Monday, July 25, 2011

2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist: GM's Answer to Today's Expensive Hybrid Technology

Highlights: This is GM’s first hybrid-like vehicle to use the eAssist system, which is expected to deliver an estimated 26% better fuel economy than a comparable gas model LaCrosse. The eAssist 4-cylinder engine will be standard on all 2012 model-year LaCrosses, replacing the 4-cylinder gas only engine that was in the 2011 model. And for those not ready for a hybrid, an optional peppier 6-cylinder engine will be available.

Competition: Lexus HS Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Why It’s Called eAssist: According to the folks at Buick, this isn’t your typical hybrid, since the vehicle is belt-driven with a liquid-cooled motor/generator unit and lithium-ion battery system.

What distinguishes the eAssist vehicle from the typical gas model:

* An ECO gauge on the instrument panel continuously responds to driving behavior, allowing the driver to drive with maximum efficiency, if he (she) chooses too.

*Regenerative braking provides up to 15 kW of electricity to charge the battery.

*An additional 15 hp (11 kW) of electric power assistance is available from the hybrid-like system during heavier acceleration.

*Automatic and smooth engine start-stop functionality occurs when the vehicle is stopped.

*Electricity is used instead of gasoline, when the LaCrosse is stopped.

*Aggressive fuel cut-off during deceleration down to zero mph adds to the fuel savings.

Arrival Date: The vehicle will be out this summer.

Starting Price: $30,820 (see our New-Vehicle Pricing Guide)

Standard Engine/Horsepower: 2.4-liter/182-hp

Estimated Fuel Mileage: 25-city/36-hwy

Major Standard Features:17-inch alloy wheels; cloth seats; 8-way power driver’s seat; 2-way power passenger seat; side curtain airbags; OnStar turn-by-turn navigation system; dual-zone climate control; full-color driver information center; and Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

Standard Audio System: a 7-speaker AM/FM in-dash single CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo (and a 3-month subscription to Satellite radio is included)

Pros: The LaCrosse eAssist is available in a variety of trim packages: Base, Convenience, Leather and an upscale Premium I package. Like any luxury vehicle, consumers can load this hybrid-like vehicle up with leather seats, GM’s signature Heads Up Display Information Center, a panoramic roof, 19-inch wheels, a rear-view camera, an electronic blind spot detection system, dual rear seats DVDs, a rear power sunshade or a 30GB music storage system. Yes, this vehicle not only provides fuel savings, it offer loads of luxury amenities too one has come to expect in a Buick.

Also later on during the 2012 model year, not only will the 4-cylinder hybrid-like engine be standard, but each LaCrosse will be outfitted with Buick’s IntelliLink, which uses Bluetooth or USB to connect the driver’s smartphone to a new eight-inch, high-resolution, full-color touch screen display radio. This standard audio system will also enable streaming stereo audio from the phone through services like PANDORA Internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio.

Although the IntelliLink wasn’t available in the vehicles we test drove in Silicon Valley, we did manage to experience this feature with the assistance of one of the GM’s representatives. Only one vehicle which weren’t able to drive was set aside just for the media to experience with this brand-new audio technology. Based on our early assessment, it seems as though Buick is doing everything possible to match Lexus with this new-technology. We know Toyota has a similar system that will be available on the PriusV. We can only assume this audio system will be integrated into the Lexus line up too.

Cons: Buick is taking a page from Lincoln, which offers a hybrid and non hybrid MKZ for the same price. However, Buick chose to take a different route offering a hybrid-like model and a gutsier 6-cylinder engine at different price points.

Also the base LaCrosse model is no longer available with a push-button keyless ignition starter. The folks from Buick are currently making plans to address this issue in the 2013 model. So in order to get this feature, one will have to shell out more money - in our eyes – to get this must-have convenience feature.

And while we didn’t have an opportunity to take an extensive test drive in the vehicle, we did notice a difference in the acceleration of this fuel-efficient hybrid-like 4-cylinder engine. Now while it didn’t seem under-powered while rolling through the winding roads on our way to California’s Half Moon Bay, it’s obvious that this isn’t a 6-cylinder engine.

It should be interesting to see how many folks opt for the standard hybrid-like system over the LaCrosse’s more powerful, but less fuel-efficient 6-cylinder once inventory of both vehicles become available.

Furthermore, for those looking for an all-wheel drive, as is the case with most hybrids, it doesn’t exist with the standard engine. However, one can forgo the eAssist System for a 6-cylinder model to get an all-wheel drive configuration in the Buick.

Finally, with this being a mild hybrid, one shouldn’t expect the same city mileage, when stuck in day-to-day traffic as its competitors, which are true hybrids. While the LaCrosse achieves a respectable 25 mpg, the Lexus HS garners around 35 mpg and the Lincoln pumps out approximately 41 mpg, according to in regular city driving. (One thing to note is that the Buick is considered a fullsize luxury vehicle, as opposed to the midsize Lexus and Lincoln.)

What’s Unique: There are no emblems on the vehicle identifying it as a hybrid (or a hybrid-like vehicle.) GM wants to be incognito with this hybrid-like vehicle.

Early Verdict: Overall this stylish vehicle offers everything one has come to expect in this luxury vehicle, a quiet ride and loads of amenities. And by not making this a fully integrated hybrid, one of the major benefits is that Buick has managed to hold down the cost of the vehicle, while delivering more miles to the gallon when cruising on the highway.

And since this isn’t a fully dedicated hybrid, the city mileage isn’t higher than the highway mileage, as in the case of a fully integrated hybrid. Also the 4-cylinder engine is now standard on every LaCrosse; this is a first for GM in a fullsize vehicle. Ironically, while the Buick is considered a mild hybrid, the Lacrosse’s highway mileage actually matches that of the Lincoln MKZ hybrid, while the Lexus HS actually falls short of both vehicles by two miles, according to Go figure?

Moreover, as gas prices continue to climb, GM should reap the benefits of this new fuel-saving technology with its all-new eAssist system. This new fuel technology will also be made available in the spunky looking 2013 Chevy Malibu, which is set to arrive in the first quarter of 2013.

GM should have a winner on its hands with this new fuel-saving technology. In our eyes, this vehicle offers more style and class than its competitors. Look for a more extensive review, when we have a chance to get our hands on the LaCrosse eAssist for a week.


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