WARREN, MI – General Motors Corp. unveils its redesigned Buick LaCrosse midsize sedan at next week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, a premium-leaning vehicle expected to help boost the rebounding brand.

Arriving at dealers this summer from GM’s assembly plant in Fairfax, KS, the ’10 LaCrosse moves the auto maker’s “W” platform to an all-new Epsilon II architecture. The new LaCrosse marks the first North American execution of Epsilon II, which first hit the world stage last year with the award-winning Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, and the latest GM vehicle to leverage the auto maker’s global vehicle development process.

Susan Docherty, North America vice president-Buick-Pontiac-GMC, expects the LaCrosse to work the same magic for GM in its segment as the Buick Enclave did in the premium midsize cross/utility vehicle segment. She says the Enclave is luring younger, affluent buyers away from imports to the Buick portfolio.

“It is the next step in Buick’s revitalization and (GM’s) goal to attract a whole new buyer to Buick dealerships,” Docherty says during a recent media preview here for the 5-passenger LaCrosse.

Docherty says the revitalization at Buick asserts the same “premium-ness” found at Cadillac, but more subtly. “Without the big bad badge on the front of the car,” she says.

The most immediately noticeable improvement to the LaCrosse is its dramatic exterior design where, as with the Enclave, there was greater attention to small details, contributing to finer overall execution. The LaCrosse’s exterior recalls the vaunted design heritage Buick lost somewhere between World War II and the 1970s oil embargo.

The LaCrosse also intends to regain Buick’s reputation as maker of world-class touring sedans, arguably another hallmark of the brand lost until the Enclave’s arrival. So the car’s ultimate success might be judged by what lies beneath its skin.

Jim Frederico, global vehicle line executive-GM midsize cars, says North American and European engineers built a body structure 20% more rigid than its predecessor and then focused their energy on acoustics refinement. If engineers could not isolate an element of noise, vibration or harshness, they blocked it off from the cabin or reduced it to an acceptable level, Frederico says.

“It’s what we call library quiet,” Frederico says. “(The) LaCrosse is Buick’s quietest and we expect it to be quietest in its segment.”

The new LaCrosse serves up a pair of new engine choices. Each offers improved performance and efficiency over their predecessors. Unlike the previous generation, the ’10 LaCrosse will not have a V-8 option.

The range-topping LaCrosse features GM’s 3.6L direct-injection gasoline V-6 with variable-valve timing, a two-time Ward’s Best Engines winner. The DIG V-6 replaces the previous-generation LaCrosse’s 3.8L V-6 and makes 280 hp and 261 lb.-ft. of (354 Nm) torque. Frederico promises 0-60 mph (97 km/h) performance in the 6-second range and city/highway fuel economy of 17/26 (13.8/9 L/100 km).

The lower two trim levels are equipped with a 3.0L DIG V-6 new this year to GM’s engine stable this year. It makes 255 hp and 211 lb.-ft. (286 Nm) of torque with an estimated city/hwy fuel economy of 18/27 (13/8.7 L/100 km).

A 6-speed automatic transmission replaces an out-of-date 4-speed gearbox on all models, and the new LaCrosse also gets a larger, 20-gallon (90 L) fuel tank that pushes its range to more than 500 miles (805 km).

The suspension adds available real-time damping, but GM sticks with a McPherson design up front and a multi-link setup in the rear. Front-wheel drive appears on the entry-level model, while GM makes a new all-wheel-drive system available on the two higher trim levels.

The exterior design of the new LaCrosse draws heavily from the well-received Buick Invicta concept car GM introduced at the 2008 Beijing Auto Show. Not wanting to mess with such initial success, GM maintained the same collaboration between U.S. and Chinese designers when it came to the production version of LaCrosse.

Dave Lyon, director-GM North America Design, says the LaCrosse’s exterior design reflects an effort at Buick to capture elements of beauty found in the natural world.

“It’s about flowing lines, and it’s about balance,” he says, calling the styling classic Buick lines draped over a thoroughly modern design. “There is overall beauty; there is beauty in the smallest detail; and there is a harmony between the two.”

For example, Lyon says the design team approached the LaCrosse’s bright work with detail seen in calligraphy.

“There are these brush-strokes of chrome that have this wonderful thick and thin quality that slows down and thickens up a bit when it hooks around” different parts of the car, he says. “And the detailing of the headlights, the taillights, the port holes, even the exhaust ports in the rear, are artfully crafted with beautiful surfacing and lyrical lines.”

The proportions of the LaCrosse include a long wheelbase, with a windshield pushed as far forward as possible and a rear glass as far back as possible.

“It almost has a limousine-like design when compared with its competitors, and that is completely intentional,” Lyon says.

Inside, LaCrosse features 2-tone styling, another big hit from the redesigned Malibu, and wraparound instrument and door panels. Chrome treatments offset wood trim, a French cut-and-sew technique debuts on models with leather covering and blue ambient lighting mellows out the interior at night.

LaCrosse also illustrates GM’s attempt to add what it call “intelligent technologies” to Buick, with items such as optional in-dash navigation, USB ports, available dual rear entertainment screens and a rear sun screen.

Adaptive lighting, where the headlamps follow steering inputs, also arrive on the new LaCrosse, along with a blind-zone alert system and rearview camera.

Despite all the focus on modernizing and sophisticating the Buick name with the new LaCrosse, the car should manage to keep the attention of its traditional customer – the trunk will easily accommodate four fullsize golf bags.

“You know we made sure of that,” Docherty says.

jamend@wardsauto.com