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Story and photos by Grant Yoxon
Oshawa, Ontario – General Motors is betting big that a new mid-size sedan with a new name will rekindle interest in Buick, GM’s premium brand. Out are the Buick Century and Regal. In is the Buick Allure.
In the U.S., the Allure will be called the Lacrosse, in keeping with Buick’s on- again, off-again tradition of giving its vehicles French names like LeSabre, Rendezvous, Rainier. But in French Canada, Lacrosse has a potentially derogatory second meaning. So the name was changed.
One name or two, the marketing task will be daunting and expensive for GM. Century and Regal were well-recognized nameplates that accounted for 60 percent of Buick sales. It will take a lot of advertising dollars to build the same kind of awareness for the Allure and to counter the confusion of Canadian consumers exposed to U.S. media and advertising pushing the same vehicle with a different name.
But GM felt a new name was necessary to differentiate the new Allure from the Century and Regal it replaces. Though well-known names, they were also well-known for being big, somewhat cumbersome and uninspiring sedans. ‘Floaty’ was a word often heard to describe their road manners. Century and Regal might be well-known, but they had baggage. GM wants consumers to know that this Buick is different.
Well, not that different. The Allure still delivers what Buick buyers expect in a Buick – a quiet cabin with ample room for five adults and a comfortable ride. But it also provides the unexpected – a more controlled ride, better steering and more powerful braking.
The Allure uses the same MacPherson strut coil-over-spring front suspension and trailing arm/tri-link rear suspension, but 80 percent of the suspension components have been retuned from the Century/Regal models to provide a supple yet more controlled ride.
Base CX and CXL models receive the standard suspension which includes a 30 millimetre tubular front stabilizer bar, and a 17 mm tubular rear stabilizer bar. The Allure CXS has a firmer ride thanks to constant-rate front springs that are 20 percent stiffer and larger 32 mm front and 19.4 mm rear stabilizer bars.
Both suspensions use gas-charged, four-stage dampers to reduce suspension float, while taller jounce and rebound bumpers within the dampers provide better control and cushioning.
Larger front brake rotors (297 mm vs 2700 mm with the Century and Regal) that are vented help improve braking, while stiffer brake callipers and a shortened pedal ratio improve pedal feel. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution are optional on the CX and CXL and standard on the CXS.
Without ABS, traction control is limited to power-train intervention – wheel slippage will cause the powertrain module to first retard engine spark, then to shut fuel delivery to as many as three cylinders, or even shift the transaxle into second gear until traction is restored. With ABS, the traction control system will also apply the brakes at one or more wheels to restore traction.
GM’s StabiliTrak stability enhancement system is an available option for the CXS. StabiliTrak incorporates ABS and traction control with an electronic stability system that monitors steering angle, wheel speeds, brake pressure, lateral acceleration and yaw rates, and intervenes by adjusting brake pressure and engine power to help restore vehicle control.
Base CX and CXL models have an improved hydraulic assist, rack and pinion steering system, while CXS models benefit from a speed-sensitive, power rack and pinion system that uses a computer-controlled electromagnet to adjust steering effort. The improvements are noticeable on the highway where all Allure models had a firm on-centre feel.
Allure buyers will have two engine choices. The 3.8 litre 3800 Series III V-6 is a carry-over and standard on CX and CXL models. This engine produces 200 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque. New for 2005 though is electronic throttle control. Both are paired with a 4-speed automatic transmission.
The CXS receives a new 3.6-litre, double overhead cam V-6 with variable valve timing that produces 240 horsepower and 225 lb.-ft. of torque, 90 percent of which is available between 1,500 and 6,000 r.p.m. The new engine is built at GM’s St. Catharines engine plant, while the Allure is assembled in Oshawa, Ontario.
The 3.1-litre V-6 that powered the Century is no longer available, nor is the 3.8-litre supercharged V-6 that was standard on the Regal GS.
Neither the 3.8 or 3.6-litre engines could be described as powerful. Acceleration and passing power was better with the 3.6, but not significantly. Throttle response with both engines was less immediate than I would have liked. However, both engines operate with very low noise levels and are almost completely silent at cruising speed.
Quiet operation has been a hallmark of Buick, and GM engineers have brought quietness in the Buick Allure to new levels. GM officials say they had the Lexus ES330 in their sites in designing the Allure.
Dubbed “Quiet Tuning”, engineers took a comprehensive approach to reducing noise and vibration levels. Examples include a new aluminum engine cradle that helps reduce vibrations, extensive use of melt-on sound deadener throughout the lower body structure, laminated windshield and front side glass and steel laminate on the front-of-dash body area, and sound absorbing interior carpet, headliner and materials under the hood, the instrument panel and the rear parcel shelf.
As a result, the Allure’s cabin is indeed a quiet place to be.
The interior design is traditional – no surprises here – but elegant nevertheless. Bucket seats are wide and comfortable and rear legroom is greater than previous models. Cloth seats are standard on CX and CXL, while leather is standard on CXS.
While five passenger seating with a console mounted shift lever is standard, a six passenger configuration is available. A flip and fold seatback doubles as a narrow middle seat or a wide centre console and armrest. Equipped for six passengers, the shift lever moves to the steering column.
With spacious seating and an ultra-quiet interior, the Allure carries on the tradition that Buick is best known for, as a builder of comfortable, easy-going highway cars. But with the Allure, GM has taken this Buick to the next level, with a thoroughly modern drivetrain and suspension.
The Allure is still every bit a Buick, but a much better Buick too.
The Allure is priced from $25,200 for CX, $27,865 for CXL and $33,265 for CXS. Fully equipped with such features as side impact airbags, power tilt and sliding sunroof, 9-speaker concert sound system with CD and MP3 player and 17-inch chromes aluminum wheels, a CXS tops out at $38,175.