2010 Buick LaCrosse leading off new Buick

 Take the 2010 Buick LaCrosse. It’s on sale as the first in a planned lineup of new sedans designed, built and sold by GM worldwide.

Buick promises midsize and compact sedans and a crossover smaller than Enclave in a couple years for a broader lineup, not to mention lower cost and higher mileage. A plug-in crossover slated for 2011 has been scrapped, and Lucerne will be phased out midway through 2011.

That’s the game plan laid out by Russ Clark, executive director of brand and product marketing for Buick-Pontiac-GMC, which sheds Pontiac after 2010, if not sooner. That leaves Buick and GMC to take on import luxury titans Lexus and Acura.

The redesigned LaCrosse is a good start. It features curved body panels similar to Japanese and German rivals, yet still sports its traditional chrome waterfall grille and chrome ventiports, moved to the hood from the fenders.

It comes in CX, CXL and CXS trim and will offer its first 4-cylinder engine in December, a 2.4-liter, 182-horsepower job rated at 30 mpg highway. That’s in addition to 3-liter, 255-hp and 3.6-liter, 280-hp V-6s.

We tested the CXS and the 3.6, with V-8 spirit and an ample dose of low-end torque to get moving quickly. We even passed a Mustang on a country road, not a Shelby or V-8 GT, but a pony nonetheless.

Ride is smooth, as the suspension adjusts on its own to the road surface. Handling is very crisp with the 19-inch all-season radials, but slip the gear lever into manual sport mode and shift points are even quicker, while suspension settings and steering effort offer even more agile handling.

The interior pays attention to detail, with soft texture surfaces, fancy stitching and narrow gaps between trim. Faux wood doesn’t sacrifice trees, Clark said, or beauty.

The sharply sloped, coupe-like roofline doesn’t rob head room front or back, where leg and knee room are ample. Doors open wide for easy entry/exit. The rear deck is short, but the trunk has a massive amount of room for luggage or golf clubs. Rear seatbacks fold flat, if needed, and have a ski pass-through.

LaCrosse caters to younger buyers who love fiddling with electronics, such as voice-activated navi with real-time traffic and weather reports, a blind-spot warning system, a USB port for the iPod and Bluetooth phone capability. Their safety demands are met with stability and traction control and side-curtain air bags.

An added plus, all-wheel drive ($2,250), is available in the CXL initially and probably the CSX later.

There are lots of nice touches, such as push-button start, standard power rear-window sunshade, soothing blue backlighting for gauges, backup camera with the navi system and a 110-volt outlet for the laptop.

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