Thursday, October 28, 2004

Quietly, Buick has climbed into second place in the worldwide dependability rating. After the 2005 LaCrosse gets factored into the equation, Buick might become the world leader.

I use the word “quietly” for a reason. Lexus is the current dependability leader and its products are known for reliability and a quiet ride. That also describes the new LaCrosse; it too, is a high-quality, well-constructed sedan with an exceptionally quiet interior — yet not as expensive as a comparable Lexus model.

When the original version of the LaCrosse was submitted to Bob Lutz, chairman of GM North America, he sent the designers and engineers back to the drawing board, insisting on absolute perfection. He wanted this car to have style with clean flowing lines, ride comfort, a quiet interior and a strong engine. That was his mandate; cost was not to be a primary consideration. He made another demand. He wanted a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The LaCrosse has that, too.

This sedan has the trademark waterfall grille with soft, smooth flowing lines running over the hood, down the side and ending at a big Buick emblem on the rear deck. On close inspection, I could see that all the panels have extremely close gap tolerance.

There are three models: CX, CXL and CXS.

The CXS is recognizable by its 17-inch chrome wheels. It also has variable rate steering, a more powerful engine and a base price of $28,995.

Before getting into the driver’s seat, I was shown how the underside was constructed using sound-deadening material. Most impressive was the firewall. A demonstration proved that the new firewall material makes very little noise when struck with a hammer while the old steel wall clangs loudly. Also, the use of a titanium underdash panel improves the car’s rigidity.

What little noise might get into the passenger compartment is absorbed by the premium materials used in the carpeting and the headliner pads.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised when, while driving over bumpy roads, I was able to talk in a low voice and still be heard by passengers both front and rear.

Elegant is the only way to describe the interior. A wood-grain panel runs across the dash with a modest touch of chrome accent. Instrumentation is simple and very easy to understand and operate.

There’s plenty of seat and legroom for all five passengers (a six-seater is an option), plus plenty of flip-and-fold storage areas.

A line engineer pointed out the tolerance gap between materials; it’s extremely close.

As for ride and handling, I drove all three models and enjoyed each because all are structurally sound and have a suspension tuned to cushion the bumps out of any road.

But my favorite was the CXS because it has a Gran Touring suspension. It also has StabiliTrak to help prevent the car from getting out of control.

The CXS has a V-6 engine producing 240 horsepower compared to 200 horsepower in the other two models. All connect to a four-speed automatic transmission.

As for safety and security, these Buicks are equipped with the latest features available, including Ultra Sonic Rear Park Assist.

In addition to OnStar, the CXS has remote start, allowing the air conditioning or heating system to be started from more than 450 feet away. That way, the car will be cool or warm when you get into it.

Another enjoyable feature is XM Satellite radio.

But what has the Buick people delighted is the fact that they are just one step away from being rated best in dependability — and the 2005 LaCrosse could put them in first place.

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