Once in a while a new car comes along that impresses you when you least expect it. I think the technical term is "surprise and delight."
Take the 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist. Jump in, fire up, drive away and my first thought was, "Hmm, I like this new V6. Really smooth. Punchy, too."
Then, you pick up the window sticker in the glove box and surprise, surprise; it ain't a V6 but a little 2.4-liter four-banger.
The secret to its perkiness is GM's new eAssist technology, which integrates a compact electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack into the drivetrain.
So when you accelerate away from a stop light, or hit the gas to pass slower traffic, the electric motor gives a 15-horsepower boost. It's not dissimilar to having a small turbo under the hood.
That's the fun part. The more relevant part of eAssist is the 25 percent increase in gas mileage it delivers, compared to a non-eAssisted four-cylinder.
That means 37 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg around town, or a combined 29-to-the-gallon, day-to-day average.
How realistic is that? In the week I spent with the LaCrosse I had to make a day-trip to West Palm Beach. That's 540 miles across the state on Highway 60 and down the turnpike. Without too much concern for fuel economy, I would average 29.8 mpg by day's end.
And the LaCrosse is an awesome road-trip car: super comfy seats, smooth ride, quieter than a sleeping baby, and surprisingly nimble through the curves.
You'll pay $31,905 for an eAssist LaCrosse, which has replaced the non-eAssist four-cylinder as the base model in the LaCrosse line-up. Interestingly, the new 303 hp V6 engine is a no-cost option.
But with near-30 mpg everyday economy, and the promise of ever-more-expensive gas, why would you want those extra cylinders?
Tampa-based auto writer Howard Walker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.