General Motors Co. just doesn't get the credit it deserves some times.
A few years ago, GM was the first carmaker -- in the world -- to mate a six-speed transmission to a four-cylinder engine for a midsize car. Everyone had been talking about it, but no one else had done it.
But when GM announced the Chevy Malibu would include an optional four-cylinder engine with a six-speed tranny, creating a car that hit 32 mpg on the highway, no one seemed to care that much, though many carmakers have followed suit.
Once again, GM seems to be getting the short end of the recognition stick with the 2011 Buick LaCrosse. The car is on fire -- and I don't mean that in the Ford Motor Co.'s cruise control kind of way. LaCrosse sales are up 228 percent this year through July, according to Autodata Corp. And earlier this year, Buick introduced a direct injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission for the LaCrosse.
For a car that once boasted big V-8s and loads of power, the LaCrosse has turned over a greener leaf. This powertrain, despite the lack of attention it has received, is a big deal.
The large LaCrosse has already received a lot of well-deserved critical acclaim from me and others. But after spending a little time in the four-cylinder version of the LaCrosse, I find it deserves even more.
A smoother ride
Generating 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet or torque, the little 2.4-liter engine is magnificent. The powertrain gives the LaCrosse plenty of pick up around town and on the highway. Even though the LaCrosse is 100 pounds shy of two tons, it handles itself very well. The steering is clean, the body is stable and its interior is extremely comfortable.
The only time I felt a little underwhelmed with this powertrain was on the highway when I wanted to pass someone; the car just didn't want to press itself too much in the illegal speed limit range.
Over the past few years, GM has worked to calibrate its transmissions to provide a smoother ride and those fixes along the way are very noticeable in this car. Previous vehicles tended to have jerky gear shifts when they were driven aggressively. The transmission would hesitate or pick the wrong gear on the downshift and would speed to sixth too quickly. The LaCrosse had none of those issues.
During normal driving, the LaCrosse never felt underpowered and delivered clean acceleration from first through sixth.
Then there is the gas mileage. When a big car like the LaCrosse -- it stretches to almost 200 inches long -- can hit 30 mpg on the highway, people should get up and shout. The city mileage number of 19 mpg is also an improvement over the V-6 LaCrosse.
Distinctive yet understated
Better yet, the four-cylinder LaCrosse comes with all of the features I like in this big sedan. The exterior is beautiful with long crisp flowing lines. It looks distinctive but still understated, much like a finely made watch.
Then there's the plush interior. The flowing dash curves around into the doors in an almost seamless way. The wood trim accents throughout the car are tastefully done and denote luxury. There's also the beautiful pipe lighting that acts like nighttime chrome.
As soon as you sit down in the LaCrosse, a calm comes over you because of the comfortable space and the luxury appointments. This car could be the cure for road rage.
How can you stay mad in this car?
Sitting in the driver's seat, you have a 360-degree view with the LaCrosse's Blind Zone detection system, which quietly lights up on your exterior mirror if a vehicle is in your blind spot. This driving feature becomes almost second nature minutes after using it. It's how new technology should be introduced in a vehicle.
Then there is the absolute quietness of the ride. For many drivers, quiet equates to luxury, and this is where the LaCrosse excels. The smaller direct-injection engine is hardly heard at all, and the rest of the world is muted. The LaCrosse includes extensive soundproofing.
GM expects nearly one-quarter of all its future LaCrosse sales to be the smaller engine model. So maybe GM is getting more credit than I suspect. When consumers recognize how good this sedan is, that's all the credit a carmaker needs.
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