CHICAGO – It’s appropriate that General Motors Corp. chose the Windy City’s auto show to debut the replacement for its Buick Regal midsize sedan.

It was two years ago at this very show that Bob Lutz, GM vice chairman-product development, told the media he was delaying the Regal’s replacement – as well as the next-generation Buick LeSabre – by 12 months due to disappointing exterior styling.

“He basically said they lacked emotion,” says LaCrosse Marketing Manager Mark Hines. (See related story: Were They Really That Bad?)

The re-work focused on the car’s nose, tail and instrument panel integration. Whether it was worth the wait is for the public to decide.

’05 Buick LaCrosse

The front-wheel-drive LaCrosse is due to hit dealerships in the fall. Production will begin in July at GM’s Oshawa, Ont., Canada, car assembly plant. GM is betting LaCrosse retail sales will top 75,000 units annually, with a price range from roughly $23,000 to $32,000, a Buick insider tells Ward’s.

There are three trim levels: CX, CXL and CXS.

Don’t confuse the ’05 LaCrosse with the concept model of the same name that appeared at auto shows in 2000. There is no retractable panel roof, open-bed cargo area or portholes. The ’05 LaCrosse is a traditional midsize sedan.

While Buick’s elliptical grille and tri-shield badge are present, LaCrosse’s front end resembles Jaguar cues with its contoured hood and four headlamps. The hood is broad and lines sweep back toward the windshield.

Side styling is clean, except for a muscular crease that begins near the front door handle and thrusts over the rear wheel well. Crescent-shaped rear-quarter windows encase the C-pillar. All windows are wrapped in chrome-finished stainless-steel molding. Wheel wells are tight, and the body side molding is clipped well before the door openings.

LaCrosse’s rear end is taut. The taillamps are similar to the Ford Taurus’ rear lights. A horizontal channel is incorporated between the taillamps. Centered at the rear is a large tri-shield emblem.

Burl wood adorns LaCrosse’s interior along the doors, instrument panel and console between the front seats. The black stereo face is flush with the instrument panel and gaps are kept tight.

GM’s attempt to improve its interiors pays off with the LaCrosse. Except for the porky 4-spoke steering wheel, which appears to be wrongly matched with the cosmopolitan image Buick is casting for the LaCrosse.

Brushed-aluminum sill plates are egg-shaped and feature the Buick name. The chromed door handles are made from cast zinc, and woven fabric is used for the headliner and front sun visors. While the base CX model is equipped with cloth seats, the CXL and CXS models feature stitched Nuance leather seating.

Based on GM’s existing W platform, the LaCrosse’s wheelbase is 110.5 ins. (280.7 cm) Overall length and width is 198.1 ins. (503.2 cm) and 73 ins. (185.4 cm), respectively.

LaCrosse’s model lineup offers two engines: GM’s new all-aluminum 240-hp 3.6L V-6, featuring variable valve timing (CXS model) and the time-honored 200-hp 3.8L V-6 (CX and CXL models).

Supercharging is not available.

The 3.8L was given a major overhaul, including a new aluminum engine cradle, aluminum oil pan, aluminum intake manifold, acoustic engine cover and revised power-steering lines. But the engine block and cylinder heads remain cast iron.

All models are equipped with a 4-speed automatic transmission.

There is an all-new 4-wheel disc braking system with larger front rotors and calipers. The CXS model features GM’s Stabilitrak stability control system.

Besides dropping the Regal nameplate, LaCrosse also will replace the Buick Century. “The Regal name had too much (negative) baggage,” admits Hines.

While GM wants the public to forget Regal, consumers who remember the LaCrosse concept from four years ago might be disappointed when they discover the production version lacks the retractable roof and cargo bed. (Hines says the retractable roof was considered but dropped due to costs and lack of consumer demand.)

Using the LaCrosse label for a traditional midsize sedan rather than a crossover vehicle also could confuse shoppers. Additionally, switching brand names implies an all-new vehicle; the ’05 LaCrosse rides on the same platform as the Regal.

“We had a name that’s likable,” Hines says. “It’s the name of a game that was invented in the U.S., one of the very few. The game has a lot of action. Some perceive it as upscale.”

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com