Farewell To The First New Car I Ever Purchased

February 17, 2010

The 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue

Last night I said goodbye to the first new car I ever bought, a 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue GL sedan. Almost exactly twelve years ago my then fiancé (now wife) and I went shopping to replace her well-used Ford Bronco and wound up with this Olds, which served as her daily driver until it was replaced last week.

So much has changed since the Olds came into the family. It’s not surprising that the dealership from which we bought the car, Bellevue Cadillac Oldsmobile, is no longer in business. What I didn’t expect back then was that the Oldsmobile brand wouldn’t last either. GM made no secrets of the fact that the Intrigue was going to lead Oldsmobile’s fight to recapture market share from imports like Toyota, Honda, and even more upscale Acura and Lexus. Thanks to GM’s strategic ADD and need for instant gratification, though, this plan was dead even before the Civic-targeted Alero and Lexus ES-level Aurora hit the market. And though I almost cringe to say this…when the old white boys club of GM named a woman as the president of the Oldsmobile division, just about everyone knew entire brand was dead-car-walking.

In my humble opinion, the Intrigue always struck me as a mixed bag. I wrote in a 1999 owner’s report published by Edmunds that I felt the Intrigue was one of the best-looking cars to come out of GM in years — muscular without resorting to tacky styling gimmicks and add-ons to which GM was prone. The tried-and-true pushrod 3.8L V6 engine might have only put out 195 horses, but I found it torquey enough to push the car from naught-to-sixty in just over seven seconds. While the steering’s heavy feel was obviously by design to trick drivers into thinking the car was sporty, I enjoyed its very direct, not too numb, and strong on-center nature. Given the factory optional “Autobahn Package”, which added uprated 16-inch tires and a larger stabilizer bar, handling proved great for a front-driver.

It didn’t take long for me to be struck by the ghastly build quality. I noted in the Edmunds report that my wife’s car had experienced many of the same foibles as their long-term tester, including sagging kick panels, several NVH sins and interior panel gaps that were as uneven as rural highway pavement. If memory serves, I wrote something to the extent of “my wife and I plan to drive the wheels off this car, but I’m concerned that will happen sooner rather than later.”

To be quite honest, I’m damn surprised that twelve years later the car still runs. Chalk much of it up to the fact that when I signed the title last night to its new owners, it only had 80,461 miles on the odometer. Thanks to the low miles and regular servicing, the car’s only major break-down was due to a simple leaking OEM battery at less than two years old. Other than that the issues have been limited to common GM issues: replacing the leaking plastic intake manifold, swapping out three out of four window regulators after they snapped, changing the bad vent blend door, and turning or fitting new front rotors at double the rate of any other vehicle we have ever owned.

At the end of the day, the Intrigue was a good and very reliable car that could have been the basis of a truly great car given some investment on GM’s part in engineering out some of the rough edges. Maybe even with those extra hours and bucks in development, Camry might have still required fewer hours to fix failed parts. A Maxima would have been more fun to drive. An Accord would certainly have brought more money, although when I advertised the Intrigue for $2500 on Craigslist, I was surprised when it took less than five hours for someone to come and buy this Jade Green sedan with only 80,461 miles.

I can’t say that I’m sad to see it go, but maybe that’s just because looking at the Intrigue through the backup camera from the heated/ventilated seats of my wife’s new Hyundai Genesis makes it look like an outdated appliance. It worked…actually far longer than I expected, but like so many American cars of the day, the sum of its cheaply-engineered parts-bin components failed to establish a true emotional connection with even a nostalgic gearhead like me.

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BMW’s New 3-Series Cars Look Like The Protective Bags Used To Ship The Sexy 3s Of Old

February 9, 2010

Courtesy of BMW
The newest BMW 3-Series will be making its way to dealerships soon. Let’s just say that when BMW sent me the press release and photos a while back, I was ecstatic about the specifications, but upset over what the coupe and convertible actually look like.

It took years for the BMW 3-Series to grow on me. In the 1980s the 325 (on the original so-called E30 platform) was an overly-expensive boxy thing that simply had no appeal to most people. In the mid 1990s, though, the E36-platform 3-Series became a serious force. It offered great handling, fantastic ride, good quality, nice ergonomics, and most importantly, it was sexy as a red formal silk dress on Sporty Spice. I even rode shotgun to my wedding in a silver E36 328 coupe, the experience proving smooth enough for me to perfectly complete the knot in my black bow tie in the visor mirror. My friend drove down from Seattle in this very same car to visit last week. He has plenty of money to replace the old car, but can’t justify it. It still looks beautiful and is a hoot to pilot.

Somewhere along the way as the 3-Series continued becoming a better all-around sports-luxury vehicle, it also started losing its styling mojo. Some people blame Chris Bangle, but more likely it is the result of the corporate handcuffing about which most Chief Stylists and their department managers complain.

The new 3-Series is a small evolutionary step from the modern E90-platform 335i convertible I convinced my father to buy a couple years back. (No regrets on any of our parts, either.) Excuse me, though, if I do say that the changes to new 3 destoys what appeal was left. Now the cars look fat and boring. Whereas the E36 was chiseled and athletic, the 2011 3 seems to complete the move to a pudgy, out-of-shape look that started with subtle changes during the 1999-2005 E46 platform. It has no character at all — like a fuzzy shadow.

Don’t get me wrong — the specifications of the car indicate that it is as capable as Magic Johnson playing in an over-50 league at the local YMCA. But with the extra weight and additional electronic gizmos diluting that legendary “feel of the road”, the 2011 3 is on first impression the larger, indistinct version of its former self.


Mercedes Dealer’s Tactics Added To My List of Horrible Car Shopping Experiences (And I Still Need To Buy A Car!)

December 30, 2009

I’m here to tell you that automotive journalists do not like to car shop. Sure, we love most things on four wheels, but I, like most of my industry-mates would rather get a prostate check by a broken-knuckled rugby player-turned-urologist than to interact with on-the-prowl car salespeople.

For me, specifically, it’s because I know way too much. I spend more time researching cars than the frequently-wrong-but-never-in-doubt people who sell them. As for the business and sales tactics side, much of my life I’ve been surrounded by dealership owners, salesmen, service managers, and attorneys who represent them. Let’s just say that I know all the tricks, which would be enough to turn most people to public transportation.

My personal log of horrible car shopping experiences is longer than Danny Bonaduce’s 12-Step “people to make amends to” list.They range from the frustrating: arranging for a test drive of a Honda S2000 over the phone with a sales manager at a Honda dealership in Houston, only to be told upon arriving twenty minutes later at that I could “drive it after I bought it”…to the surreal: having a clown-shoe car salesman at Bruce Titus Chrysler in Olympia, WA challenge me and my 2002 Corvette “to a race for pink slips” first against his (meaning the dealer’s) Crossfire SRT6 and then against his “Shelby” (meaning 2.2-liter Turbo I-powered Dodge Shelby Charger) when all I was there to do was take a test drive of a 300 to see if I liked it better than the Toyota Avalon…which I didn’t.

I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been asked “what will it take to get you into this car today?” And if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a car salesman make a claim about a specific vehicle that was such a blatant falsehood that any kid with a car magazine subscription or Internet access could call the bluff, I feel like I could pay cash for a Maybach.

Still, my wife’s twelve-year-old Oldsmobile is in dire need of replacement. She’s going to take the 2006 Toyota Avalon, which leaves me needing another four-door sedan. Like it or not, that means car shopping and the chance of adding to the list of dealer horror stories.

This past weekend we set out to test drive the three finalists, the BMW 750Li, Audi A8L and Mercedes S550, and find our top choice. Our budget and sense of priorities prohibiting the nearly $100K new price, we targeted certified-pre-owned 2007 or 2008 as the sweet spot. So out I went with the wife and two daughters (take your family, and the dealers know you’re not just out for a joy ride) to the dealers in and around Tacoma, WA.

Our first stop was to BMW Northwest in Fife, where a test of a 2006 750Li quickly ruled out any pre-2009 7-Series. When I explained to the salesman that I felt the Bimmer was underwhelming with a very un-BMW-like lack of steering feel and a distracting amount of seemingly useless technology, he politely thanked us for trying the car.

Next it was on to the dealership next door — Mercedes Benz of Tacoma at Fife, where Pre-Owned Sales Manager Eric Brillhart introduced us to a 2007 S550. With black paint and a Savannah-Cashmere interior it looked elegant. During the same test loop as with the BMW, the S550 shined with prodigious power, seamless shifts from the seven-speed tranny, great road feel, and the most amazing massaging seats ever invented. Admitting to Eric that my wife was instantly hooked, I still explained that I needed to complete my due-diligence and drive the A8L. I even said “I know statistics say that if we leave, we’re not coming back…but remember, the same stats also indicate if we come back, you’ve got us.”

Courteously, he called over to Audi of Tacoma, another Robert Larson-owned dealership, to let them know we would be over for a test drive after getting a bite to eat.

Going into the day, the A8L had been at the top of my short list. After a ride in a three-year-old S550, though, the brand new 2009 Audi A8L seemed dated. The sporty feeling came at the cost of an overly tight suspension. Despite other journalists who praise Audi ergonomics, I found the interior dark, plain and lacking the comfort of the Mercedes. On the whole the Audi just wasn’t as refined. And the dealership? Had we not gone to pull a salesman away from a conversation outside the building, we would have stood there alone forever!

So we returned to Mercedes Benz of Tacoma at Fife, where we sat in the lobby for about fifteen minutes as Eric Brillhart helped another couple. (Thank goodness for Nintendo DS, or my daughters would have lost it by now.) Finally with the couple out on a test drive he invited us over to his desk. He launched us into about ten minutes of small talk discussing garage space, drums (which we both play), and then finally he asked me how much I wanted to pay for the car, since, he said, I “obviously have a number in my head.”

He had told us before the test drive that the asking price was $62,500, which Eric admitted was way too aggressive for a 32,000-mile 2007 that had sat on the lot for too long. (He was I unaware that I had seen the car offered on Autotrader.com and M-B’s CPO site for $59,900.) I didn’t throw out a number, rather choosing to note that other dealers were advertising their S550s from 48-to-58-thousand and indicating that it would be safe to assume “low fifties” was top market.

Eric got up and walked into the sales floor manager’s office and didn’t return for ten minutes. I pointed out to my wife that I had forgotten to request that he not to try the old wait ‘em out trick — the longer a mark sits in the chair the more they’ll pay at the end of the deal. In my case, it just makes me more tired and less likely to spend anything.

When he got back he said “I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is the car sold while you were out, but the good news is that we have this other car — same configuration, slightly higher miles and we can offer it at $53,00″.

Ah crap, here we go again!

Eric left to check the in-service date of the car’s warranty, and upon returning to the desk, my wife hit him with: “I might be young, but I’m not stupid. Do you really expect us to believe that a car you said earlier has been sitting here for a really long time actually sold in the two hours we were gone?”

Now if someone had called me a liar to my face (and I was innocent) I’d vigorously defend my honor and my practices. I’d even get some proof in the form of paperwork. The salesmen didn’t even seem to put up a fight, instead giving a half-assed emotionless line trying to claim he had nothing to gain by claiming it was sold, and that he was mad that he had gone through the effort of washing it only to have another salesman sell it. My six-year-old daughter gave a more believable performance last month when she claimed she didn’t eat any cookies before dinner, and she had crumbs all over her face.

Still there was the other “available” car that was being offered. With iPhone in hand I went down the list of CPO 2007 S550s available for under $50K on Mercedes-Benz’s own site, and simply explained the price this dealer was offering was three-grand over the advertised starting prices of identical cars, such as one offered at Barrier Mercedes less than 50 miles away. We got up and walked out.

We walked to our car, and parked next to it was the very same “sold” S550 that had lured us to the dealership in the first place. My wife walked back in and notified Eric that the car was still on the lot (and had been moved next to our car while we were in being told it was sold). “They’re doing the paperwork as we speak” he claimed. Seeing nobody else in the dealership, my wife laughed, shook her head and walked out.

Mercedes Benz of Tacoma simply wanted to maximize profit — and that’s not a crime. What they did, however, was bad for business, horrible for its reputation… and statistically a bad play. When the salesman and sales floor manager got the feeling that price was an issue with us, they saw the opportunity to bait and switch in a less desirable car with a higher margin that could look like a better deal by fitting within my aforementioned price range. Unfortunately for them, they had totally misread us. We didn’t try to negotiate down due to being cash-strapped — we could have afforded the full inflated asking price, rather it simply wasn’t a good deal based on competitive listings. Had he or the salesman simply given a slightly better bottom line price, I might have paid more than market on the original car just for convenience sake, but instead the BS led us to leave.

We will certainly be buying a 2007 or 2008 S550…just not from Mercedes Benz of Tacoma. Sure, I could buy one from an auction (I have four friends who are brokers), but I still lean towards a CPO car with a known service history given all the technology. I might also want to take advantage of MBUSA’s subsidized financing.

So here’s hoping that there’s a Mercedes dealer out there who understands that some of us are sick of the same old tired dealer tricks, time wasting tactics and scams. Can’t we just agree on a price based on the real market, after which I’ll give them the money and they can give me the car?


Yes Indeed — The Chevy Volt Really Runs!

November 29, 2009

Unlike that ’84 Corvette parked on the street in your neighborhood or that Vega next to that barn across town, the Chevy Volt actually runs. GM is taking it around Los Angeles hoping to develop some good buzz prior to showing it in ready-for-production form at the LA Auto Show.

GM is promoting the stops on its tour with video clips of the Volt in action at http://ChevroletVoltage.com

I said it the day after Bob Lutz told me about it, and I’ll say it again: the Volt is a game-changer…and likely the car that will save GM and eventually the entire automotive industry…except for the Prius (as we know it), which will certainly be a casualty of the Volt’s success.


Why Cars Have Gotten So Heavy (or Yo Mama’s Car Is So Fat…)

November 20, 2008

Have you ever notice how cars are like their owners? All too often now “heavy” seems to apply to both the vehicle and the nut behind the wheel.

In times when everyone seems to be discussing fuel economy, the 800-pound gorilla is vehicle weight. The fact of the matter is that our cars are heavier than they’ve ever been, and that’s killing the mpg.

Ask an automotive manufacturing executive about why cars have become so portly and you’ll get a response like the one I heard GM’s Bob Lutz give a woman who asked why GM no longer makes economical cars like her diesel Chevette: “the government mandates a thousand pounds worth of safety equipment.” Lutz is definitely in the ballpark here. While 1000 pounds might be a little larger than life, the government is indeed responsible for ordering auto companies to install more and more safety gear.

The Safety Factor
It all started with seat belts in 1964, but most Americans with any gray hair remember the turning point as being the impact-absorbing bumpers mandated for 1975 cars. The original 5-mph bumpers were much heavier – using a combination of metal, plastic and struts. Now, however, cars use Styrofoam, plastic, composites, and other lightweight materials, making modern crushable bumpers dainty on the scale – even compared to those 1950s European sports car bumperettes. So bumpers aren’t adding anything more.

Ralph Nader was a big fan of improving side impact protection. The metal beams inserted into doors aren’t necessarily light, but they’re not really that heavy, either. In this case, a little iron goes a long way.

Airbags account for quite a bit of weight in a modern car. There are at least two airbags (driver and passenger.) In some cars there are driver, passenger (both face and knee), as well as side-curtain and head airbags. With sensors, wiring and the bag units themselves, it wouldn’t be crazy to figure the median extra weight added by airbags looming at around 100 pounds. Is it weight well spent? Absolutely!

Antilock brakes and stability control aren’t mandated yet, but they will be. Both require a number of sensors, wiring, valves, etc… When compared to older drum brakes, the modern ABS-equipped discs are often lighter. All that wiring for yaw sensors in stability control weighs more than you’d think, though.

Crash testing is an interesting issue. The more solid cars do better in NHTSA/IIHS safety testing, which can be a function of weight, but usually of well-engineered design. While performing well is not government “mandated”, poor ratings can be a kiss of death from a marketing perspective. Extra weight does not guarantee good ratings, but well-placed supports can help when lighter, better performing structures are precluded by money, time and/or existing designs.

The Green Factor
Safety isn’t that heavy, but preventing pollution really is. Catalytic converters to reduce emissions and mufflers to control noise pollution are heavier than a Metallica radio marathon. Many SUVs and trucks use two pre-cats and two cats to achieve emissions standards, while also sporting two huge mufflers to come in under ever-stricter noise ordinances.

Government Grand?
At the end of the day, though, safety and emissions brings a car nowhere near 1000 pounds. So let’s look at where the rest of the fat might be.

Bigfoot
Let’s start where the rubber meets the road: wheels and tires. Back in the old days, cars used 14 and 15-inch wheels. In the 1970s and 1980s, 13-inch rubber was the norm among imports and econoboxes. Ferrari 328s had 16-inchers with wheels and tires at about 45-pounds each. Just ten years later, C5 Corvettes came stock with 35-pound run-flat tires over 25-pound 17 and 18-inch wheels. Now even Toyota Avalon sedans carry 17s and many sports cars and SUVs have 20-inchers. Larger wheels have also made way for significantly larger brake discs and calipers. Anyone who has ever tried to do brake work understands how much these components weigh. Larger wheels, tires and brakes together can easily add 250 pounds to a vehicle.

Transmitting the Weight
Engines are lighter than ever, but transmissions are heavier. In the 1960s if you had five speeds, you were probably driving a Ferrari. Now the standard is six speeds – for automatics and manuals alike, with seven (and even eight) speeds for the high-end vehicles. Since trannies are all computer-controlled, add in a box with wiring and some plastic to protect it from the elements. Use of lighter alloys and tighter packaging has kept the scales from overloading, but at some point, adding gears means adding weight.

It Makes You Feel Good, But Is It Good For You?
Where the real additional girth is now is in the interior – and it has nothing to do with safety or emissions.

  • Seats: Remember when seats slid forward and back and you could just recline the seat back? Gone now, in favor of 300-way adjustable buckets with multiple air bladders. Some seats, like those on my daily driver, offer heating and cooling. BMW and Mercedes chairs massage while you drive. All those features require motors, relays and wiring. Motors aren’t light.
  • HVAC Attack: I’m not sure why in my two-seat Corvette roadster I have dual-zone climate control, but I do. In some cars it is four or five zones. The more complex the HVAC system, the heavier it all is.
  • Infotainment Overload: Probably the main interior offender is the entertainment/information system. Back in the old days you had one head unit (weighing less than ten pounds) and two cheap paper speakers. Now hundreds of pounds are dedicated to up to two-dozen speakers, multiple amplifiers, complex wiring and multiple components to operate a radio, disc changer, and navigation. For SUVs and minivans, a DVD system is not uncommon.
  • Top Heavy: Sunroofs and convertible tops have become heavier. Panoramic multi-panel roofs can be had on everything from luxury cars to Subarus. As for drop-tops, the wild hardtop convertible contraptions that used to be reserved for anomalies like the Ford Skyliner, is now commonplace. It’s even an option on the Miata…which is supposed to be a throwback no-nonsense roadster.
  • Techno-burdened: High intensity discharge headlamps need automatic leveling systems, ballasts and larger gauge wiring that traditional lamps don’t require. Laser-guided cruise controls have a sensor box mounted in the front grill and a separate computer box to manage the system. Parking assist functions range from a few pounds for an audible alert and a handful more for a rear-mounted camera to a grade-schooler’s worth of equipment to achieve a fully-automatic parallel parking job from a Lexus. Just keep in mind that most core modern automotive technologies, like drive-by-wire and direct-injection fuel management, reduce weight.
  • Throw the Book At Ya: This might sound stupid, but even the owner’s manuals are overweight. The average manual from the 1960s weighed under a single pound. The combined weight of all the manuals (including several individual volumes for the car, the navigation system, the keyless entry/ignition, the laser-guided cruise control) that came with (and are still in the glovebox of) my 2006 Toyota is nearly six pounds.

Don’t get me wrong, I like butt warmers and nice sounding stereo. When I hop into a BMW 335 convertible, however, and realize that at 3960-pounds it actually weighs more than a mobile home-sized Chevy Impala with a 409ci big block, it’s startling. It is no doubt a testament to the capabilities of automotive engineers that the BMW out accelerates, out handles, is infinitely more comfortable, and gets exponentially better fuel economy than a 3705-pound 1964 Impala ragtop, a Chrysler 440-equipped 3696-pound 1973 Jensen Interceptor, a 2680-pound 1986 Dodge 600ES Turbo Convertible, or a 3471-pound ’96 Mustang GT Convertible – all vehicles that paved the way for the sport-luxury Bimmer.

The Big-Bottomed Line
Manufacturers need to cut back on this automotive version of the artery-clogger six-item breakfast from the local greasy spoon. Drop the useless huge tires and wheels – ’84 Corvettes hit 1g on the skidpad with 16”s, so anything larger is for looks. Reduce the number of multi-zones. Lighten the entertainment load…

But keep the safety and emissions controls like the vitamins we need each day.

A crash-course gizmo diet should do wonders to hitting and surpassing the 35 mpg CAFE standards. The next step is to take a page out of the auto racer’s bible: the easiest way to improve vehicle performance is to get a lighter driver.

Maybe we’d find that the weight the car and we could lose would make us…and the world healthier, more athletic and more fun. Plus neither the car or us could be the target of fat jokes.


Why I’m A No Show At the International Auto Show

November 10, 2008

Every year I seem to get hundreds of people asking me if I’ll be attending the Seattle International Auto Show. When I tell them that I have no plans to attend, I tend to see some pretty perplexed faces.

I’ve been to the Seattle International Auto Show in the past and generally consider it a waste of time and fuel. At least it is for me.

We need to get something straight. I’ve been to more shows for more industries than I care to remember. For way too many years, I was the guy standing up in the booth with the uncomfortable headset microphone on giving the same product pitch every twenty minutes to a large audience, while answering the same monotonous questions day-in and day-out. In general, I place trade shows right up there with taking the SATs, getting my teeth cleaned, and listening to city council meetings for levels of sheer enjoyment.

The nature of auto shows has changed dramatically since the days of the great GM Motorama. In those days, show-goers were dazzled by concepts that few had seen. Cars were created behind locked doors with teams headed by guys like Bill Mitchell. There were no spy shots in magazines, no Internet-spread rumors. A car you might see at the Motorama might be green-lighted into production and arrive at showrooms within six months. Production cars changed every year, so everything you saw at the show was fresh. The whole atmosphere was like going to the opening ceremonies at the Olympics.

Now when you go to an auto show, it’s basically like going from dealership to dealership talking to sales people. If you like window shopping for cars, the auto show is the place for you. If you’re like me and find the typical car salesman to be far less knowledgeable about his products than the seventeen-year-old kid with a Road and Track subscription at the Taco Bell drive-through window, then you’ll find the show to be less than helpful.

Indeed, the occasional interlude with a true knowledgeable product manager will yield no new information to that printed in the pages of auto publications for months. As for the standard show workers, expect them to try to convince you that the sky is green, the trees are blue, water isn’t wet, and that their cars are far better than any road test claims they are. Why do they do this? Because that’s the only information sales managers and product teams give them before turning them loose on the public.

The big draws for auto shows are new models and concept cars. Unless you’re in Detroit, Chicago, LA, New York, there will be no unveilings of any kind of new model or concept. For Seattle, the cars have already been shown for nearly a year on stages in other cities, or at the very least, in the pages of all the magazines and online. As the years have gone on, though, product launches have become less impressive. With such strict standards for crash testing, quality control and emissions, chances are that the car has been photographed and videoed dozens of times before it’s actually launched (on an average of three full years after the green-lighting of the concept). As for concept cars, depleted cash reserves means far fewer styling and image exercises.

There is definite truth to the fact that one has to see some cars to appreciate the lines. The Bangle-designed BMW 7 Series was definitely like that, being much more aggressive in person than on paper. Considering that you can see many of these cars in the dealerships, it’s not worth the money to see them with many thousands of other people.

As for getting in and sitting in cars, only expect to do this with currently sold mid range models. If you think you’ll be able to slide behind the wheel of a Ferrari California or Rolls Royce Phantom, think again. I’m sure they’ll let you sit in a Corolla, though. And what’s the use of just sitting in a car in terms of helping people make a buying decision? While sitting in a car can immediately rule out the uncomfortable and too-small ones, driving is what separates the herd.

Classics and special interest cars are also at the Seattle show, but I’ve seen most of these cars already…oftentimes two or three times before.

Readers will often ask “but don’t you just cover it, because it’s news?”

If nothing new is announced, no interesting cars are unveiled and nobody on the floor has anything important (or sometimes even factually accurate) to say, then my friends, there is no news.


Buick’s “glimpse” of its 2010 LaCrosse reflects business as usual

August 25, 2008
GM's Official 2010 Buick LaCrosse "Glimpse"

You’re looking at the first official “glimpse” of Buick’s 2010 LaCrosse. This picture was intended to excite journalists — the thinking was that it shows that the LaCrosse looks like the Invicta show car.

Sorry guys. All it indicates to me is that the Buick boys are still asleep at the wheel. What I see is more vanilla than desert at a retirement home dining hall.

As a guy who was brought home from the hospital in a Buick Special Convertible and had a Buick LeSabre as his first car, I say this to Buick: I’ve been in the Hyundai Genesis and it simply is a better Buick than anything Buick has on showrooms or in the pipeline.

If this is all you Buick product managers have to excite us, you might as well save on the PR and marketing costs and just throw the LaCrosse at the dealers and hope enough old folks buy them to justify the brand not going the way of Oldsmobile.