Reviewed 2013 Lexus LS460 F Sport: Akio’s LS

The Lexus LS series has always been the safe choice for those who want a luxury car, but don’t care about cars.  It’s always been fantastic at being reliable, and comfortable, if a bit emotionless.
With Akio Toyoda taking control of his families company, he has tried to put emotion and driving dynamics back into the conversation for Lexus and Toyota.  With the LS there is now the F-Sport.  Is this something to challenge the 7 Series BMW or S8 Audi, or, is it the Lexus LS formula taken to finishing school.  That’s what we find out on this edition of Rumblestrip.NET and Ten Minute Test Drive.

 

Wednesday’s Words: Thoughts on the “New” Lincoln

 

Lincoln is at the beginning of rebooting it’s brand, and with that the opportunity to position itself to stand out among all the other “premium” car brands.

It would appear that Lincoln is positioning itself to compete against brands like Volvo, Lexus, Acura, and Audi.  We think, to quote Don Adams, the original Maxwell Smart, they are missing it by that much.

“Premium Luxury” is the new black, everyone is doing it.  To stand out in that very crowded demographic, you have to do something different, and what Lincoln is bringing to market isn’t different enough.

Rather than compete against such a crowded field, we believe that Lincoln needs to look further up market, to take on former Premier Auto Group members Jaguar and Land Rover, the reasons are several.  

Number one, there is less to compete against. When there are few competitiors to draw your attention away, it’s much easier to be the point of focus.

Number two, pricing separation.  As it sits right now, Lincoln will continue to have the issue it has had for a number of years, and that is, it’s just a gussied up Ford.  Look at the Ford Fusion in Titanium trim, out the door it’s going to sell for between $34,000 and $36,000.  The new Lincoln MKZ starts at $37,000 and can go out the door, similarly equipped to the Fusion for about $42,000.  That’s not much of a premium.  The same goes across the board when you look at Edge vs. MKX, Taurus vs MKS and Flex vs. MKT.

While there is now more of a difference in both interior and exterior design, it doesn’t take much of a discerning eye to tell they share a common platform.

Number three, in moving further up market, you have much more pricing power and hence profitability, with the added benefit of having the ability to bring unique looks to both the exterior and interior of the vehicles.  The ability to use much higher quality materials in a more top shelf brand also would help distinguish it from it’s parent brand.

Lastly, in reaching to a higher demographic, Lincoln would have the opportunity to truly be an aspirational brand, rather than just another “premium luxury” brand.  They could redefine what an “American Luxury Brand” is.  Rather than some cliche’ from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, American Luxury doesn’t have to be “boulevard smooth” nor does it have to be the the latest in consumer electronics, rather than “custom” it should be “bespoke”  Most anyone can have “custom” few can have “bespoke”.

Lincoln should not get carried away with “gimmick” interiors that are all about the latest in technology.  As we are beginning to see, most interiors that but a focus on the latest in consumer electronics of the moment, are (a) 9-24 months behind the curve to begin with, and (b) don’t age well, both from looks and from function.  Classic and timeless should be the focus when it comes to interiors at Lincoln.  Simplicity is it’s own luxury.

If Lincoln is to be successful in it’s reboot, it will have to be something different than it’s competitors.  Pretty advertising is great for getting people in the door, but the product must, not match expectations, but far exceed them.  In rebooting the brand, Lincoln HAS the opportunity to place itself where it wants, as they try to start with a clean sheet, the question is, are they positioning themselves for success, or just to get lost in the crowd once again.

Lexus Refreshes Flagship LS

Over the last 18 months, Lexus has updated most of their entire lineup, with the exception of their flagship car the LS. Now, as we close out 2012, Lexus is ready to reveal the update to their flagship luxury sedan.

While the 2013 LS is a midcycle refresh, over half of the parts involved in building this car are completely new. There is a substantial rework of the exterior, which features Lexus’ signature spindle grill up front along with significant sculpturing throughout the body from nose to tail to greatly reduce aerodynamic drag.

In a market segment that puts a premium on perfection the new LS is positioning itself to once again be the standard by which others are measured. Not only is the exterior refreshed, the interior gets a complete makeover as well. The design concept 1st seen in the interior of the new GS is now brought in to the flagship LS sedan.  One of the features of the interior is the 12.3 inch  center display which can be organized into 3 different columns of information.

Interior materials also get an upgrade including a unique wood trim called Shimamocu. This unique wood trim takes 38 days and 67 different processes to complete. It has a horizontal grain pattern which helps to emphasize the with an interior space of the LS. If you choose to go with the hybrid version of the LS you can choose the bamboo wood option which gives a very nice look and feel to the interior.

Something else that is also unique in the LS is the analog clock in the center of the dash is linked via GPS to automatically update times, even when crossing into different time zones. So, let’s say you’re driving from Detroit to Chicago, where you go from the Eastern time zone to the central time zone, the clock will automatically update to the local time.

There will be several trim levels available in the  LS, including the ultra-lux package which will have 4 different climate zone controls. All cars, 16 way power driver seat,” way adjustable passenger seats. Opt for the 600 L, or 460 L, and you will have rear seat that will recline, as an ottoman, and also massage functionality. It truly is an “Executive” sedan. The driver and passenger seats also have a unique climate control system integrated into them the seats sense body temperature and bring the temperature of the seats to the desired temperature, until the rest of the cabin can reach that temperature.

Depending on which trim level you get, the LS can have a sportier feel, but the emphasis of the LS has been, and always will be, that of late luxury sedan. As such, the emphasis is on a quiet interior and a smooth and comfortable yet very controlled ride. The LS will never be a Canyon Carver, but on tight twisty roads it can hold its own.

Powertrains are a carryover, a 4.6 L V-8 with 386 hp combined with an 8 speed automatic transmission will be standard. Elect for the hybrid version and you have a combined power rating of 438 hp between the gasoline motor and electric motor. The hybrid model also gets a redesign regenerative braking system which aids in recharging the batteries much quicker and more efficiently.

Available for the first time in the LS is the F-Sport trim.  With the F-Sport you will get a deeper drill with other aero treatments, cooling ducts for the brakes, suspension lowered 10mm, Alcantera headliners, larger side bolsters in the seats,, paddle shifters and a Torsen limited slip differential.

You also get 19” BBS wheels that are unique to the F-Sport along with massive six piston Brembo brakes.

Pricing will be announced at the end of October and the LS’s will begin to go on sale in November. 

Reviewed: 2011 Lexus IS-F, Japan’s Stealth Fighter

With the exception of the LF-A when you think Lexus, you think conservative, understated luxury car.  Lexus has always been the “safe” choice when you wanted a luxury car, but didn’t want something from Germany.

The IS range from Lexus tends to fly under the radar.  Most people tend to focus on three models in it’s lineup.  The top end LS, the mid level ES and the RX crossover.  While there is nothing wrong with those vehicles, they don’t come within a solar system of what you might consider engaging drivers cars, but that’s not what they were designed to be either.

The IS is the exception to that rule.  Even in it’s standard IS 350 guise, the IS does not feel “blandtastic” it does have strong elements that at times make you scratch your head and wonder how did this one make it through.  That’s before we get to the IS-F.

If you like fun and engaging cars to drive, then the Lexus IS-F is for you.  It starts under the hood with a 416 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 which sends power to the rear wheels via an eight speed automatic gear box.  It should be required in owning or driving this car that you either (a) have a radar detector, (b) have an attorney on retainer, or (c) be on good terms with your local police department. 

Why you ask?  Because once you hit about 3500 rpms the exhaust note is so glorious, that you want to keep hearing it!  We hope which ever engineers were responsible for tuning the exhaust note got a large bonus because this is one of THE GREAT V8 exhaust notes of all time!

The suspension also gets an upgrade over the standard IS 350.  The ride is firmer, but it is also not harsh, it is something that is very livable in everyday driving.  The IS-F does corner flatter and is quicker to change directions when called on to do so quickly.

As fantastic as the engine is, the brakes on the IS-F are equally as good.  The pure stopping power can generate enough negative g-forces to make you think your eyeballs will come out of their sockets.  Yet unlike many big brake systems, it doesn’t feel light a light switch which is either on or off, there is a nice linear travel, with excellent feedback.  The brake system is sourced from Brembo and have 14.2 inch discs up front with six piston calipers and 13.6 out back with two piston calipers.

Inside the car has all the luxury touches one would expect in a $60,000 car.  The leather is of good quality and the micro-fiber inserts in the seats give it an even more upscale touch.  In hot or cold clients the micro-fiber is much more comfortable than leather, while waiting for the cabin to come up or down to temperature.  It also offers better traction for your backside when you decide to push the car hard.

Looking onto the instrument cluster, a 9000 rpm tachometer is dead center and dominates your view.  While the tach may go to 9,000 shift are handled closer to 7,000.  There are a series of lights that change from yellow to red as you close in on the redline helping you if you are choosing to shift up manually in the gearbox.  

Best be quick with those shifts as the engine revs very quickly!  In first or second gear it is not difficult to bounce the engine off the rev limiter because the engine revs so quickly.  There is a digital readout on the tach to tell you your speed, to go along with a smaller speedometer to the right of the tach.

The IS-F has an optional Mark Levinson audio package that comes with navigation.  If you are familiar with the system in other Lexus models, it’s features are similar.  To our ear, it could use a little more base, and a little more “presence” in delivering the audio, and that is true in listening to several different genres of music, from classical, to jazz, rock and trip hop.

Fuel economy is not unreasonable for the IS-F, the EPA rates the car at 16 city/23 highway/18 combined.  Our experience with the car says those numbers are very close, and that is when were were not shy with the right foot!  Take it a little easier on the loud peddle and you will see the number increase.  We saw fuel economy at almost 20 in the city and 24 on the highway driving in a more restrained manner.

The IS-F has to rate as the most fun cars to drive in the Lexus lineup outside the $400,000 LF-A.  The best part of the LF-A is that it doesn’t scream performance car, even though there are some very aggressive styling cues.  There will be many a shocked BMW M3 driver when they see the IS-F’s taillights disappearing into the distance, and that may be the point, excellence in performance doesn’t have to be flashy, just quiet professionalism.


First Drive – 2013 Lexus GS: Ready To Take On Germany’s Best

When Lexus first brought the GS to market it was targeted as the “sporty sedan” where the LS was the “luxury sedan”, but somewhere along road, the GS became soft, and the idea of it be comparable to a BMW 5 Series was tossed aside.  With the latest iteration of the GS, Lexus are looking to change that conversation.

Right off the bat, Lexus are saying that they had the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class directly in their crosshairs as they developed the new GS.  A part of going after the Germans with the GS is the debut of the new Lexus design language in the front end.  Like it, love it, or hate it, get used to it, because this IS the new face of Lexus.  

Part of philosophy with the new GS was set forth by Akio Toyoda himself when he said this car must have emotion in the styling, and emotion in the driving.  He wanted the car to be able to stand out, and stand on it’s own, not just blend into the background.  It is this point of view which Lexus believe that they will be able to achieve a 50% conquest rate with new buyers to the Lexus GS.

 

There will be three distinct versions of the GS, a Luxury, a Hybrid, and the F-Sport.  We will focus on the Hybrid first.  The idea with the Hybrid was more a focus on “Performance Hybrid” rather than “Economy Hybrid”.  Think of the Hybrid as a V8 replacement, rather than say the CT200h which is focused on economy.  The Hybrid is also the only GS model that will have LED headlamps available.

The Luxury level is firmly targeted at the E-Class Mercedes.  The ride is tuned a little softer, there will be a special leather used, a three zone climate control system (two front, one back), 18 way power adjust seats and the driving dynamics are focused on a well controlled ride, rather than a “plush” ride.

The F-Sport is exactly what you’d think it would be.  It is going after the 5 Series BMW and M-Sport trimmed 5 Series (not M5) with is multi level suspension settings, active rear steering, and electronic engine and steering controls that greatly sharpen everything when you go into Sport and Sport+ modes.

Power for the GS will be a 3.5 liter V6 that features both Direct Injection and Port Injection, it will provide 306 horsepower and 277 torques, backed up by a six speed automatic transmission.  When asked why a six speed automatic and not an eight speed auto which has become de rigueur in the last twelve months, Lexus responded, that they did not believe they could get the driving dynamics they wanted with an eight speed.  They felt it would “always be hunting for the right gear”.

The Hybrid also uses the 3.5 liter V6 but converts it to an Atkinson Cycle engine, very common for hybrids, and couples it with a an electric motor to give it a combined power rating of 338 horsepower.  The reason for an Atkinson Cycle engine is that it is 35% more efficient and with the Hybrid system, it will return over 30MPG in the EPA combined cycle.  Though Lexus did not have the final EPA numbers at this press intro, they were very confident of the number.

 

Lexus have also worked on the packaging of the batteries for the Hybrid system, allowing a much larger trunk for the GS then in the previous generation.  There is some intrusion in space over the non-Hybrid versions of the GS, but it is far less then before.

There was also a focus on aero and NVH tuning so as to make the Hybrid a quiet as possible when driving on the highways.

The quality of materials in the two cars we spent time with at the launch, the F-Sport and the Hybrid were excellent.  We really like the way the Hybrid was trimmed out with a bamboo trim that felt very substantial.  Most wood trim on cars today is little more then a very thin vernier, in the Lexus it looked and felt more like solid chucks of wood.  This was most apparent in the steering wheel. Again, most wood trimmed wheels have an almost a plastic feel to them, with the GS it felt as though it was a sold piece of bamboo that you were holding on to.

We also drove the Hybrid on the short and tight infield road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and it did not disappoint. The car felt very composed around the track which contained both long sweeping corners and areas that put an emphasis on quick changes of direction.  While not a car that you are going to take out for lapping day at the track, it will feel very competent on twisty back roads should you choose to drive in a spirited manner.

The F-Sport is a bit of a revelation.  Driven back to back with a BMW 5 Series that was available for comparison around the race track, the GS was every bit as good, and in many ways BETTER then the BMW.  While the steering may not have felt quite as connected as the BMW, it was much more direct, and the GS had much less body roll!  

There is a noticeable change in the manor of ride, handling and throttle responsiveness with the different settings that are available.  In “normal” modes the F-Sport is more compliant, but as soon as you dial up either Sport or Sport+, things change for the better.

This does not mean that out on the open road the ride is harsh.  We took the F-Sport for a 30+ mile loop which included highway runs and surface streets.  On the day we were driving the GS, it also included 50+ MPH cross winds on the highway.  Lets touch on this last part first.  Number one, there was no way the car was not going to be moving around with winds that strong, however, there were no abrupt movements it felt more like a gentle push.  In contrast you could see the Semi-trucks on the road moving around quite a bit.  In addition the cabin remained very quiet.  You did not hear the sounds of the strong winds making it into the cabin, so Lexus should be commended for their work in the wind tunnel to make these thing possible.

Driving in Sport+ on the highway the ride felt firm and controlled without a hint of harshness.  If you enjoy more of the European firm and sporty ride, then you will enjoy this setting.  Set in standard mode, it smooths things out just a bit, and may be the better call if you have to drive on roads that aren’t in the best of shape.

Also out on the road we got to crank up the 830 watt Mark Levinson stereo system and tried it with some high quality music that we brought along.  If we have one gripe with the Levinson audio systems that Lexus use it’s that they lack a bit of bass.  We are not talking about obnoxious bass that you associate with too loud systems blasting hip hop, it’s more not hearing and feeling kick drums, bass guitar, or in the case of Jazz and Classical music, stand up bass or Cello missing power, feeling and emotion from the music.  That is purely a personal take on our part, but it’s something we noticed.

Out on the road we cranked up a little Allman Brothers Live At The Fillmore and lets just say, if you aren’t paying attention, you will be in triple digit speeds without knowing it.  In the middle of “Whipping Post” we looked down at to see the speedometer touching three digits and immediately got off the gas, even though it felt as we weren’t doing much over 70 on the freeway with a 75MPH limit.

 

On the inside of the car one thing that dominates the dash is the massive 12.3” LCD display.  Lexus have cleverly designed it so that it can be one large screen, or it can be broken up into three smaller ones if say you want audio information, an overall GPS man plus turn by turn directions all at the same time.

There has also been a large upgrade to the quality of feel in the mouse interface.  The new changes make it much more direct, and there is better haptic feedback as you get close to menu items.

 

Also included is the Lexus Enform system.  It will start with apps such as Facebook, Yelp, Pandora, MovieTix, iHeart Radio, bing and Open Table to start.  You will download the apps onto your iPhone, Android or BlackBerry, and then connect via USB to the car.  Enform will use your phones data plan to connect with the cloud and provide you with all the information, the Lexus Enform system in the car provides an nice interface in which to interact with it.

Overall we came away very impressed with the GS, and a quick informal poll of those in our wave for the drive and those who had just finished, were pretty much in agreement that if Lexus can get the word out on this car as it comes to market in mid February, it should have a hit on it’s hands.  The GS will come a surprise to many who view Lexus’ as nothing more than Sub Zero refrigerators, they are very nice refrigerators, but at the end of the day they are refrigerators.  The GS is likely to change that perception, and we look forward to having a chance to spend more time with the car in the near future.

 

Reviewed: 2011 Lexus RX 350

 

 

Go to any upscale community, and you are likely to find a plethora of Lexus RX 350s. In fact, they are so ubiquitous, that Audi made a great commercial a couple years ago, about how when you went to look for your Lexus you couldn’t find them in a sea of sameness. The question then becomes, is the Lexus RX 350 so popular because it’s a good SUV, or just because it’s the safe choice. This is what we set out to find out.

Our all-wheel-drive test unit arrived just after a big snowstorm. When it arrived, it was a perfect example of what you would find at any upscale high school soccer match. Our test unit was white with a cream-colored interior. If you were to go to one of the local upscale malls, it definitely would be important to remember where you parked because, you are likely to see 30 or 40 other cars that look exactly like this test unit.

When you look at the styling of the Lexus RX 350 certainly doesn’t do anything wrong, but then again there is nothing to distinguish it either. Like most vehicles that sell well, styling that doesn’t it’s stand out is often a key factor.   For some however, in not trying to offend anyone with conservative styling is in itself somewhat offensive. You could say much the same about the interior of the RX 350 as well. The materials are nice, fit and finish are excellent, as you would expect from a Toyota product, and the whole package itself inside is nice.

When we had the RX 350 in for review, it was a particularly cold week here in Metro Detroit. The extreme cold weather pointed out two glaring issues we had with the interior of the Lexus RX 350. Number one, was that the wood trimmed steering wheel had no heat element in it, therefore gripping it with un-gloved hands, in single digits to below zero Fahrenheit temperatures, was rather uncomfortable. We found ourselves  using the sleeves of our coat to hold on to the steering wheel until the interior came up to temperature. We would gladly trade the wood rimmed wheel for leather wrapped one that had a heated steering unit for occasions such as this.

The second issue, was the fact that the seat heaters took forever to warm up, and on their highest setting of three, is what we would call in any other vehicle a low setting. Again, sitting down on a cold leather seat on a single degree Fahrenheit temperature day is not the most pleasant experience. The fact that it would take five or or ten minutes to feel any heat coming from the seat, this, certainly didn’t win any marks in our books.

With those two exceptions we had no other real gripes with the interior of RX 350. The the ride was very quiet , the telematics system worked good enough, once you got use to the “mouse” for navigation, the stereo was good though not exceptional, and for the kids our test unit had dual rear seat DVD players.

Driving the RX 350 was a rather unremarkable experience. Again, in typical Toyota fashion, it’s not that the Lexus does anything wrong, it’s just that nothing stands out.  The Lexus drives down the road just fine, handles well, sucks up the potholes of Metro Detroit just fine, and transports you to your destination safely and comfortably.

The difficulty in evaluating this particular Lexus is that we don’t follow into its key demographic. Most of the people who drive the RX 350, are upper-middle-class soccer moms, who live in suburbia where conformity is the norm. What we mean by conformity, is that they all send tend to shop at the same big-box stores, watch the same home-improvement shows, and have the same aspirations for their children. If you’ve ever seen the movie Pleasantville it’s kind of like that, just a bit more upscale.

As you can imagine, as a 41-year-old white male with no children, save one large dog,  it’s not exactly the vehicle that with appeal to us. However, we can say, that the RX 350 does do a good job of hauling an eight-year-old English mastiff around. In any SUV that comes to us for testing, this is one of the most important test for us. After all, since we have no children to haul around, no school runs to make, and are more likely to head to the Home Depot or Lowe’s, rather than hardware restoration or the Pottery Barn, these are the measurements that we had.

Fuel mileage for the Lexus was reasonable during our time with the vehicle. In very cold conditions in mixed driving, we saw 22 miles to the gallon. While this is nothing that stands out in the class, it is right in line with the norms. The V-6 engine provides plenty of power, sure, it would be nice to have more, but for 95% of the people who will buy this vehicle, it would be pointless. The RX 350 accelerates away from stoplights just fine has plenty of power for merging onto the freeways, and will roll down those freeways at 80 miles an hour with nary a worry.

Trying to come up with an overall evaluation of the RX 350 was fairly difficult for us. It’s a vehicle designed for people that we aren’t. Lexus’ tend to be for people who view cars as appliances, but like a little bit of luxury with their appliances. Think of it this way, the Lexus RX 350 is like going into Best Buy, and getting a Samsung refrigerator, but buying the stainless steel model, rather than the white one. It’s not a Viking, or SubZero, or a Wolf, it’s just a very nice refrigerator with an upscale finish.

The idea with the RX 350, like most Lexus’, is to offer a comparable non-offensive way to transfer yourself, and your family,  in a bit of luxury. The RX 350 will do nothing to offend you, and for most people that’s exactly what they’re looking for. People who buy Lexus’ are not enthusiast, and therefore you can’t look at the Lexus through the microscope that an enthusiast would. For an enthusiast, it’s hard to imagine buying a vehicle, that doesn’t either excite you, or make you look forward to driving it. For a vast majority of America, they just want something that gets the job done. The Lexus RX 350  certainly does that. If you like to blend into the crowd, want of vehicle that’ll never have to worry about, or not have your neighbors shocked by the choice of vehicle showing up in your driveway, the RX 350 certainly qualifies.

The best way to sum up the Lexus RX 350 as this, it is Häagen-Dazs French vanilla ice cream. It’s very good, it’s much better than the store brand, it’s a great standby, it’s just not something that’s going to get you excited.

If you’d like to see the rest of the pictures of the Lexus RX 350, please have a look in our photo gallery here.

 

Reviewed: 2010 Buick Lacrosse

When General Motors went through bankruptcy and decided to shed some of it’s brands, not too many tears were shed for Saturn, Hummer and Saab, but the the loss of Pontiac rubbed peoples rhubarb the wrong way, when, it was also announced that brands like GMC and Buick would be kept.  Here was the nasty secret that wasn’t getting out to those people, Buick was paying for it’s self and GMC was making money, the same couldn’t be said for any of the brands that were being dropped.

Lets set the argument about GMC aside for another time and drill down on the Pontiac vs. Buick argument.  Many people lament the loss of Pontiac as the performance division of General Motors, but that history was long dead and buried.  Other than the G8 which was a fabulous car, but didn’t really sell that well till it was heavily discounted in GM’s fire sale to shed inventory, Pontiac was badge engineering brand. This WAS an upgrade though of what Pontiac was before that, the pre Bob Lutz era of GM, and that was the plastic body cladding brand.  Performance at Pontiac was about as was a further memory from GM then the Detroit Lions were from being a winning football team that went to the playoffs.

Somewhere in the mid 70’s Buick lost it’s way.  It was, for most of it’s history, the brand you bought when you really wanted a Cadillac but just couldn’t afford or justify one.  It was a respected brand, and if you drove a Buick, people knew you had had a good measure of success in your life.  What the brand evolved into though was one that catered to Septuagenarian and older crowd.  Dealers liked this to a point because they were loyal buyers and there were rarely any issues getting them financed, the problem was, there were less and less of those buyers every year as they moved on to the next realm of existence.  Buick has made a few efforts to trend their demographic to one less than those collecting Social Security, but until the Enclave came out a couple years ago, it was pretty hit and miss.

The Enclave was a Crossover that signaled two important movements for Buick.  The first was strong turn to focus on being what it once was, a brand for those that wanted a luxury car, but didn’t want, or could reach to the Cadillac price point.  The second was a styling direction to have a fluid look with a rounded look and few hard edges.  This also worked nicely as a contrast to the hard edge Art & Science design of Cadillac as well.  

It’s been said that General Motors want to position Buick as a competitor to Lexus, and most people thing that’s a pretty big ask.  One of the questions we had when the Lacrosse was dropped off for review was could they go toe to toe with Toyota’s luxury brand.

One of the reasons we’ve waited to post this review was we wanted to spend some time crawling around the Lexus ES350 and the best opportunity was going to be at the North American International Auto Show here in Detroit.  We’ll get to our conclusion about how the Lacrosse stacked up shortly, but lets dive in and have a look at it.

From a design point the Lacrosse is a conservative design, but it is also handsome.  It has some lines that are subtle but do give the body some character to prevent it from being Toyota like bland and forgettable.  There are also a few angle from a high rear three quarter view which we weren’t able to capture on camera that are very fluid and quite attractive.  Some people have argued about the placement of the portholes on the car, should they be on the fenders as is the heritage of the brand, is it OK to have them on the hood, I would say get rid of them all together.  Fake portholes and vents have become such a fad, that in trying to redefine the brand Buick needs to stay away from anything hinting of a fad.

When you move to the interior you are greeted by a IP that has a spacious feel to it.  Now, depending on if your first stint inside the car is in the day, or at night, it may have to different feels to it.  During the day the interior has an entry level luxury car feel to it.  Materials are of good quality, fit and finish were spot on and even the wood interior trim was tastefully done.

The controls on the steering wheel and the center console are well laid out and are for the most part pretty intuitive.  To get the full measure of the touch screen system and some of the voice command functions, you WILL need to pull out the manual and spend some time with it.  You can figure out about 70% without the manual, but there were a few things that the manual was needed for.

One of my favorite parts of the interior were the seat heaters.  I know it seems odd that I would choose that as one of my favorite things for the interior but hear me out.  First, most of the seat heaters in cars right now, across many brands, take forever to warm up to the point you can feel them, then, what they call the top setting, I call “I guess it’s on”.  Not so with the Buick.  The seats here come up to temp pretty quickly, important since during our week stint with the car the high temps for the days were in the single digits Fahrenheit!  When the seat heaters were on the high, not only could you tell they were on, they were warm enough that I was tempted to grab my cast iron dutch oven and toss in some beef short ribs for a nice braise!  Part two of this is the fact that not only were the seats heated, but so was the steering wheel.  Almost as bad as sitting on cold leather on a 4ºF morning is holding on a leather wrapped steering wheel.  Why this feature isn’t standard on any car north of thirty five grand is beyond me.  

With all the touch screens and small buttons in new cars trying to do anything with gloves on is a near impossibility.  So while voice commands will work for somethings, there is an actual tactile touch that is needed for others and that can’t be done with gloves on.  So when you grab the wheel then on a cold day before the cabin is up to temp, it’s not comfortable.

When the day turns to night and the lights come on, the interior of the Lacrosse takes on a different feel.  There is a cool blue light that wraps along the wood trim from the doors and through the dash.  I was told third hand that it was supposed to give a bit of the lighting feel of a hip South Beach club to the Lacrosse.  Not being a regular on the South Beach club scene, I couldn’t speak to that, however, I did like this mood lighting implementation better than I have liked similar treatments from Ford.

Out on the road the car drives nicely.  The ride is not the sofa lounge feel of large Buicks of the 80’s and 90’s, but it’s not European firm either.  It’s stuck somewhere in that middle ground that as long as you don’t try and fling it around on a track day you’ll be fine, but you won’t be probably won’t be cutting diamonds in the back either.  For 90% of the way most people drive today, the ride is more than fine.  The engine is strong as well.  Ours had the optional 3.6L V6 with 280 horsepower and 259 lb/ft of torque, it’s a retuned version of the motor in the CTS and Camaro.  While both peak numbers are fairly high up in the RPM band, power doesn’t feel lacking.  The only issue is that there is a good amount of torque steer in this car, so you have to be a little careful at lower speeds when you stomp the gas and the wheel is turned.

Lets circle back and bring up how this car stacks up, at least interior wise to the Lexus ES350.  I have to say after spending a solid 10 minutes in the Lexus touching and feeling all the materials and surfaces, then heading back over to the Buick display to double check some things in the Lacrosse, then back once again to the ES350, that hands down the Buick has a far superior interior on every level.  There, I said it.  Go ahead call me mad, but, before you do, go check for yourself, then let me know.

Finally where I think the Buick Lacrosse can really seal the deal against not only the ES350 but against quite a few other cars is on price.  Our loaded up CXS (the top range model) stickered out at $36,755. I don’t think there were many, if any, options boxes that weren’t checked off on this car.  While almost $37K may sound like a lot of money for a car, and I’m not saying it isn’t, compared with many other vehicles we’ve driven lately for the level of content and quality, this is very well done.

For Buick to succeed going forward they have a big challenge in front of them in changing peoples perception of what a Buick is in 2010 and beyond.  The challenges are many, but there are also some fairly easy solutions, and if GM wants to bring me on full time at a reasonable salary, I’d be happy to point them out. 

The first thing that they must do is get people in the door and behind the wheel.  It is only there that potential customers will begin to understand just how far Buick has come in a short period of time.  The Lacrosse should do for Buick what the CTS did for Cadillac, and that’s redefine what the brand is going forward.