Sunday

2010 Buick LaCrosse review

As of this writing, GM has an ongoing marketing campaign called “May the best car win”. Basically, they’re inviting you to compare their wares to anyone else’s and are confident that you’ll choose their car. That’s a bold claim and a confident statement. They also offer a 60 day money back guarantee, granted with a lot of wiggle room in GM's favor. It would seem that if you’re inviting people to do that, you best bring your A-game. Your product had better deliver on all fronts. It shows one of two things: tremendous confidence, or incredible delusion.

One of the cars that they’re holding on a pedestal is the 2010 Buick LaCrosse. Significantly redesigned and looking sharp in a chiseled body, GM would like you to believe that Buick’s snore days are behind them. Recently, I had the opportunity to do exactly what they want everyone to do – test their car and compare it. Invitation accepted. Let’s see how the LaCrosse did:

First off, I’ll say that this is one of the sharper looking cars to come out of GM in some time, and certainly the nicest Buick of probably the last decade. While far from over-the-top, it is classy in a more subdued sort of way. To my eyes, it looked like a cross between a Lexus and the new Jags. The only oddity was the large chrome grille with a gigantic Buick badge so you can’t miss who makes this car. Oh well - Buick is not the only one to fit exaggerated grilles to their cars these days. In any event, it catches even my jaded eyes – the first few times I saw them running around and I did turn to look a second time. Positive points to Buick.

Move inside, and the slick theme continues. The door panels flow up into the dashboard, and agreeable lines continue from one side of the car to the other. Extra blue lighting brightened up the top of the dash and the sides of the center console between the front seats. The center console sweeps upwards, looking modern and futuristic. A pod in front of the driver houses a large tach and speedometer. There’s a large center screen whether you go with the navi system or not. My example did not have the navi screen – just the basic one. And basic it is. In fact, there’s a strong resemblance to the way that my old Atari 2600 made graphics appear on my TV and the display quality in the LaCrosse. Maybe kicking in the extra dough for the navi alleviates this problem, but I wasn’t given the chance to find out.

Material quality is generally ok, except the lower you go in the cabin. Then it quickly turns into the cheap brittle plastic that GM is known for. Seeing as how my test car clocked in at over $36,000, material choice begins to matter. And at $36k, you start competing with some pretty heady company.

Road test! The quick version is that it drives as I always imagined a Buick would. That’s not a good thing – to me. The steering is lacking feel and rather lifeless. The handling is definitely geared towards understeer and comfort than entertainment. That’s not my cup of tea, but Buick (as far as I know) hasn’t been pitting these against, say, a BMW 5 Series either. Power is adequate but not abundant.

But here are the biggest problems: First of all, take off. Pushing the gas gives a few moments of lingering doubt – both by you and the car. The car hesitates with a few moments of doing next to nothing. That in turn makes you wonder if you’ve stepped on the gas. Push it down a little farther and it darts away with unexpected urgency.

Secondly, GM has fitted a 6 speed automatic transmission. That’s a good thing, and competitive with its peers. However, they cheapened out when it came to programming the transmission. It will upshift early and often, then when pushed will hesitate to downshift. Once it finally does, it drops at least two gears, sending the tach spiraling towards whatever the (unmarked) redline is. That’s not acceptable. When I further questioned the programming I was told it is setup more for fuel economy. Of course when I asked why then is it only rated for 17 MPG in the city, all I got was a deer-in-the-headlights blank stare in return. Hmmmmm.

Look carefully at the pic of the interior and you might correctly point out that Buick has included a way to select gears yourself. That’s true. So during my drive I selected that mode to see if the car performed better. Thanks to the sleek styling and a designer somewhere not paying attention, the shifter - when in D - comes back almost to the base of the cup holders. The housing for the cup holders themselves curves upward at a sharp angle. Thing is, unless you have the wrist of a contortionist, it makes using the manual shift option simultaneously annoying and uncomfortable. Put a large size McDonald’s sweet tea in there and it’s game over for using the shifter.

To use another word, it is useless. And nobody gets points for features that might sound nice, but are in fact, useless.

So you’re stuck with relying on the computer in the transmission to work things for you, and I’ve already discussed how unimpressive that is.

At the end of the day, while it’s good effort – for GM – it’s not world class. And bankrupt automakers with negative public perception and 30 years of mis-steps need to hit homeruns if they want to survive.

And that brings me to the final part of the story. Naturally, the representative wondered how their car compared. And I was honest and I was polite about it. I told him it did not. When he asked what I was comparing it to, the two closest cars that I’ve recently been in – in price – that I could think of were the Acura TL and the Hyundai Genesis. The rep proceeded to argue with me that those cars were actually not intended as competitors because they’re more expensive. Sadder yet, I had to explain to him that the standard TL and Genesis were in fact very close in price and content to the LaCrosse I was testing. (mid upper $30’s). I’ve already commented on his response to my observations about the transmission.

You see (and this is to GM) when you price a car at $37,000, it’s going to be compared to other cars priced at $37,000. That’s how it works. No amount of wishing or hoping will change that. So, if you’re going to invite people to come and compare your “world class” car against the competition, you better be able to bury them. And the LaCrosse just doesn’t do it. The representative went on to talk to me about the value equation and more for less, which is laughable because he must not have heard me mention the Genesis – undisputedly the king of more for less. Worse, any concern I brought up he dismissed as if I was the one with a problem. See, (again to GM) burying your head in the sand and refusing to listen or at least acknowledge that other’s observations might have some merit isn’t doing you any favors either. As much as GM preaches change, I see anything but. I still see the same old arrogant corporate slug that thinks they’re always right, everyone else is wrong, and at the end of the day wonders why they’ve lost market share for longer than I’ve been alive. While they want “conquest buyers” like myself to come in and give their products a try, they just scratch their heads when we don’t flock to their showrooms and leave with their cars, probably concluding that we’re the ones who “don’t get it”.

I for one do get it and it’s very simple. It’s about the product, GM. I found myself saying the same things I said about the CTS: it’s nice – for a GM car. But competitive, or game changing? Nope. But the few remaining loyal employee buyers who will only buy GM until the day they die will find a lot to like.

The best cars do win the only game that matters – sales and market share. As GM has painfully discovered over decades of mismanagement, it hasn’t been them. And if this and the Traverse review are any indication of where GM is going with their “world class” products, not to mention their attitude if someone doesn’t bow to them and tell them how wonderful their cars are, then they’re in far more trouble than they realize. In fact, we all are now that our tax dollars have purchased a majority stake in the company.

3 comments:

Boz said...

As I read this review I was wondering if Chris drove the Lacrosse or the Lincoln MKS again. Seems both cars have exactly the same problems wrapped in a different body design. Given the quality and attitudes of the American makes, I believe they are only competing with each other, not the rest of the world. Like so many other bankrupt corporations, sports venues, and TV shows, the American car makes enjoy spamming the expression "world's [biggest] [best] [most shocking] [most outrageous] something" all over their ads. And people are buying into it no questions asked... because it's on TV. GM (and the salesman Chris dealt with) seem too out of touch to the world around them.

But now I have a new appreciation for the Lincoln reps I dealt with when driving the MKS. They admitted without reservation that their car did not compete with the Euro sleds it was targetting. And honesty earns my respect much more than gullibility.

Barret00 said...

Maybe they figured that if they change the way they sound in the adds, that the product would become worlds greatest also. I agree with chris and boz, all of the american car companies still dont get it, FIX YOUR PRODUCT THEN CHANGE YOUR ADDS! Then it can truely be said you have something to brag about..... Saying you are going to take on all challengers and then fixing the game by pretending that either those in competition with you are not just because you say so or by looking at a very narrow criteria, does not change the facts of how the ones with the most important opinion feel about your product ..... Your customers. Untill you change GM and all the rest..... you will continue to have lots full of inferior products claiming its perception while Honda, Toyota, Kia, etc, continue to agree and sell cars... In your case american car companies, perception IS reality.

Marc said...

I like how they made completely redesigned it. Last year's LaCrosse looked too plain to be a Buick, and now it is competing against the Lexus ES350.

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