May 18, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Thursday, 15 March 2012 10:44
General Motors has kept plugging away at its “mild-hybrid” system, whose earlier incarnations boosted the price too much and didn’t deliver good enough fuel economy. Today, under the name eAssist, it’s showing its new prowess under the hood of one of GM’s top-ranked full-size cars, the Buick LaCrosse.
Unlike full hybrids, which can actually propel a car, mild hybrids assist conventional gasoline engines. GM exploits the technology’s full potential with eAssist. The LaCrosse, a big, near-luxury sedan, is rated at 25 mpg city, 36 highway. We averaged in the low 30s, at least double the fuel economy of full-sized American cars of a generation ago.
By contrast, a conventional LaCrosse with a 303-horsepower V-6 engine is rated at 17/27, or 16/26 with all-wheel drive — and it costs $2,000 more than the base mild-hybrid LaCrosse.
Our Mocha Steel Metallic 2012 LaCrosse Premium I Group with eAssist had a base price of $32,440. The sticker price, with optional audio upgrade, navigation, enhanced voice-control system, tinted panorama roof, high-intensity discharge headlights, side blind-zone alert and backup camera, was $36,685.
Powered by a four-cylinder, 182-horsepower engine with the 15-kilowatt electric motor, the LaCrosse lacks the European personality of the Opel-designed Regal, a somewhat smaller sedan. The LaCrosse’s personality is distinctly American; it’s bigger and rides more smoothly than the Regal. But it is in no way reminiscent of the land yachts Buick used to build. Its handling, while not as sporty as the Regal’s, is crisp and predictable.
The eAssist system does not make itself known except when the driver stops in traffic. Then, it shuts off the engine to conserve fuel, just like a full hybrid. As soon as the driver removes his foot from the brake pedal, the engine rumbles instantly back to life.
Folks who associate full-size cars with terms like V-8, 455 cubic inches and four-barrel carburetor, likely won’t take our word for it that the four-cylinder LaCrosse does not feel underpowered. Still, the engine has sufficient guts, and enough help from the electric motor, to meet the needs of every driving situation we encountered. But Buick is banking on the probability that people who want maximum top speeds and minimum quarter-mile times aren’t in the market for a full-size Buick sedan anyway.
The hybrid system does exact one penalty: its lithium-ion battery reduces trunk space from 13.3 to 10.8 cubic feet. That’s about 10 percent more than the capacity of the Mercedes-Benz SLK350 two-seater. The LaCrosse’s sharp, aerodynamic lines also interfere with views to the rear and the quarters; the optional side blind zone alert and backup camera were welcome features.
Still, high fuel economy and comfort aren’t the LaCrosse’s only major assets. Its luxurious interior would not feel out of place in a Cadillac or Lexus, and it has attained consistently high safety marks. As gasoline prices soar toward $5 a gallon or more, the LaCrosse hybrid becomes an increasingly attractive choice among full-size sedans.
Engine: 2.4-liter inline Four, 182 horsepower, 172 lb.-ft. torque, with 15-kilowatt eAssist system
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Suspension: Four-wheel independent, modified MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Tires: P235/50R17 95T all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 10.8 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 15.7 gallons
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular
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