many of the GM faithful want a vehicle that costs $3470 less than a Cadillac CTS V6; a prestige product that offers the same horsepower, a six-speed tranny, slightly better mileage, no need for premium fuel and fewer tumbleweeds blowing through the dealership? Or how about a cheaper, rear wheel-drive Pontiac G8? Or anything else, really. Not to mention the fact that the LaCrosse is a lame duck, slated for 2010 replacement. I mean, how many ways can you say depreciation?

The Super is super though: a stealth near-wealth machine that makes a coherent case for itself. Providing you're sick or senile. Or, preferably, both.

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