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2017 Buick LaCrosse Test Drive Review
Buick redesigns its full-size sedan and creates a premium car with the power to appeal beyond the AARP crowd.
Within the General Motors hierarchy of brands, Buick has always served as a bridge between less-expensive Chevrolets and more-expensive Cadillacs. From time to time throughout its long history, Buick has built youthful cars, it has built performance cars, and it has built world-class cars. The image that sticks, however, is based on the chrome-encrusted barges Buick peddled for decades to older and wealthier people who did not or would not buy a Caddy. Times are changing, though, and the redesigned 2017 Buick LaCrosse is a perfect example illustrating the company’s metamorphosis.
Look and Feel
Skeptics might deduce that thinning gray hair, an expanding waistline, and the fast-approaching semi-centennial celebration of my birth could be why I find the 2017 Buick LaCrosse so appealing. I must admit that I do like a car that's easy to slide into and out of, and seats that supply both heating and a massage represent a truly wonderful treat for my increasingly aching back.
In the case of the new 2017 LaCrosse, though, you can banish stereotypes and pre-conceived notions. This is a genuinely impressive car: attractive to behold, comfortable to cruise in, and unexpectedly rewarding to drive.
Buick offers the LaCrosse in Base, Preferred, Essence, and Premium trims, and pricing starts at just $32,990, including the $925 destination charge. My test car was the top-of-the-line LaCrosse Premium, equipped with every option package and priced at $48,395.
You can shave more than $3,500 off that price by ditching the metallic paint, panoramic sunroof, automatic parking-assist system, and adaptive cruise control, but that also means you’ll have to give up automatic emergency braking capability.
Remarkably balanced and cohesive, the LaCrosse’s exterior styling looks good, especially when equipped with its larger 20-inch wheels. In fact, I can’t find a jarring line on this car, aside from where the front fascia is fitted to the front fender.
Deftly integrated Ventiports and curvaceous haunches hearken back to Buicks of old, while the company’s new winged logo grille leads the way up front. The taillight design recalls decade-old Honda Civics, half-decade-old Toyota Camrys, the current Honda Pilot, and the new Volvo S90, so it’s not original. However, Buick executes it in exceptionally appealing fashion. My only gripe is that metallic paint costs a minimum of $395 extra. Bah!
Inside, the LaCrosse’s cabin displays fluidity, symmetry, cohesiveness, and restraint. Personally, I would prefer a color other than my test car’s Ebony leather. Other choices include Brandy and Light Neutral.
Structurally, the 2017 LaCrosse is rock solid, especially compared to the previous model, which felt like it was constructed out of al dente noodles.
Buick builds the new LaCrosse on a stretched version of the Chevrolet Malibu platform, and the car loses several hundred pounds while gaining a far more robust architecture. That weight loss and those structural improvements, combined with a satisfying 3.6-liter V6 engine and a decisive 8-speed automatic transmission, go a long way toward making the LaCrosse an enjoyable car to drive.
The 3.6-liter V6 is the same direct-injected motor GM uses in several of its products, tuned to deliver 310 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 282 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm. The 8-speed automatic transmission feeds the power to the LaCrosse’s front wheels, unless you spend an extra $2,200 to obtain the available all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. According to the EPA, my front-wheel-drive (FWD) test car should have gotten 25 mpg in combined driving, but it averaged 23.2 mpg on my evaluation loop.
Pulling hard and sounding refined, the V6 engine is isolated from the cabin. The shifter mechanism is unnecessarily finicky (and is identical to the one installed in the Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia, which share the LaCrosse’s engine and transmission), but you acclimate fairly quickly to the odd shift pattern. Buick even provides a set of paddle shifters, and you might even be inspired to use them.
Occasionally, when the car is in Touring mode, downshifts are delayed, but the transmission figures things out pretty quickly. It also does a great job of holding a gear going up mountain grades and downshifts for added engine braking when descending the other side.
Choose the Sport driving mode, and the Buick’s behavioral changes are most noticeable in the steering and available continuously adaptive damping suspension. The ride stiffens up, perhaps too much so, and the steering requires more muscle in corners. Roll is almost non-existent, though, and the suspension instantly damps unwanted motions. The brakes are excellent, too, perfectly tuned and equipped with Duralife rotors that last longer than typical components.
My test car also had the upgraded HiPer Strut front suspension design as well as 20-inch wheels wrapped in 245/40 Bridgestone Potenza performance all-season tires. The end result is a remarkably capable car in terms of handling. Honestly, though, while hustling the big Buick down Mulholland Highway between Decker Road and Pacific Coast Highway, I almost preferred Touring mode, because that setting allows for some suspension bob, weave, and roll to better signal the car’s behavior and limits.
Either way, the LaCrosse feels unexpectedly light, especially up front. Steering is accurate and agreeably responsive, making the car easy to place in a turn with little correction required as the LaCrosse takes a set and zips around a corner. Despite its sizable dimensions, this Buick is almost tossable. If the seat bolsters did a better job of holding the driver tightly behind the steering wheel, Buick might even be tempted to offer a GS version of the car.
Around town, you’re going to want to use Touring mode, mainly because the suspension is too stiff in Sport mode. I do, however, prefer Sport mode’s added on-center heft for freeway driving, though. Seems like Buick needs to add a programmable Individual mode for drivers like me.
Buick has made a mark for its QuietTuning approach to cabin noise suppression, and while the LaCrosse’s mechanicals are quelled and wind noise isn’t much of an issue, more road rumble makes its way into the cabin than I expected of a full-size Buick. That could, however, be due to the sticky tires on my test car.
Despite the unexpected road noise, having spent a week driving the new LaCrosse, I confidently assert that this car will change your mind about what a full-size Buick represents. Your skepticism is warranted. But if you get a chance to drive a LaCrosse Premium with the Dynamic Drive Package on a road you know well, one that allows you to maximize velocity in order to explore handling limits, this Buick is going to pleasantly surprise you.
Form and Function
Interior quality impresses, especially given the LaCrosse’s base price of about $33,000, but the turn signal feels somewhat flimsy and weak, a definite oversight on Buick’s part given how common a touch point it is. Also, I found the LaCrosse’s new-car smell rather overpowering, and not in a good way.
Dashboard design continues the waterfall theme of the previous LaCrosse, complete with storage under the bridge that contains the transmission shifter and cup holders. That bridge sweeps dramatically down and between the seats, and it can get in the way of the driver’s right elbow. It definitely represents a case of form over function.
Controls are minimized for a clean and simple aesthetic, but Buick thoughtfully provides knobs and buttons for accessing the most commonly used stereo and climate functions. The center-console storage box is a decent size, but it would be nice if there were also bin of some kind, aside from the car’s lower storage trays and door-panel pockets.
Seat comfort is sublime, and if you’re tall, you’re going to want to check out this Buick. An impressive range of seat and steering-wheel adjustment ensures that virtually anyone will find a comfortable driving position. My Premium trim test car’s front seats also included heating, ventilation, and a lumbar massage function. The steering wheel was heated too, but I found the wheel rim oddly shaped and not terribly comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
A spacious rear seating area supplies plenty of leg and foot room, and the bottom seat cushion positions occupants high in the car with terrific thigh support. Buick stumbles a bit by offering a power rear-window sunshade but no manual side-window shades, and by failing to provide a USB charging port or two for backseat occupants to use.
For 2017, the LaCrosse’s trunk grows to provide 15 cubic feet of space, and Buick provides a handle on the inside of the lid that can be used to swing it shut. However, this full-size sedan still provides no better than midsize-car cargo volume.
Another way Buick is banishing its fuddy-duddy brand image is by offering one of the best infotainment systems in the business, one that equips the car with robust subscription services, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot connection, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection capability, and much more.
Don’t get nervous. The latest version of Buick’s IntelliLink technology is expertly designed for ease of understanding and use, making for an excellent user experience.
Lush graphics, a responsive touchscreen, and logical menus make it easy for beginners to set the car up to their personal preferences, and they also make it easy to use the system while the car is underway. Plus, there is a knob for adjusting volume or zooming the navigation map, flanked by useful tuning buttons and both “Home” and “Back” buttons. And the climate controls are completely separate from the touch screen.
Available as an option, the Bose Centerpoint audio system sounds good, too, and the extra-cost heads-up display is easily visible even when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses. A wireless charging slot grips a smartphone, preventing it from flinging itself across the cabin when taking a turn, and Buick also offers automatic parking-assist technology for the LaCrosse.
In addition to its robust IntelliLink system, the 2017 LaCrosse can be fitted with a long list of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies, and my loaded test car had ‘em all.
Full-speed-range adaptive cruise control works with remarkable refinement and sophistication, slowing the car gradually, “seeing” well enough in turns that it doesn’t lose traffic ahead, and accelerating smoothly (if not quickly).
A forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking is paired with the adaptive cruise control system. On one occasion, it falsely identified a potential collision for some reason, perhaps due to harsh winter sunlight and dark shadows cast upon the road. But the system quickly determined that a threat did not actually exist and therefore did not activate the emergency braking system.
Like so many vehicles I test, the LaCrosse’s lane-departure prevention system failed to understand that Pacific Coast Highway was narrowing from two lanes to one, and the steering momentarily resisted my merge to the right. This behavior could cause panic in the uninitiated, so be aware that you can override any automated steering input that the software code might deem necessary.
Buick provides its blind-spot information warning on the mirror where it belongs. I also like GM’s unique safety-alert seat design, which vibrates in response to potential threats to get the driver’s attention, and the LaCrosse also comes with a new reminder system that provides an alert to the driver to check the back seat before leaving the vehicle. The warning sounds only when you’ve opened one of the LaCrosse’s back doors prior to departing on your drive.
Teen Driver technology is also offered for the LaCrosse. If you’ve got a new driver in the household, this system allows parents to set specific vehicle limits for a key fob that Mom and Dad can designate for their teenage son or daughter. The system also provides a driving report card to parents, one showing how fast and far the car was driven, how many times the forward-collision warning system activated, and other pertinent information.
The standard OnStar subscription services technology is free for a trial period, and then requires a monthly or annual fee. It provides automatic collision notification, emergency calling, and a range of other services.
Federal crash-test results were released following our LaCrosse video shoot, and the car earned a 5-star overall rating. The NHTSA reports that the LaCrosse earned 5-star ratings across the board aside from two exceptions, in which the car received 4 stars for front passenger protection in a frontal-impact collision and 4 stars for driver protection in a side-impact collision.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has conducted a handful of assessments of the new LaCrosse. The car receives top ratings in the moderate overlap frontal impact test and the side impact test, combined with a Basic rating for crash avoidance and mitigation. The IIHS will certainly conduct more tests on the LaCrosse in the months to come.
As good as the new Buick LaCrosse is, this is not a cost-effective solution to your transportation requirements. Midsize cars are frequently just as comfortable and just as sophisticated, but at a comparative discount. In fact, Buick is getting ready to reveal a redesigned Regal, and if the photos and details associated with the car on which it will be based (the Opel Insignia) are any indication, the next Regal could render the LaCrosse invisible within Buick’s lineup.
On the other hand, you can get a loaded LaCrosse for little more than $50,000. Compared to midsize luxury sedans, that’s a bargain. And the Buick LaCrosse Premium is, for all intents and purposes, a luxury car.
Another problem this Buick faces is that people spending this kind of money on a new vehicle are more likely to choose a three-row crossover SUV than a big sedan like the LaCrosse. Good thing for Buick fans, then, that rumor has it the redesigned 2018 Enclave will be based on a version of this car’s platform.
If you’re looking for a big, comfortable sedan with an upscale look and feel, the new Buick LaCrosse is an impressive effort. Styling is beautifully balanced inside and out, driving dynamics are pleasing, equipment levels cover nearly all of the bases, and comfort impresses no matter which seat you take.
In short, there are few reasons to criticize the redesigned 2017 LaCrosse, and many reasons to praise it.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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