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2012 Buick LaCrosse hybrid first drive (photos)

Buick doesn't put a hybrid badge on its new LaCrosse, as its mild hybrid power train, called eAssist, will be standard on the car. This belt-alternator system adds boost to the direct-injection four-cylinder engine and recovers waste energy, leading to a 26 percent increase in fuel economy.

Wayne Cunningham
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Buick's LaCrosse model got a significant update for its 2010 model, the second generation of the car. With the new model, Buick delivered a modern luxury sedan. Although classified as a midsize car, the LaCrosse feels full-size, and offers plenty of leg and head room in the cabin.
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Buick does not add labels proclaiming hybrid to the new LaCrosse, but the 2012 model, when equipped with the direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder, comes standard with eAssist, a belt-alternator system giving the car electric boost under acceleration. eAssist also captures kinetic energy when the car is slowing, storing it as electricity in lithium ion batteries.
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Buick's new 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine forms the heart of the LaCrosse's drivetrain. By itself, it produces 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. The high-voltage lines for the eAssist system run from the lithium ion battery pack in the trunk to a drive motor, which replaces the alternator. To the right of the engine are power control electronics that determine when to use the electric motor, and when the engine can be shut down.
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The eAssist motor itself is small, using a belt to add its 15 horsepower to the engine. It also serves as an alternator, generating electricity from the engine when possible. The belt for the motor is wider and stronger than a typical alternator belt, and its pulleys have a reverse tensioner, so the motor can add its torque to the power train.
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The 15-kilowatt lithium ion battery pack is mounted in the trunk and takes up some of the cargo space. But Buick managed to engineer a pass-through over the top of the battery pack, allowing the LaCrosse to carry longer items. The battery pack also has an air-cooling system.
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Leather power seats, stitched leather on the dashboard, and wood trim give the cabin a luxury quality, which is Buick's primary focus. From behind the wheel, the car drives smoothly, with a soft ride and good sound insulation.
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Buick did not overload the dashboard with hybrid drive information. The instrument cluster includes a color LCD that can show an energy flow animation, along with other trip information. A center LCD can also show a larger version of the energy flow animation.
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Along with eAssist, Buick is bringing out its IntelliLink cabin tech system with the new LaCrosse. This system adds voice-command-enabled Bluetooth phone and MP3 player integration, along with apps. The initial apps that will be offered with the system are Pandora and Stitcher.

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