Auto Review: Buick’s quiet hybrid

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Jan. 19, 2012
Contributed
- Contributed Photo

Hybrid automobiles – those innovative machines that combine a gasoline engine and a battery-powered electric motor to improve fuel economy and lower emissions – are not only becoming commonplace, but quite diverse, as well. And when I say diverse, I’m not just talking about the wide range of vehicle types available (from compact SUVs to upscale performance sedans), but how the hybrid powertrain is presented. Either the technology is featured strongly in the car’s appearance and instrumentation, or quietly incorporated so you almost don’t notice it.

In the case of GM’s new eAssist on the new Buick LaCrosse, the hybrid system is all but invisible in terms of exterior insignia, but performs a critical function. Buick’s design takes a comfortable mid-size sedan and aims to deliver the fuel economy of a compact car, all while embracing the brand’s standards for comfort and luxury.

The LaCrosse’s “mild” hybrid system works by providing additional electric thrust to the engine and facilitating gas engine restart after shutdown  (when coasting to a stop or sitting at a stoplight), rather than propelling the car solely with the electric motor. The gas engine is a 2.4-liter Ecotec Direct-Injection Inline Four with 182 horsepower, assisted by a 15-kilowatt electric motor that generates 15 horsepower. This is powered by a 115V Lithium-ion battery in the trunk, which gets recharged whenever you coast or apply the brakes, and by the engine under certain conditions.

As I mentioned before, the main way the eAssist saves fuel is by shutting off the engine when it is not needed, and firing it back up instantly when you pull away from a stop. All power assists, climate control, etc., work via battery, so the engine doesn’t have to be running. In fact, except for the rare lurch when decelerating as the engine cuts out, you won’t even notice the eAssist system doing its work (which is how Buick wants it).

They do want you to notice the increase in fuel economy, though, which is helped along by the new six-speed automatic transmission that delivers the power to the front wheels very efficiently. Handling is fairly agile and the ride quality is excellent: commendably smooth and never excessively floaty.

By far the LaCrosse’s best attribute is interior comfort, for this is a painless car to both drive and ride in (especially if you’re a rear seat passenger). Room is plentiful, and the classy, quiet cabin makes the car a great choice for long trips. The driver’s displays are concise and you can dial up a graphic that tells you what the hybrid system is up to, which is really the only time its presence is acknowledged by the car. That is simply GM’s way of incorporating this technology in the Buick playbook, in a way that fits Buick’s refined, modest luxury persona.

Thanks to eAssist, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse Premium I is EPA-rated 25 MPG city/36 highway and we observed 27.4 MPG in our week with the vehicle. With options including enhanced technology and Audio/Navigation packages, our sticker came to $36,685. www.buick.com

 


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