With the 2017 LaCrosse, GM’s Dowdy Buick Is Moving on Up
In fact, last year Buick outsold Cadillac, Audi, and Lincoln in total U.S. auto sales. In China, the brand is a bona fide star, selling more than 1 million units there in 2016, which is more than 80 percent of total Buick sales worldwide, second only to Volkswagen, ahead of Toyota, Honda, Chevy, Ford, and other brands that lead the sales charts in the U.S.
The LaCrosse, a $32,990 full-size sedan it has sold since 2004, is its most recognizable modern car. Total global sales of the LaCrosse have exceeded 900,000 units since 2009; that helped the brand add a full percentage point of market share last year and outpace its competitive set—so of course I wanted to drive it.
Making Strides Forward
I ended up getting my hands on the just-released, all-new 2017 Buick LaCrosse Premium FWD version for a week recently in New York. Sure, Bentley and BMW are closer matches for Pursuits readers—but Buick’s recent sales growth and product upgrades have the new model contesting similar sedans from Acura, Cadillac, Genesis, Infiniti, and Lexus. I wanted to see how the LaCrosse would compare.
The first thing to notice about the 2017 model is its body: longer, lower, and wider, with a smoother front and sides, plus updated rims, front fascia. and exterior lighting. High-intensity headlamps and LED signature lighting now come standard, as do LED tail lights.
These are not changes drastic enough to whip anybody’s neck as the car cruises by—but they take obvious cues from the popular Avenir concept Buick showed in 2015 in Detroit. They’re solid steps forward that successfully resisted car designers’ frequent obsession with adding weird cosmetic trills and bulges any time they try to make something look more “relevant.”
The 2017 LaCrosse weighs 300 pounds less than the previous model, thanks largely to Buick’s integration of high-strength steels and better sound-absorbing material throughout the car. What you save in weight you gain in efficiency: Mileage on the Premium FWD averages 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, which equals the Lincoln MKZ and just beats the Acura RLX, for instance. (Automatic start/stop is new for the 2017 model year, which helps efficiency, too; at this point the technology is mandatory for any car meant to stay competitive with the rest of the market.)
Choose between a $32,990 FWD or a $44,190 AWD on 18- or 20-inch aluminum wheels, plus an advanced dual-clutch AWD available on the $41,065 Premium version such as the one I drove. All come with an improved 3.6-liter, 310-horsepower V6 engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Speed specs are not the reason people buy a LaCrosse—this is the consummate car for getting from point A to point B without really remembering how you got there, after all—but the 5.9-second zero-60 mph sprint time on the new model can compete adequately with the MKZ and RLX.
But enough stats: How does it drive?
As expected, the feeling behind the wheel is good in that it is unnoticeable: Brakes are responsive if slightly soft; steering is accurate but not tight. Everything from the thud of the car door to the acceleration personality when you press the gas is engineered to avoid offense.
In short, the Buick LaCrosse is a bowl of warm oatmeal, sans cinnamon and sugar—you’ll be healthy if you eat it every day, but life will be bland, too.
Space Inside, With Some Misses
The interior of the LaCrosse, while improved over previous generations and not as cheaply made as you might expect, still needs some work. The biggest eyesore is the dashboard, which has components stacked like pancakes and divided by a huge center console that sweeps up the middle to separate the car into veritable tubs. It feels monstrous and too high in front of you, rather than sleek or useful.
On the other hand, it's spacious and quiet. The front seats come with heating and ventilation; they also have massage and lumbar control available at the touch of a button. It’s a shame their shape ruins it all. Overly bulbous, they mimic the feeling of the new oversize electronic shifter in the too-wide console and are extremely uncomfortable, like an overstuffed faux leather chair that’s trying too hard. They’re not a place where you want to spend your free time.
Which is a shame because the tech improvements are on point. New to LaCrosse this year are lane-keep assist and pedestrian detection; the car offers automatic park assist as well. The adaptive suspension is new, too, as is the five-link rear suspension for better handling and comfort. What’s more, the standard model comes with 4G LTE Wi-FI, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, three things you can’t get at any price on a Lexus ES or Lincoln MKZ.
Plenty of good things do come standard with the LaCrosse Premium, too, such as a heated steering wheel, lane-keep assist, and an air filtration system. But you’ll still need to buy the “Sun and Shade” and “Sights and Sounds” packages ($1,550 and $1,145, respectively), because the car will feel bare without a sunroof, navigation, and decent audio system. Add those in, and you’ve got a decent, reliable, full-size sedan.
But that’s the thing—by the time you spend the $48,395 it costs to get the LaCrosse to this level, you’re creeping into Audi/BMW/Mercedes territory. A BMW 5 Series costs $50,000; a 4 Series costs $41,000. Those are superior cars. If the price tag is basically the same, who would buy a Buick over a BMW? No one I know. At least outside of China.