2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist Live ShotsEnlarge Photo
How many Buick owners will ever accelerate that hard is another question, but the difference is pronounced. It's not awful, but it's definitely less "Buick-like" when floored than under most other circumstances.
Base price "around $30K"
Buick hasn't yet announced pricing, but said the four-cylinder version would have a base price "around $30,000". That's roughly a 10-percent increase over the base price of $26,995 for the 2011 Lacrosse with the 2.4-liter engine.
Executives said the 2012 eAssist model would have an upgraded stereo system, alloy wheels, and other features to keep it competitive on value.
2012 Buick Lacrosse with eAssist, front fascia with aero shutterEnlarge Photo
They also said Buick will keep the base prices of the 2.4-liter eAssist version the same as that of the more powerful 3.6-liter V-6, which offers better performance but lower gas mileage (its 2011 ratings are 17 mpg city, 27 mpg highway).
A 2011 Buick Lacrosse with the 3.6-liter V-6 has a base price of $28,365.
Mild hybrid, Take Two
What's now called "eAssist" is a completely redesigned version of the GM mild hybrid system known as Belt-Alternator-Starter, or BAS, which had a rocky launch in 2007 through 2009 models of the Saturn Vue and Aura and Chevrolet Malibu.
It uses a 0.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack mounted at the front of the LaCrosse trunk floor. The air-cooled pack includes not only the cells themselves, made in Japan by Hitachi, but also the power electronics that convert electric voltage as needed.
Buick Lacrosse Hybrid eAssist SystemEnlarge Photo
The electric motor, which also serves as the alternator and starter motor, sits in the customary place on the engine block. A special belt-tensioning system allows it both to generate power and to act as a motor, contributing torque to the engine's crankshaft.
Aerodynamic underbody trays and an active front grille shutter adapted from the Chevrolet Cruze Eco improve aerodynamics, reducing drag and allowing more of the car's coastdown energy to go into regenerative braking.
One interesting facet of the marketing for this new system, which promises to pose its own challenges: Buick is not using "the H-word" (hybrid) anywhere on the car. In 2012, in fact, no badges will distinguish either the engines or the trim levels.
In part, said lead eAssist development engineer Daryl Wilson, that's because Buick felt that for some buyers, "hybrid" had come to mean a car that behaved differently than a "normal" car.
2012 Buick Lacrosse with eAssist, underbody aero panelsEnlarge Photo
That could mean sacrifices in sound quality, or perhaps ride. Buick deliberately didn't fit ultra-low-rolling-resistance tires to the 2012 LaCrosse with eAssist because it didn't feel they lived up to the car's quiet driving experience.
Buick also wanted to focus on the overall benefits of the LaCrosse as a car first, with better fuel economy being just another feature it could promote--rather than, in effect, pigeonholing one model of the car by its technology.
2012 Buick Lacrosse with eAssist, underbody aero panelEnlarge Photo
The words "hybrid power" do appear on the dashboard displays, and in the owner's manual, Wilson said. "It's a mode of operation," he explained. We'll see what the brochures and magazine ads say later in the year.
Buick provided airfare, lodging, dinner, and one Tim Horton's doughnut to enable High Gear Media to bring you this first-person drive report.