First Drive

2017 Buick LaCrosse First Drive

It's unwaveringly pleasant, even on a twisty road.

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  • Engine
    3.6L V6
  • Power
    310 HP / 282 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    8-Speed Automatic
  • Drivetrain
    Front- or All-Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    3598 (FWD) / 3840 (AWD)
  • Seating
  • Cargo
    15 CU FT.
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
The 2017 Buick LaCrosse seems destined to never get the credit it deserves. It's bound to be dismissed as just another full-size sedan relic, ignored by those who habitually visit their Lexus dealer every few years for a new ES. This new LaCrosse will inevitably be overshadowed in the Buick showroom by SUVs and never fully appreciated by the majority of its buyers who simply want a big, comfy, and quiet car.

That destiny would be a shame. The completely redesigned LaCrosse is now a legitimate luxury car, not because advertisements say it is, but for the way it drives, the way it looks, and the way it cossets you inside. The former is really the most impressive, since it's also the most surprising.

During the LaCrosse press launch in Portland, Oregon, Buick boasted how comfortable and exceedingly quiet the car is, and indeed, it isolates road imperfections and allows for a pair of low talkers to converse in subdued tones. The big Buick sedan's low-effort steering will also satisfy the nice-and-easy tastes of most drivers. The best way to describe driving the LaCrosse is "unwaveringly pleasant."

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Yet, during that pleasant drive, road dips and mid-corner undulations don't make the comfort-tuned suspension bob and bound like its competitors might. Its body control and generally planted nature encourage speeds and confidence to creep ever so higher through successive sweeping corners on Oregon's densely forested Mist-Clatskanie Highway. Even that low-effort steering demonstrates precision, linearity, and just enough feedback to further spur on such a pace.

This unexpected capability is best observed on cars equipped with the optional 20-inch wheels, which supplant the standard 18s and, more importantly, bring with them Continuous Damping Control (CDC) and GM's HiPer Strut front suspension, which is designed to quell torque steer and further improve cornering grip. You don't even have to engage CDC's firmer Sport mode to appreciate the LaCrosse's surprisingly sharp road manners.

"We unleashed the engineers," chief engineer Jeffrey Yanssens said after our test drive. "I told them, 'I don't care how much it costs. I want you to know your system and I want your system to be the best it can be. What do you have to do to make that happen and what can I do to enable you to make that happen?'"

Yanssens is honest and clearly proud of his team's work. There's no PR-OK'd script, and he almost embodies the car's Rodney Dangerfield-like struggle for respect as the thin press presentations focused more on styling and marketing. He clearly wants it known that this wasn't business as usual.

2017 Buick LaCrosse Ride and Handling | Autoblog Short Cuts

There was plenty of effort made to improve performance and efficiency as well. GM's next-generation, direct-injected 3.6-liter V6 is the only engine offered, boasting 310 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque. With about 300 pounds less than the last generation car, the 2017 LaCrosse should now have a considerable acceleration advantage over the Lexus ES 350, which has a roughly equal curb weight yet 42 fewer horsepower. The base Lincoln MKZ weighs about 120 pounds more and is down 76 horses (although the 2017 MKZ gets an optional 400-hp V6 that the LaCrosse won't attempt to match).

An eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, while the top trim level, Premium, can be bolstered with an all-wheel-drive system capable of shunting rear power from left to right through a twin-clutch torque vectoring differential. Even with front-wheel drive, though, that ample power doesn't result in torque steer, with or without HiPer Strut.

Refreshingly, the throttle isn't overtly tuned to bolster fuel economy. Engineers instead turned to a standard lineup of usual but well-executed fuel-saving suspects. Active aero shutters are hidden behind the grille, while a cylinder deactivation system is so imperceptible there's not even a gauge light indicating you're running in V4 mode. The automatic stop/start system isn't quite as unobtrusive, but it's still one of the best systems we've experienced.

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"We said to ourselves, 'We're going to be so good at [auto stop/start] that we're not going to include an off button,'" Yanssens said. So they didn't. The fact we hadn't bothered looking for one would serve as proof that his team succeeded in part, but there are nevertheless bound to be times, especially in gridlock traffic, when an off button would be appreciated

As it stands, Buick says EPA-estimated fuel economy will be 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway with front-wheel drive. That happens to be what the ES 350 got in 2016, although changes to EPA measurement methods for 2017 may alter its figures downward once announced. The all-wheel-drive LaCrosse is rated at 20/29 mpg.

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Even the most basic LaCrosse, at $32,990, offers generous standard content. That includes a high-quality cabin with simulated leather tastefully stitched together to cover ample padding on the doors, dash, and center console. The wood trim is convincing and tastefully applied, though there was just enough sunlight poking through on an overcast Oregon day to reveal typical GM sun-reflecting metallic trim.

The standard 8.0-inch IntelliLink touchscreen also falls victim to glare at times and may be difficult to reach for some drivers. Its high placement makes it easy to see, however, and this latest GM system (much like the identical Chevy MyLink system) deserves praise for its quick responses and large, easily pressed icons. In the LaCrosse, it also comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, as well as 4G LTE onboard WiFi.

2017 Buick LaCrosse - 360° Interior | Autoblog 360°

Moving down the gradually cascading center stack, the LaCrosse introduces a new electronic shifter that frees up the high center console for conveniently placed cupholders, a dedicated smartphone slot, and an under-console storage area of questionable utility. The shifter itself (used on the Cadillac XT5 crossover and to be shared with the Chevy Bolt and no doubt other vehicles) features a unique shift pattern that requires the driver to move it up toward Neutral then left to reach Reverse. This was done to ensure a deliberate decision to shift into Reverse, which is probably prudent, but some are bound to dislike the unusual shift pattern.

2017 Buick LaCrosse Electronic Shifter | Autoblog Short Cuts

Inside, each upper trim level adds additional luxury niceties, like a power-adjustable wheel to the Preferred ($36,990), leather seating to the Essence ($39,590), and ventilated massaging seats to the Premium ($41,990 FWD, $44,190 AWD). Advanced safety features like forward collision auto-brake and blind-spot warning are available on the Essence and Premium.

Some may find this big sedan to be a little short on interior space. There is certainly an abundance of legroom with 2.7 extra inches of wheelbase in the new model, but with a roofline that's 1.6 inches lower than before, seated comfort is a bit compromised. Taller drivers are likely to find a legs-and-arms-out position, while those in back may find the low-mounted seat has insufficient thigh support and only just enough headroom. It should be noted that the Lexus ES back seat isn't that much better, though a Toyota Avalon's is.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Trunk space is clearly improved from the last LaCrosse, and not just in terms of overall cubic feet, which increase from 13.3 to 15. "We did not design the rear of the old car well, specifically the opening," Yanssens admitted.

There were awkward intrusions by the wheel wells, structural components, and gooseneck hinge shrouds in the last-generation LaCrosse. These are no more, and quite notably, the wider trunk can now easily swallow sets of golf clubs. It is a Buick, after all.

And indeed, as a Buick, the LaCrosse is expected to feature "beautiful, timeless design." At least, so says the marketing brief, as the brand's best-selling Encore would indicate otherwise. The last LaCrosse wasn't exactly a 1964 Riviera, either.

The 2017 LaCrosse's design, by contrast, is cohesive, tasteful, and nicely proportioned, with the tiny fender portholes being the rare misstep. They were less tacked on and Pep Boys-ish in the original sketches. A keen eye will also note that Buick has returned the original colors to its emblem and it's hard to argue with the decision.

Perhaps it'll help the 2017 Buick LaCrosse attract the attention it deserves and show that destiny is just for the superstitious and hopefully-named children. The LaCrosse is no longer just another entry in a full-size sedan segment hemorrhaging sales, but rather an honest-to-goodness luxury sedan that backs up Buick's premium intentions better than anything else in its lineup.

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