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The Buick Four-Cylinder Engine Gambit

Will near luxury buyers accept a small engine in a big car?

by on Dec.18, 2009

Big grille, little engine?

Big grille, little engine?

A new “conventional wisdom” is arising at automakers as the result of the first serious attempts to increase fuel economy in the U.S. in decades. The new regulations – 35.5 mpg on average—by 2016, mean all vehicles will need to become lighter and engines smaller so rated fuel economy increases.

One approach to this that is widely embraced by makers is to substitute small, forced-induction direct- injection engine into vehicles that normally would have had a V6 or V8 engine. Power is roughly equivalent to bigger engines, and driven conservatively, real world fuel economy gains might be possible. What’s unknown is if buyers will accept the expense, complexity and maintenance required.

This approach has not been successful in the U.S. in the past with more than marginal numbers of buyers. Moreover, the U.S. still lacks an energy policy that would assure the expensive gasoline needed to, well, force large number of buyers in this direction

In addition, the initial cost involved for the technology, say $3,000 or more per vehicle, comes during the longest and deepest postwar recession in history and record levels of unemployment. It could be a rough ride for struggling automakers as sales remain at levels not seen for forty years if buyers balk.



Into this unknown comes the Buick LaCrosse CX model with a new fuel-efficient, direct injected “Ecotec” 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine priced at $26,995 (including $750 destination charge). The 4-cylinder is the third engine choice in the all-new 2010 LaCrosse sedan. Mated to a fuel saving, six-speed automatic transmission, the new powertrain combination is expected to deliver fuel economy of 30 mpg highway and 20 mpg city – making LaCrosse one of the most fuel-efficient cars in its segment.