You’d be forgiven if Buick wasn’t the first brand to spring to mind when thinking about luxury vehicles.
Engine: 3.6L V6
Power: 309 hp, 268 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 20 city, 29 mpg hwy (AWD)
Can Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 11.8 city, 8.1 hwy (AWD)
US Price: Starts at $32,065 (before freight)
CAN Price: Starts at $35,445 (before freight)
That is something Buick hopes to change — and soon. It’s already got some momentum going, with the Cascada convertible in the U.S. and Envision midsize crossover signalling the start of an aggressive rollout that will see seven new or refreshed products hit showrooms by 2018. But there may be none more important than the 2017 Buick LaCrosse.
It’s no secret that Buick is overhauling its image in an attempt to shed the stigma, at least in North America, of serving society’s senior citizenry. To do so starts with good looks, something the new LaCrosse has in spades.
It begins with a new grille design that scales back the toothy grin of old for a more refined shape. The grille is also where the LaCrosse’s character lines begin and end, tracing all the way around the full-size sedan to accent its sleeker, elongated proportions. The car itself is only 15 millimeters longer and 10 millimeters wider than the outgoing version, but has a stance that would lead you to believe otherwise. The wheelbase has been stretched a whopping 65 millimeters, while the wheels have been pushed outward 33 millimeters up front and 28 millimeters around back, combining with a roofline that is 40 millimeters lower to give the LaCrosse a hunkered down look.
The LaCrosse’s exterior overhaul was about more than just a new form, though, with a host of changes made to improve its overall function. The car weighs 300 lbs — about the weight of a side-by-side refrigerator — less than the last generation thanks to the expanded use of high-strength steel, while outward visibility has been vastly improved thanks to narrower A- and C-pillars.
It’s hard to convey an upmarket appearance when so much of a car’s interior carries over from more mainstream models, a problem that isn’t unique to General Motors, but one that has plagued the automaker for years. Designers set out to change that in the 2017 LaCrosse, with little of the car’s interior shared with anything else in GM’s vast portfolio.
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A new cabin layout — the first in Buick’s lineup to feature a “single cockpit design” — envelops driver and passenger, and puts relevant information and controls within view and reach. Likewise, the new eight-inch touchscreen that sits atop the center stack can be operated comfortably from either front seat, and looks far superior to the square unit found in most of the rest of GM’s vehicles. Like the rest of bunch, it features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, as well as 4G LTE service with built-in WiFi. The infotainment system, Buick’s IntelliLink, is easy to use and can be optioned with navigation.
The LaCrosse’s interior can be had with as much class and character as the exterior — but it comes at a price. Features like heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel only come into play on top-mark Premium models, which is a quick way to push the price tag upward. Likewise, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring are only on Premium models, and come as part of an optional package on lower grade trims, while features like adaptive cruise control are only available on top-of-the-line cars.
All the important mechanical bits of the LaCrosse have been replaced for 2017 in a bid to improve the overall ride. A 3.6-liter direct-injected V6 makes its way under the hood and comes mated to a eight-speed shift-by-wire automatic transmission, while a five-link rear suspension setup has been added, along with available all-wheel drive.
The new engine, which makes 309 hp and 268 lb-ft, features idle-stop technology and cylinder deactivation to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy. That means the engine automatically shuts off when the car is stopped, and only runs on four cylinders when cruising at highway speeds. Power delivery is smooth if a little slow at times, while the idle-stop and cylinder deactivation systems work impeccably well, and go virtually unnoticed.
ALSO SEE: 2016 Cadillac CTS 3.6L AWD Review
The transmission is also new for 2017, and is a shift-by-wire unit that gets steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The console-mounted shifter can’t be described as counterintuitive — quite the opposite, actually — but rather counter to a more traditional mechanical style and takes some getting used to. Its position is fixed whether in park or drive, and is operated by simply depressing a button and pulling back to get rolling and by tapping a button on top to put it in park. The paddle shifters, meanwhile, can be activated by pulling back on the shifter for full-time use or by pulling on a paddle, say to use engine braking while heading downhill, for temporary use. Regardless of how it shifts, the transmission is quiet and even, with gear changes made without a fuss.
A twin-clutch all-wheel drive system, a first for Buick, works by splitting torque between the rear wheels to improve acceleration and cornering performance, while front-wheel drive models also benefit from improved ride and handling characteristics thanks to the available HiPer strut front suspension. Almost like a poor man’s MagneRide, the HiPer strut splits the strut into two components, one for steering and one for suspension duty, to boost stability and feel and reduce the torque steer typical of a front-wheel drive car.
Whether putting power down to two or four wheels, the LaCrosse can be had with 20-inch alloys, an option that also adds variable damping control and a sport mode. Mounted on the console, hitting the sport button noticeably changes the LaCrosse’s driving dynamics, adjusting suspension and steering feel and altering the shift points of the transmission. It’s unfortunate, however, that the suspension, steering and transmission can’t be altered independently of each other, with the steering feeling a little loose and floaty until sport mode is engaged.
Put the whole package together, and the LaCrosse handles long trips with ease, gobbling up bumps as eagerly is it carves a corner. It’s not as sporty as the turbocharged Buick Regal, but it’s composed and capable of providing at least some level of engagement.
The Verdict: 2017 Buick LaCrosse Review
Buick may not jump out at you as a luxury brand, instead falling somewhere between Chevrolet and Cadillac. But as the 2017 LaCrosse proves, the brand is more than capable of building smooth-driving sedans that can be about as opulent as you’re willing to pay for.