Monday, February 28, 2011

The Sunday Drive

Starting Out

It all started with taking a single bottle of Heineken and finding a nice, comfortable place to enjoy it, be it a cove, a secluded beach or otherwise. I wanted to avoid going north of my residence and concentrated on staying south and west, eventually ending up in the Keys.

My route took me all the way down Krome Avenue and everything west of that highway, finally meeting in Florida City where the major highways (Turnpike, US1 and Krome) meet up for the final stretch into the Florida Keys. Through the 6 hour odyssey, the STEED (a 2006 Mazda 6s V6 for the newbies) offered a comfortable ride that ate up the miles. Not being able to get it much above 60mph (blame the absence of 4 lane highways west of the Turnpike in Miami) helped in maintaining decent fuel mileage. Cruising in 5th gear, sunroof open, windows down and some oldies music in the stereo, it was the epitome of a Sunday drive.

Taking the back roads allow you to discover sites and things you'd never otherwise notice sticking to the major highways. Like for instance how the Redlands offer such a small town feel, or stumbling on a winery (I'll be back Jane!). The residential areas boast houses as large and luxurious as any I've seen in the urban areas, not to mention the acreage per house is positively huge. Kinda makes you wonder if any celebrities have weekend getaways all the way out here.

Now That's Yard Space!

I hung out at the Homestead General Aviation Airport for an hour and managed to just glimpse some parachutists on their slow descent back to earth and watched gliders flying lazily with the wind just north of the airport. I also found some dirt roads to practice my rally skills (I know, I know, the Mazda 6 doesn't have much of a rally pedigree in the same vein as an Evo or Impreza but it was damn fun! David Mullings would appreciate this). I also took a small trek through the Everglades National Park and found a Pioneers Museum (unfortunately, they were closed that day...bummer).

I must say, I've come a long way from that easily car-sick kid who hated even the mention of a road trip, but I guess better late than never. I blame the constant elevation changes, the almost neverending twists and turns of Jamaican country roads. Now, I love to take the open road on trips to nowhere. I probably was a trucker in an earlier life, who knows? Anyway, the STEED was perfect ride for this trip. I took back roads where I could cut loose without fear of the cops lurking nearby (their location will remain a secret). Through it all, the Mazda's firm suspension and lively steering took the course in stride. The 3.0 V6 offered plenty of grunt for exiting a corner and worked effectively with the 5 speed manual transmission at keeping the engine within its optimum power band. Did I say I love this car? No?


Well, I never did find a place to enjoy that Heineken but only because there were so many good places to choose from.

Perfect Day's End

So do you take Sunday drives? Where to? What would be your ideal car for a Sunday drive or a road trip?

P.S. - Don't drink and drive

Monday, February 21, 2011

2011 BMW X3 First Drive

BMW X3s lined up at South Motors BMW

I love BMWs.

My all time favorite is the BMW M5, both the E39 version and (to some grudging extent) the E60, specifically for the high revving 5.0 V10. There are, of course, others that drew my eyes but the X3 SAV (Sports Activity Vehicle) was never one of them. Let's face it, I'm sure most BMW faithful let out a collective 'WTF!?' when BMW first introduced the mini-X5 in 2003. Why would anyone buy that when a 3 Series wagon offered more space and, above all else, was more fun to drive? I did drive the X3 once in 2007 after BMW lamented and softened the stiff-legged ride but even then, it just never appealed. The ride was still rubbish, the interior quality was questionable and, in my opinion, it just never made sense. Nevertheless, the X3 became and a sales success and as a result, other manufacturers have been scrambling to bring their compact luxury crossovers to market (it must be said at this point that the Lexus RX was the true originator of this class). Now in an effort to stave off the competitions, BMW has released a new X3, larger than the model it replaces to create space for the new X1 while still relatively smaller than the top rung X5. I recently had the opportunity to test drive the new X3 and compare it to some of its main segment rivals, courtesy of the BMW X3 Difference event.

BMW X3 xDrive35i

BMW X3 xDrive28i

I was reacquainted with Brian Owen (those of you who keep up with the blog will remember he was the chaperon for the 2011 Hyundai Equus) who was responsible for divulging information relevant to the new X3. Without getting too technical, the slightly larger X3 has been given a complete overhaul, riding on a modified platform from the 3 Series, dubbed F25. Power comes from two versions of the venerable 3.0 liter inline six cylinder engine, the first powering the oddly named X3 xDrive28i comes in the N53 naturally aspirated unit with 240hp. The most powerful version being the xDrive35i comes equipped with the N55 turbocharged inline six putting out 300hp. Both engines are mated to BMW's new 8 speed automatic transmission which promises gains in fuel economy. The larger size means gains in interior volume, notably rear leg room as well as cargo volume behind the rear seats, which was something of a negative point in the old X3. The interior materials have seen a substantial upgrade with soft touch leather lining the dash and real aluminum trim accenting the center console. BMW's customary iDrive system is standard in all X3 models and, though panned for its general lack of user-friendliness in earlier versions, the latest software has been thoroughly reworked to be more easily understood and controlled (redundant buttons surrounding the rotary knob aid in quick access to often used functions such as radio tuning and navigation input).

Anyway, I'm here to drive so let's get to it.

From left: Lexus RX350, Mercedes GLK350, Audi Q5 3.2 Quattro

Three of the BMW X3's primary competitors were on hand for comparison: a 2011 Lexus RX350, 2011 Mercedes GLK350 and a 2011 Audi Q5. Due to time constraints (and also because I know BMW focuses more on performance) I never bothered driving the Lexus. Let's face it, if you've driven a Camry (not the SE trim) then you have a basic idea of what to expect when you drive an RX: a simply serene, quiet and isolated ride in typical Lexus comfort and luxurious appointment. Which means what? Don't expect any form of sporty flair in this luxury crossover. The RX skews more to the comfort end of the spectrum and Lexus makes every effort to isolate the driver from the driving experience. There's a reason why the RX is perhaps Lexus' best selling vehicle to date and it has to do with the bones that its based on (that being the best selling mid-sized car in America, the Camry).

Test Route

A little about the test route: it was just over 5 miles long and was mostly surface streets. I was a little disappointed because the M3 event I attended a few years ago had a similar setup but the route was over 10 miles and consisted of backroads, a highway stint and provisions to test the car's dynamic abilities. Clearly I had to improvise to put these vehicles through their paces (not to mention the route was slightly incorrect anyway).

Audi Q5

Inside the Q5

Q5 Transmission

First up was the Audi Q5 equipped with the venerable 3.2 V6 producing 270hp directed through Audi's Quattro AWD system via a six speed automatic transmission. On the road, the Q5 felt composed, planted and solid, yet offered a comfortable ride. The V6 was punchy, offering great acceleration both off the line and mid-range. The transmission offered manual control and stayed in gear without upshifting while also being very responsive. Audis are known for their great interiors and this Q5 upheld this belief, offering quality materials and a luxurious yet simple and functional cabin. The seats were at once comfortable and supportive, holding me in place during aggressive driving. Audi's MMI user interface system proved difficult at first but within a few minutes, I understood most of the functions. The steering was also very linear and responsive, dialing in the right amount of assist and firming up when necessary. As far as exterior looks, the LED lighting in the headlights go far in giving the Q5 an upscale look and the entire vehicle has a sporty flair to it. Arriving back at the dealership, I pulled in thinking to myself, "BMW had better bring it. The Audi is going to be VERY hard to beat."

Inside the GLK

GLK Center Console

And it was, sort of. But let's not get ahead just yet. I'll admit, the Mercedes Benz GLK's styling is off-putting for me and as a result, I drove the X3, BEFORE the Benz. I'll dispatch the review of the GLK before moving to the X3. When I think of a Mercedes, the first thing that comes to mind is "made of granite." Mercedes vehicles are supposed to give you that solid feel whenever you're in them. This one did to some extent, but the general feeling was lacking compared to the Audi and the BMW. Out on the road, the Benz felt more Japanese than European. The steering offered too much play and assist in its actions, the ride, while comfortable and perfectly acceptable, skewed more towards the Lexus than the other Germans. Dynamic responses to the helm were slow and body roll was excessive where the Audi and BMW were composed. To be fair though, the Mercedes COMAND interface was very intuitive and simpler to use than the Audi MMI or BMW iDrive systems. I'd definitely recommend the GLK were a person in the market for a Lexus RX.

BMW X3 xDrive35i

Rear View

Looking at the X3, you know this is a BMW. Styling is similar to the larger X5 and while the X3 has grown somewhat, it's very difficult to tell. The cabin gives a dynamic, yet cozy feel and interior quality is just about on par with the Audi. The one negative about the interior is the lever for the eight speed transmission. Why BMW insists on making a simple change from 'P' to 'D' such a chore is beyond comprehension. After startup, in order to engage Drive, the driver must first push a button on the side of the lever which supposedly unlocks the transmission and then pull the lever twice for 'D'. The driver must then confirm that Drive is selected by looking at the driver information screen between the primary instruments. Selecting Reverse is even more frustrating (took me six minutes with the help of one of the BMW reps to select 'R') and once you're parked, you engage Park by pressing a button on top of the lever. There's no tactile feeling in the lever and, for an automaker that builds its reputation on performance, this is a glaring mistake in an otherwise complete package.

Inside the X3

The fussy transmission lever

On to the drive. The X3 I drove was the xDrive35i version and as such came with 19 inch wheels and four drive settings: Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+, the former being the cushiest setting and the latter (as the name probably suggests) being the most aggressive. I tried Sport and Sport+ first and was met by a machine that was engaging, responsive and utterly BMW. Body roll was quelled, the transmission was responsive, "learning" what mood I was in and responding accordingly. It seemed the whole vehicle was in tune with my desire to play. After a romp through some back roads, I tried the Comfort setting and waited for the X3 to settle down into cruise mode, but it never really did. Where the Audi was settled yet responsive, the BMW never truly relaxes: gear changes were still felt, the ride was still a tad firm and the steering was still fidgety (tracking straight ahead took minor steering corrections). Normal mode I suspect enables the driver to mix and match different vehicle settings to his wishes, a useful feature through BMW's iDrive interface. While earlier versions of iDrive were panned and blamed for ruining ownership experience (and sending stress levels through the roof), this latest version (standard on all X3s) proved very intuitive and user-friendly, barely beating the Audi system.

So to pick a winner.

For a perfect mix of comfort and sport, the Audi Q5 barely wins. It offers a comfortable ride for road trips, yet is responsive and dynamic when the driver feels..err...naughty. Interior quality is largely unmatched by anything else in the segment although the BMW does close the gap considerably.

The BMW X3 is the driver's choice. On the road it feels smaller than its size suggests and the twin turbo engine is torque rich and responsive in nature. The new X3 is a distinct improvement over its predecessor and will no doubt prove as much a success as the last X3.

I wouldn't look twice at the GLK or RX. I'm an enthusiast and these two just never acquitted themselves well in this company. To put it another way: my mother would hate the BMW, be OK in the Audi, like the GLK and LOVE the Lexus.

As for me, I'd take the Audi over the BMW...but just barely.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Short Take - 2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost

2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost Supercrew Lariat

Finally, I get to do my own personal review of the 2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost. After letting David Mullings have all the fun, it was officially my turn. Dare I say I had the better experience? Quite possibly. Away from the crowds, having the truck to myself and a dedicated Ford representative to answer my questions really shows that Ford stands behind their products. Getting an invite like this was really surprising at first, but enough about that. Time to review!

What showed up at my residence was a 2011 F-150 Supercrew Lariat (base price $37,520 with the EcoBoost V6) with a boatload of options that took the sticker to about $43,000. Loaded with navigation, leather seats, wood grain finish (plasticky looking), a Sony stereo system, a rear view camera and a moonroof, this certainly wasn't a base truck. Before heading out to drive, I explained to Walter (my representative for this drive) my initial reservations regarding the long term durability of such an exotic engine being dropped into a pickup (see previous post as well as for technical specs). At first glance, this engine could be a clone of the same 3.5 twin turbo V6 that currently resides in top level versions of the Taurus, Flex and Lincoln MKS, except beefed up for truck duty. But this perception would be wrong. According to Walter, the units for Ford's passenger cars develop between 350-365hp and 350lb-ft of torque while the F-150's engine produces 365hp and 420lb-ft of torque. The EcoBoost program for the F-150 stemmed from Ford originally wanting to introduce a diesel into the light duty truck segment for increased fuel economy. The thinking was that diesel, at the time, was more or less stable in price and consumers were ready to embrace the technology. However, the downturn of the economy in 2008 led to the cancellation of a diesel program for the F-150 (it must be said that General Motors had a similar program for its light duty trucks but it too, fell victim to massive cutbacks).

Powerful and Efficient

So that's what led to this drive on this pretty nice day. A short hop into the cabin reveals splendid materials, fine leather and good support from the driver's seat. Close your eyes for a while and you'd swear you were in a $50k car (and not a truck). Engaging the 6 speed automatic transmission in drive and away we went. No sooner had I turned out the complex than the words "Floor it" rang in my ears. Didn't have to tell me twice. From a slow 30mph cruise in 6th gear, the transmission quickly kicked down 3 gears into the meat of the powerband ((1700 and 5000 rpm) and 400lb-ft of torque slammed us into our seats, the faint whistle of the twin turbochargers announcing their work. The F-150 certainly isn't wanting for more power with this motor. Knowing where to avoid traffic, I eased onto an arrow straight road heading west and kicked the truck up to a steady 65mph speed. The ride was solid, yet comfy. You're aware you're in a truck, but the ride is plenty smooth and not overly bouncy. The electrically assisted steering was quick and knew when to give assist and when to back off. Amazingly for a 6,000 lb truck, communication from the front tires through the steering was exemplary. Ford is one of the manufacturers that have figured how to precisely tune electrically assisted steering systems but to find such a well tuned unit in a truck is refreshing.

Navigation/Entertainment System

Gauge Cluster

The automatic transmission also has a manual mode, activated by slipping the lever into M and manipulating the gears via a +/- rocker switch located on the lever itself. This is useful for towing where engine braking is a necessity. The transmission also aids in fuel economy and according to the average readout, available via an LCD screen located in the driver's instrument cluster between the speed and RPM gauges, read at 13.8 mpg. This wouldn't be so bad at first, but then Walter noted that this very truck had been through a hard morning of standing start acceleration tests, towing demonstrations as well as customer test drives, and it shows in the fuel economy readout. The EcoBoost F-150 is rated at a very impressive 16/22 city/highway mpg and in mixed driving one can easily average 18 mpg. For a truck with this much power on tap, this is very impressive as the numbers either match or beat rivals' base V6 options.

Most truckers might miss the steady rumble of a V8 under the hood (the V6 does sound powerful but the turbos give it away) but I believe this powerplant will sell quite well. Durability tests have proven the engine is capable of handling the kinds of abuse trucks are normally dished out and to return such great fuel economy numbers is an added bonus. I should also put here that though this is a turbocharged V6, it loses no ground to the established V8s as the F-150 is rated to tow 11,300lbs, a hefty number for the segment. Ford has really energized its truck with this engine and it stands to see how rivals General Motors, Ram trucks (previously Dodge) and Toyota will respond.

Many thanks to Walter for answering my questions and allowing me free reign to put his truck through its paces

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Nissan Leaf - Electric Vehicle For All?

With gas prices predicted to surpass $4/gallon by the end of the year, it's no surprise that people are looking for ever more efficient cars. It's really an exciting (albeit expensive) time we live in in terms of automotive technology. We have the meeting of two technologies (gas engines and electric motors) to form an efficient vehicle called the hybrid, of which the Toyota Prius has become the poster child. Nowadays, it's not the only option. Ford has a hybrid Fusion on sale with plans for an all electric Focus in a year or so and Hyundai has a hybrid version of its popular Sonata sedan. Chevrolet recently introduced its range-extended plug-in electric car, the Volt (a review of this comes later) but Nissan has leaped them all with the introduction of its all electric Leaf. I recently had the opportunity to take one on a test drive at a sponsored event and it was indeed a learning experience.

100% zero emissions

Nissan might not be the first name most people think of when it comes to electric cars (that distinction belongs to Toyota and its Prius) but the fact is that the technology has been a steady part of their research and development since 1947. Most of their prototypes have been standard production cars rebuilt around batteries and electric motors, but the new Leaf is a completely ground-up design with the latest in battery and electric motor technology. At its heart is a 24 kW lithium ion battery pack consisting of 48 separate modules built low and within the car's wheelbase. According to officials, this gives the Leaf a low center of gravity and, as any sports car enthusiast will tell you, enhances stability and transient responses from the Leaf's electric steering. The Leaf is one of the first mass production electric vehicles to use this advanced power source and its provides for an average range of 100 miles on a full charge, though it was noted that in tests range varied from as high as 130 miles to as low as 70 miles. The batteries feed an 80 kW electric motor that's good for 107hp and 207lb-ft of torque, the latter of which is available instantly. Charging the batteries using a normal 110/120 volt outlet takes almost 20 hours (likened to filling up a swimming pool with a garden hose) while a 220/240 volt home charging station (a $1500 investment for the new owner) cuts that time down to 8 hours. If an owner wishes, a quick charging station can be installed that cuts that time even further to just 30 minutes. Due to the various peak hours of an electricity grid, the Leaf's charging system can be programmed to charge the batteries during off-peak hours to take advantage of lower rates.

Charging port in the nose

Walking up to a Leaf, aerodynamics wouldn't be the first thing that come to mind but the fact is that Nissan spent a considerable amount of time enhancing and refining the Leaf's aerodynamic shape. More time than was spent on the GT-R amazingly. The aim was to make the Leaf as slippery through the wind as possible and the details show themselves from the distinct shaping of the headlights, to the steeply raked windshield and the contoured body sides. The wheels themselves employ a design that keeps the wind from buffeting around the wheel wells and the underside is completely flat in order to keep air moving.

Moving inside, the Leaf provides an expansive and airy cabin for 4 (or 5 in a pinch) with good quality materials throughout the cabin. It's no luxury car, but it's no penalty box either. Instead of the usual gas engine instruments, the driver is faced with an LED screen behind the steering wheel and another in the center console, the first of which displays information pertinent to both the electric motor and battery pack, showing things like range, amount of charge left and other vitals. The Leaf's navigation system takes into account the battery pack's state of charge and shows the range as a blue circle around the Leaf's present location. For the range anxious, another push of a button displays the available charging stations within a requested radius. Two models of the Leaf are available, the SV version starts at $33600 (excluding a $7500 tax rebate) while for an extra $950, the SL version adds automatic headlights, LED running lights and a solar panel at the rear end of the roof to power a 12 volt battery used to run the car's entertainment systems.

Navigation/Infotainment System

Very spacious inside

On the road, I was pleasantly surprised at the Leaf's normal driving demeanor. Acceleration was peppy, given the instant torque available from the electric motor and transient responses were as I expected, given the low center of gravity. The steering however, like most electric systems, feels wooden and lacked information as to what the front wheels were doing. Two driving modes are available, the first being a normal mode where the motor's full power is provided, the latter being an ECO mode. This limits power delivery and I can see this being used in a strictly urban environment. The ride was very good, stable and quiet (befitting a car without a gas engine), the only noise being the conversation inside the cabin and the tire noise from OTHER cars.

The other plus for the Leaf is the maintenance involved, or lack of it. According to officials, regular maintenance is due only once a year (or roughly every 12,000 miles) consisting of topping off fluids, tire rotations and inspections of the drivetrain. Nissan picks up the first 3 years of maintenance while the warranties are split up as follows:

36 months/36,000 miles for the Basic Warranty

60 months/60,000 miles for the Powertrain

96 months/100,000 miles for the Lithium Ion Battery Pack

Nissan assured me that any individual module in the battery pack that fails can be replaced without replacing the entire pack, one of the primary concerns among the group present. Of course, the Leaf's success is in part dependent on there being a reliable charging network throughout the primary market areas and again, we were assured that the infrastructure is being implemented.

The Leaf is a breakthrough for Nissan, being the first fully electric vehicle available for outright purchase and its significance is tempered only by the surge of hybrid and range extended vehicles becoming available. A prime competitor for the Leaf is the also just-released Chevrolet Volt, itself also a plug-in electric vehicle. However, the Volt neutralizes the Leaf's limited electric only range (and thus the fears of the range anxious) by using a small gas motor to recharge the batteries should they reach a depleted state.

For someone with a short commute (and who's ready to be weaned from gasoline) the Nissan Leaf offers a solid (if initially expensive) gas-free alternative and as charging stations become more common, range anxiety will all but dwindle.

Many thanks to Lauren for being my photographer, camerawoman and partner-in-crime

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Main Street In Motion - Buick

Buick Regal followed by a Buick Lacrosse

Are these really Buicks?

No. That is of course, if you're the kind of person to take the superficial view of looking at these good looking cars as being merely badge engineered efforts on GM's part. You may be right, especially if you know GM's history of simply rebadging cars to satisfy each of the car lines under its roof. But nowadays, badge engineering is more than just simply slapping a Buick badge on to what was a Pontiac sedan (R.I.P.). GM's excellent Epsilon mid-large size architecture is now in its second generation and with this redesign, can be altered to suit each of GM's badges and their individual customer bases.

It used to be that if you were considering a Buick (ANY Buick), maybe your hair had a coat of gray (or white) and you were retired (or already retired) in Palm Beach, FL. Of all GM's brands, Buick has the oldest customer base in terms of age (though they are a loyal bunch) and prior to about five or 6 years ago, it was easy to see why. Buick's cars rode on soft suspensions, had painfully slow steering and were huge for FWD cars. Perfect for your grandma to schlep her friends to bingo night or for grandpa to stuff his golf clubs and not think twice about trunk space. As a matter of fact, both Buick and its cousin Cadillac were at one point chasing the same customer until 2003 when Cadillac underwent a major renaissance with the introduction of the CTS line and thus started aspiring to be a Bimmer/Benz competitor. Wanting a younger customer base, but without resorting the kind of performance oriented target of Cadillac, GM heads decided Buick would enhance its premium image by targeting Lexus buyers.

Here's proof of Buick's mission.

Lacrosse AWD foreground, Lacrosse FWD in background

The Buick Lacrosse was introduced as a 2005 model riding on the enhanced, yet aging, W platform that underpinned the Chevy Impala and Pontiac Grand Prix. The latest generation introduced for 2010 rides atop a super sized Epsilon platform engineered by GM's European arm, Opel. Purposed to steal Lexus customers, who would otherwise be driving ES350s, the Lacrosse provides an excellent competitor to the venerable Lexus in terms of ride, interior quality, price value and technology. The Lacrosse is available with either a 2.4L direct injected Ecotec 4 cylinder with 182hp or a more powerful 3.6L direct injected V6 with 280hp. All wheel drive is available only on models equipped with the V6 and at GM's recent Main Street In Motion event, I sampled V6 models equipped with both AWD and standard FWD along with 6 speed automatic transmissions. GM also offered a Lexus ES350 as well as an Acura TL for comparison.

Acura TL SH-AWD on hand for comparison

Through the driving section, the AWD Lacrosse proved secure and stable in handling and was a willing partner through the turns when pushed. However, unlike the TL which had a performance tuned AWD system (aptly named SH-AWD or Super Handling All Wheel Drive) the AWD Lacrosse' system is tuned more for secure handling rather than all out performance and understeer was prevalent. The ES350 disliked the handling course and voiced its displeasure by understeering far earlier than the Lacrosse and rolling more. Acceleration was strong in both with the 305hp TL clearly being the performance champ. In conclusion, the Lacrosse effectively splits the different between the soft cruising Lexus and the performance oriented Acura by being able to cruise serenely and quietly like the Lexus (although its suspension was a tad firmer) while being a willing partner should the driver be in a playful mood.

Buick Regal

The new Regal, also built on the Epsilon platform but with a shorter wheelbase, is tasked with being more performance oriented than the Lacrosse and stealing even younger buyers away from Acura. Its mission is evident at the first corner, where quick steering is followed by the suspension taking a set and holding the line, quite similarly to the TSX available for comparison. Powered by the same 182hp Ecotec 4 cylinder as the larger Lacrosse in base models, power is merely adequate in comparison to the TSX's 201hp 2.4 inline 4 owing in large part to the Regal's greater weight. The Regal is also available with a turbocharged and direct injected 2.0 inline, producing 220hp. Both models at the event came with 6 speed automatic transmissions with manual modes (which proved more gimmicky than practical). The Regal was a great performer on the handling course, managing weight and roll extremely well. Acceleration however, particularly with the turbocharged 4, was surprisingly off the pace of the 19hp-down TSX but this could be due to the Acura's lighter weight. I expressed this to one of the Buick officials present and was informed that a higher performance Regal GS would be released later this year with a high output 255hp version of the turbocharged Ecotec engine.

In conclusion, Buick has managed to create credible competition for Lexus and Acura. The Lacrosse, in my opinion, equals the Lexus for handling, interior quality and value (base price is a bit below that of the ES350). It manages to involve the driver rather than isolate and numb from the experience. The Lacrosse can never hope to come anywhere near the performance of the Acura TL, even though it does offer the driver a chance to play; something the Lexus ES350 despises.

The Regal is a good effort for Buick and offers comparable qualities to the Acura TSX, though a serious weight loss plan is needed to effectively meet the TSX on equal terms. The Epsilon platform provides a good foundation for refinement and, no doubt about it, if Buick is serious about performance, the Regal could come closer to the bullseye with the next redesign.

It used to be that I'd never consider a Buick, or recommend it to anyone for that matter. I still wouldn't consider it for my own personal ride (although if the Regal GS turns out to be the ultimate expression of sportiness, I could change my mind) but to someone considering a Lexus ES as their next purchase, I'd say to check out the Lacrosse before you make a final decision. It's too good a car not to pass up.