2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist

DETROIT — It used to be assumed that Buick was allied with the Mercury Grand Marquis as having initiated the “Final Purchase Plan.” Well, the Grand Marquis is history, and so is the stodginess so rightly or wrongly associated with one of GM’s stellar brands. Case in point is the all-new 2012 Buick LaCrosse with eAssist Technology.

What eAssist does is take a 3,800-plus pound full-sized luxury sedan that comfortably seats five and gives it EPA fuel economy estimates of 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway (compared to 19/30 for the engine its replacing). Put another way, the 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist equals or exceeds the fuel economy of small cars like the MinicCooper and Toyota Corolla.

Furthermore, it betters or equals the fuel economy of the Lexus HS Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid — and non-hybrids like the Acura TL, Lexus ES350 and Lincoln MKS. Use of lighter-weight materials has greatly reduced weight and increased mileage. Whereas the previous model LaCrosse had a range of 414 combined miles (with an 18-gallon gas tank) the 2012 LaCrosse has a range of 455 combined miles – with a 15.7- gallon tank.

The eAssist system is mated to a 2.4L Ecotec direct-injection four-cylinder engine and next-generation six-speed automatic transmission. It uses power stored in an advanced air-cooled lithium-ion battery to provide needed electrical boost in various driving scenarios, optimizing engine and transmission operation.

An advanced 115V lithium-ion battery and latest-generation 15-kW motor-generator unit help increase fuel economy through regenerative breaking; provide 15 horsepower of electric power assistance during heavier acceleration; automatic and smooth engine start-stop when the vehicle is fully stopped; use of electricity instead of gasoline when stopped; aggressive fuel cut-off during deceleration down to zero mph; and intelligent charge/discharge of the high-voltage battery.

There’s even a hill-assist system that captures brake pressure to help keep the vehicle stationary when eAssist’s start-stop function is activated on a moderate or steep grade that allows the driver to accelerate more smoothly from a dead stop.

We've driven a previous-version LaCrosse with a basic four-cylinder engine with Buick’s older transmission and wasn’t all that moved (pardon the pun). The new powertrain with eAssist made all the difference in the world. We would be happy driving this vehicle all day long around the city and especially on long trips.

The 2012 LaCrosse is also offered with a 3.6L V-6 with variable valve timing (with fuel economy of 17/27) at the same price as the model with eAssist – MSRP of $29,960 (plus destination and delivery $860).

There’s no other way to describe the instrumentation than “pretty.” (We also use that “complex” criterion in selecting the computer software we use.) An ECO gauge on the instrument panel continuously responds to driving behavior, allowing the driver to operate the vehicle with maximum efficiency. Buick engineers have thoughtfully placed an “Auto” range where the RPM needle sits on the tachometer so the uninitiated won’t think they’re vehicle’s engine has completely turned off. This is a good device because the interior noise level is just about that found in an anechoic chamber.

Roger McCormack, Buick’s marketing director, rattled off some amazing sales figures that prove the brand is on the right path. 2011 retail sales are up 35% — June sales alone were up 19%. Buick has had 21 straight months of sales gains. Even more impressive, 41% have been conquest sales and 19% of those have been from imports. Buick is #3 in Luxury Market Sales through June.

The 2012 LaCrosse goes on sale sometime this fall. After driving the e-Assist vehicle we think peoples’ impressions will go from Buick being a “Final Purchase” to a “Next Purchase.”

— Al Vinikour