Twelve Days of Pre-Recession GM Christmas: The Children of the LS4

What do you mean ‘Pre-Recession’?

After the year 2000, but before the economic recession of 2008, GM was making some weird cars. Retro styled cars, cars with high performance trims (for seemingly no reason), cars with LS motors mounted sideways, and of course, Saabs.

Why these cars came about is complex. If somebody is willing to offer a theory, I’m all ears. However, I’m not here to explore the roots of this issue, only what fruit it ended up bearing. While many of these cars may have continued production after the recession of 2008-2010, most if not all were born of the white heat of stupidity that lost GM $82 billion before this time. I say stupidity of course, because most of the following vehicles I would like to own one day.

The Children of the LS4

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the LS4; If you are not…

The LS4 is a 5.3 liter, sideways version of the Gen. 4 smallblock. Its sideways because it drives the front wheels. It’s aluminium, it has Gen. 3 LS6 heads, and the water pump is located remotely, which means it has a funny looking manifold to connect it back up to the engine.

Image result for ls4 water pump manifold

See?

It makes 303 horsepower, and 323 lb/ft of torque. It’s not a ton of power, but it’s still an LS (right?). It was available in four cars, some weirder than others, but they all have front-wheel-drive LS’, so they all kinda qualify. They are the children of the LS4.

Image result for grand prix gxp

The LS4 debuted in the 7th generation Pontiac Grand Prix (the GXP trim). In every application, it was mated to the four-speed, 4T65E transmission. In order to create this gearbox, GM spent years in development perfecting the art of making a transmission out of glass. It’s notoriously fragile, even on stock levels of power. In order to harness the raw power of the LS4 more effectively, the GXP had paddle shifters called, “TAPshift”.

Projected onto the windscreen was a bright green HUD that displayed various performance information (pretty cool for ’06) including G forces and your current speed. The car got vented, cross drilled brake discs with better calipers, and new suspension that was half an inch lower.

As with other performance GM models of the period, it got new front and rear fascias, as well as cooling vents on the front and rear fenders. Spicy. Also tacked on were two twin-dual polished exhaust tips, and new 18 inch forged aluminum wheels. Since the vehicle is FWD and has 300 horsepower, the front wheels are actually wider than the rears, meaning that the GXP has “front stagger”. Note; this is the only LS4 powered vehicle to receive this “front stagger” treatment.

Image result for chevrolet impala ss ls4

In 2006, the LS4 ‘mosied its way on over to the engine bay of the ninth generation Impala. The ninth gen Impala was sort of strange vehicle to begin with (in some classic GM ways). Much of the interior switch gear was swiped from Cadillac and Buick. Available as an option on the LT and LS models (not on the SS) was six passenger seating, AKA a front bench seat. Only General Motors would think it was acceptable to put a front bench in a car after the year 2000.

Image result for 2006 impala front bench seat

The Impala SS was the top of the line model, and it was a much better performer than the other trims of the vehicle. 0-60 was met in just 5.6 seconds, and it was quicker than the Grand Prix GXP despite being heavier, due to a shorter final drive ratio (3.29:1 vs. 2.93:1). Unlike the GXP, the Impala did not receive any “front stagger”, which magazines at the time cited as a reason for its poor handling (mind-numbing understeer).

In fact, many magazines described the Impala SS as decidedly inferior to the Grand Prix GXP in many ways. They cited it’s steering that was numb (but not comfortably), and a poor ride that, despite being rather soft, still managed to crash over imperfections on the road. The vehicle also had torque steer despite this supposedly being worked out by the engineers. Apparently, the vehicles traction control system caused this. Struggling to find grip, it would brake and un-brake the front wheels, pulling the wheels side-to-side. The Impala also suffers from GM parts-binning on the exterior, sharing its headlights with another car, the refreshed 6th gen Monte Carlo.

Image result for ls4 monte carlo review

There is very little information about the Monte Carlo SS, as the LS4 version of the car was sort of strange. It was styled very similarly to the Impala, but was not a whole new generation. It was just a refresh of the 6th gen. There are almost no reviews of the car from the time it was released, which leads me to believe it wasn’t anything to speak of. If anyone has any more information about it (quirks or features), let me know.

Image result for buick lacrosse super

Probably the most obscure child of the LS4 is the Buick Lacrosse Super. For some reason, out of all of these cars, this one is my favorite.

The Lacrosse Super got some tweaks typical of throwing an LS4 at a car, and one not so typical. The not so typical one? The Lacrosse super is only rated at an even 300 horsepower due to larger, more aggressive mufflers. Similarly to how Livia Soprano “Does not like that kinda talk!”, the elderly that this car was marketed towards did not want V8 burble corrupting them, or their grandchildren.

The suspension was re-tuned to be a little more taut, but still compliant. It received bigger brakes from the Grand Prix GXP as well. On the outside, you got four ‘Ventiports’ on each front fender. I’m assuming this was to let others at the retirement home know you would indeed beat them to bingo. If they weren’t convinced by your Ventiports, two chrome exhaust tips adorned the revised rear fascia. The front fascia was also altered to be more aggressive, albeit in an, ‘extra cinnamon on my oatmeal’ kind of way.

The interior was changed to be more like a living room, with nicer seats, and thicker carpets. To sum up the vehicle in a single sentence I would refer to Motortrend’s now decades-old review which refers to the Super as, “a whole lot of Buick for $1980 less than a Lexus ES350.” However, despite being designed for the elderly, the Super could still sprint to 60 in just 5.7 seconds, and reach a top speed of 150 miles-per-hour.

The primary reason behind this car behind my favorite of the bunch is that if you bought one, you could say, “Let’s take the Super.”

If you do plan on buying one, they are almost all under ten thousand dollars, but they are not very common. The cheapest one I found was about $3k.

The other LS4 children are all very similarly priced, but I believe the Lacrosse Super to be the rarest (don’t @ me). For some reason I cannot put my finger on, It’s the one I would have.

Let’s face it; None of these are particularly great. They have glass transmissions, and they’re front-wheel-drive, full-sized cars. They’re all automatic, and according to every review I’ve laid eyes upon, the steering is completely dead.

So why not just cut to the chase and lean into it? Get the softest, most dead, most comfortable version. I think it also looks the best in a weird kind of way. I think it’s the most handsome, understated of the bunch. This car probably devours highway like nothing else. This vehicle, at the very least, is Comfortably Numb.

It’s the Clint Eastwood of the bunch. Not the Clint Eastwood from Fistful of Dollars–the Clint Eastwood we know today–eighty-nine year old Clint Eastwood. I know this isn’t actually a good car, but it’s a Buick with a V8.

When this thing was released, (and arguably to this day) Buick was living a pretty sad existence. It knew (for a while probably) it could never make anything like the ’65 Riviera, or GNX, ever again. Cars like that were never coming back. Even if this car wasn’t very good, wouldn’t you rather have this type of Buick instead of what Buicks are now?

This car isn’t even Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, but putting your foot down, it might make you wonder; “did paw’ used to kill folks?”

Happy Holidays, see you tomorrow.

 

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