2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS
Back in 2000, I was one of those people who, when General Motors announced that it planned to phase out the Oldsmobile brand, loudly decried the decision. Oldsmobile had a hundred year history and was just starting to find its new-century groove, model-wise (the Aurora and the Intrigue weren’t that bad; admit it). Buick, on the other hand, didn’t and wasn’t (LeSabre — ick). Old people will get over it, I argued; there’s always the Toyota Avalon, after all.
Well, ten years on, something’s happened: Either I’ve gotten closer to Buick’s sweet spot or Buick’s gotten closer to mine. I just finished a week in a quicksilver metallic 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXS and, well, I really liked it. It’s every inch the car the Lexus ES350 is — at least as quiet and better-equipped — for less money. Oh, and it runs on regular, 87-octane gasoline (the Lexus expects premium fuel). In fact, in the LaCrosse, GM’s 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 produces a smooth 280 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. The 3.5-liter V-6 in the ES350 produce 272 horsepower and 254 pound-feet. The Buick and the Lexus both deliver 27 mpg on the highway. Something seems a little fishy to me.
After putting some significant mileage on some pretty terrific 87-octane engines lately (the 426-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 in the Camaro SS comes to mind) and putting equally significant mileage on some equally terrific 91-octane engines (I recall the 385-hp, 4.8-liter V-8 in the Porsche Cayenne S), I’m starting to think the whole premium-fuel thing is just a lot of prestige-brand posturing. I’d love to hear a convincing 91-octane justification from a powertrain engineer, because it seems that prestige-brand engines’ premium-fuel requirements are little more than a case of keeping up appearances. A Mercedes-Benz that swills regular gas?! Scandalous! Is the V-6 in the LaCrosse less good than the V-6 in the ES350 because its fuel costs 20 to 30 cents less per gallon? Of course not. (Interestingly, the aforementioned Toyota Avalon uses an 87-octane version of the 3.5-liter V-6 from the Lexus ES350 that’s rated at 268 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque, and returns an extra 1 mpg on the highway.)
I don’t want to take cheap shots at cars that use expensive fuel. I like the LaCrosse I drove for what it was — quiet as the crypt, loaded to its silly chrome portholes with high-end amenities, and priced at a very reasonable $36,805. I But I can’t help but like it just a little bit better because it does all that it does on regular fuel. Surprisingly, the ability to run — and run well — on regular fuel isn’t something I see GM or anybody else touting with much enthusiasm. Perhaps there’s a downmarket stigma associated with the phrase regular gas (or an upmarket aura associated with the phrase premium fuel); I don’t know. But this is a case when one car’s 27 mpg does not equal another’s. That sounds like a pretty big deal to me.