For traditional Buick lovers, their world must seem a truly bewildering place.

Buyers of the brand’s big floaty sedans used to shop for Park Avenues, LeSabres and, until recently, Lucernes.

But that large barge has now sailed, taking with it the last vestiges of what once made Buick the final word in upper-mid-range opulence.

General Motors has retooled its formerly moribund Buick brand and infused it with some particularly tasty small-scale products that offer style and fuel economy, while placing trailer-towing capacity in the forget-about-it bucket.

 

Other than the popular Enclave wagon, the largest vehicle in the fleet is now the LaCrosse, a model that received a complete makeover for the 2010 model year and is currently one of the classiest looking four-doors around.

But following two years in service, there are major changes in store for this model, as well as its Regal relation, that promise to make both models significantly more fuel efficient.

The upgrade is called eAssist, a name that describes what GM calls its “light electrification” technology, but in other circles is best described as a mild hybrid.

Extra help, when needed

Unlike full-hybrid systems that can operate in electric mode only or in tandem with a gasoline engine counterpart, the eAssist’s electric motor/generator, which takes the place of a traditional belt-driven alternator, kicks in when extra thrust is needed.

The only time the duo isn’t in operation occurs when coasting downhill, while stopped at a light or in the throes of full-on traffic gridlock. Then, the gasoline engine shuts down to conserve fuel, leaving the electric side to run all the necessary accessories, such as the air conditioning.

When the light turns green or the way is clear, the engine fires up once the brake pedal is released.

Power outputs

The eAssist electric motor-generator, now standard on all LaCrosse models, replaces the traditional alternator and draws on a lithium-ion battery pack to boost the 182-horsepower (and 172 pound-feet of torque) 2.4-litre gasoline engine by an additional 15 horsepower and 110 pound-feet or torque.

It also generates an additional 15 kilowatts of power by recovering the energy produced from braking and converting it into electrical energy to help recharge the batteries.

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