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2017 Buick LaCrosse Road Test and Review

by Andy Bornhop
August 17, 2016
6 min. Reading Time
2017 Buick LaCrosse on road ・  Photo by Buick

2017 Buick LaCrosse on road ・ Photo by Buick

Buick’s on a roll. For each of the last three years, its global sales have exceeded one million vehicles, helped by the brand’s enormous popularity in China. Perhaps more telling: Some 50 percent of Buick buyers now come from other makes, an indicator that the marque is effectively shedding its image as an old person’s car.

Which brings to mind the LaCrosse, Buick’s large front-wheel-drive luxury sedan. More than any other car in the lineup, it’s the traditional Buick. But for 2017, an all-new techno-packed LaCrosse—with handsome styling influenced by the dramatic Avenir show car—seeks to shatter that stodgy image and begin competing with cars like the Lexus ES 350. Has Buick succeeded? Let’s find out in this Autobytel review of the 2017 Buick LaCrosse.

First Step: Talk to Customers

According to Chief Engineer Jeff Yanssens, Buick asked loyal LaCrosse owners what they didn’t like about their cars. His two primary takeaways: The view out the windshield wasn’t great, because of the thick A-pillars and high cowl. Also, the previous LaCrosse had too much interior noise, much of it from the rear of the vehicle.

Thinner windshield pillars and a lower cowl on the 2017 LaCrosse address the forward view, as do new rearview mirrors. These mount on door pedestals and the small gap created between the A-pillar and mirror expands the driver’s field of vision. As for Buick’s dedicated efforts to make the new 2017 LaCrosse “LibraryQuiet,” the company uses spray-on substrates, acoustic glass, various barrier layers, and a new (but very expensive) dissipative material in the dash. There’s even active noise cancellation through the stereo, just like on your noise-canceling headphones.

 Photo by Andy Bornhop

Photo by Andy Bornhop

New LaCrosse Chassis

Although it’s built in the same Hamtramck, Michigan, plant as the Cadillac CT6 and Chevrolet Impala, the 2017 Lacrosse, says Yanssens, has its own body structure, which Buick developed and weighs 150 lb. less than that of the previous car, thanks to press-hardened and high-strength steels. With a wider track and a longer wheelbase (up by 2.7 inches), the 2017 LaCrosse has more of a wheels-at-the-corners stance, and the sleek new roofline, 1.6 in. lower than before, makes the car look wider, although actual width is up by less than half an inch. Of note, the LaCrosse’s new 5-link rear suspension is more compact, so Buick has been able to move it (and the fuel tank) rearward to create a bit more legroom in back.


Weight is the Enemy

The new chassis is 150 lb. lighter than the previous car’s, but the new 2017 Buick LaCrosse weighs about 300 lb. less than the 2016 model. Yanssens likens that to a Kenmore side-by-side refrigerator being removed from the car, which improves acceleration, braking, cornering, fuel efficiency, everything. Where did Buick find this 300 lb.? Beyond the larger but lighter unit-body chassis, the company cites lighter electric window lifts and aluminum seat frames, plus numerous other weight-saving efforts throughout the car.

 Photo by Andy Bornhop

Photo by Andy Bornhop

The Powertrain

The 2017 Buick Lacrosse still has a 3.6-liter V6, but this one’s new, a second-generation engine designed from the ground up with stop-start functionality. With double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, this direct-injected transverse aluminum V6 smoothly produces 305 horsepower and 268 lb.-ft. of torque, which is sent to the front wheels via an Aisin 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

In steady-state cruising, Active Fuel Management cuts fuel to cylinders 2 and 5, improving economy by about 1 mpg on the highway. Also saving fuel is stop-start, which shuts the engine off at red lights and automatically starts it the moment the driver lifts off the brake. These restarts are especially smooth in the new LaCrosse thanks to active cam phasers that lower the compression momentarily to reduce any starting harshness.

 Photo by Andy Bornhop

Photo by Andy Bornhop

Style, Style, Style

Cars are so competent these days that an even greater emphasis has been placed on styling, and the 2017 Buick LaCrosse is no exception. Using a “timeless and progressive” theme, Buick’s designers looked to the recent Avenir and vintage Wildcat II show cars for inspiration. Although initial LaCrosse drawings came from GM design studios around the world, the American entry was chosen. Buick aficionados will see the Avenir’s wing on the new LaCrosse’s grille, which is a darkened waterfall design that now sports a tricolor Buick badge.

We like the look of the new LaCrosse; it’s modern and sculpted, with lots of neat details. The wing on the grille, for instance, flows into the body sides, where other character lines flow rearward and come together in a pleasing way at the back doors. Also, although we like how the liberal use of chrome ups the luxury quotient, the strips on the lower bodysides of the LaCrosse are a bit much.

 Photo by General Motors

Photo by General Motors

Beautiful Interior

That strong sense of style continues inside the new LaCrosse, where four adults fit comfortably and five can manage. The materials, many soft-touch, are of good quality, and the stitching on the dash and door panels is exquisite. It’s a rich environment, enhanced by real wood trim. At the top of the center stack is an 8-in. color screen for Buick’s IntelliLink; the touchscreen, similar in sensitivity and feel to an iPhone, is positioned within easy reach of the driver and front passenger. Besides a tilt/telescope steering wheel, the 2017 LaCrosse has clear analog-style instrumentation that, unexpectedly, even includes an oil temperature gauge. Also appreciated: Releases in the trunk allow the rear seatbacks to fold forward for increased cargo capacity.

 Photo by General Motors

Photo by General Motors

Which Model is for You?

There are four models of the 2017 Buick Lacrosse: Standard ($32,990), Preferred ($36,990), Essence ($39,590), and Premium ($41,990 with FWD, $44,190 with AWD). The Standard is reasonably well equipped, fitted with OnStar 4G LTE with WiFi, rear park assist, power front seats, 10 airbags and an 8-speaker sound system. Preferred gets you a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, Sirius satellite radio, and bright-finish 18-in. wheels. The Essence adds articulating headlamps and heated, leather-covered front seats with lumbar, plus three available option packages: a moonroof/power rear sunshade for $1550, an upgraded Bose audio with Navigation for $1145, and a $445 Driver Confidence I package that pairs Lane Change Alert with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. The Essence, it’s important to note, is available with 20-inch wheels, part of a $1625 package that includes adaptive damping (with HiPer Strut front suspension on FWD models).

The flagship model is the Premium, the only LaCrosse available with AWD. In addition to a heated steering wheel, the Premium has forward collision alert, a head-up display, lane keep assist and even a wireless charging station for your phone. Adaptive cruise control, along with automatic parking assist and forward automatic braking and front pedestrian braking, is a $1690 option exclusive to the Premium. Loaded to the faux portholes with every option, an all-wheel-drive 2017 Buick LaCrosse will set you back about $50,000.

 Photo by General Motors

Photo by General Motors

How it Drives

If you think the visual change is dramatic, it pales in comparison to how the new 2017 Buick LaCrosse feels on the road. In short, it’s great. On the road to Astoria, Oregon, the LaCrosse displayed a comfortable, well-controlled ride and accurate light-effort steering. Yet when this road turned twisty, this big Buick acquitted itself well, displaying minimal body roll, powerful brakes, and a newfound agility that relates directly to the lighter chassis and better rear suspension. The engine is quiet, with plenty of power, and the 8-speed automatic always seems to shift at the right time, so I never felt the need to use the shift paddles.

It’s a refined experience, driving this new Buick, and the engine runs at a relaxed 1600 rpm at 60 mph. If you live in pothole country, the standard 18-in. wheels, shod with 235/50 tires, might be a wiser choice than the optional 245/40R-20s. That stated, the low-profile 20s are more responsive to steering inputs (especially when the adaptive suspension is in Sport mode), while still endowing the new LaCrosse with a dignified ride quality.

 Photo by General Motors

Photo by General Motors

Picking Nits

Not all is perfect in LaCrosseland. We wish Buick gave us a switch to shut off the LaCrosse’s stop-start. Headroom in back, at least in the sunroof model, isn’t great for folks over 6-feet. Also, we wish there was a small hood over the LaCrosse’s touchscreen because it can get a bit washed out when the sun’s directly overhead. Moreover, there’s no indicator light telling the driver when Active Fuel Management, is, well, active (it's nice to know when the LaCrosse is running on four cylinders).

Then there’s the electronic gear selector, which isn't exactly intuitive. While we know this spring-loaded selector with buttons can be learned—and that it makes it possible for the 2017 LaCrosse to have its nifty pass-through center console—is it really an improvement over a conventional PRNDL? We’re not sold. Sure, it gives the 2017 LaCrosse a contemporary techy feel, but you’ll struggle the first time you try to put this Buick in Reverse. Interestingly, Buick designers wanted a rotary gear selector, but the engineers won out with the joystick.

 Photo by Buick

Photo by Buick

Final Thoughts

Despite the niggling concerns, we like the new 2017 Buick LaCrosse a lot. It’s hugely improved inside and out, and it effectively blends a modern design with old-school comfort and a well-damped suspension that’s not the least bit floaty. At the same time, it has enough USB ports, infotainment options and connectivity tech (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) to please the younger buyers Buick so eagerly needs. What’s more, this big and quiet sedan—which has room for four golf bags in its trunk—is reasonably fuel efficient, the FWD model returning 31 MPG on the EPA highway cycle.

But back to the million-dollar question: Has Buick built a 2017 LaCrosse that can compete with the Lexus ES 350? It has. But without a direct back-to-back driving comparison, we can’t tell you which would win. And that, by itself, is a huge victory for this impressive new Buick.

 Photo by Buick

Photo by Buick


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