Buick LaCrosse Road Test

First Drive

Redesigned 2017 Buick LaCrosse Walks a Fine Line
Large sedan tries to allure a younger audience yet satisfy traditionalists

Overview

The modern Buick showroom has become an international clearinghouse. Crossovers from China (Envision) and South Korea (Encore) sit next to European-inspired sports sedans (Regal) and a German convertible (Cascada), with a hefty three-row SUV (Enclave) mixed in for good measure. Amidst this crazy-quilt of products sits the redesigned Buick LaCrosse, the final holdout to the traditional definition of Buick--big sedans for mature drivers for whom Cadillacs are too flashy.

Outdated, floaty, road-going couches have been banished from the Buick lineup, as GM seeks to redefine the brand. The previous-generation LaCrosse added some panache to the tranquility. While the car's ride comfort and quietness appealed to Buick's traditionally older circle of buyers, GM also managed to sneak in contemporary driving dynamics.

The latest LaCrosse, which we rented from GM prior to us buying one for a formal road test, keeps that trend alive with the same hushed cabin, ample power, and sound handling. By definition, large sedans are meant to be easy-going road trip companions, majoring on tranquility, room, and comfort, all without taxing you with the premium price of an elite luxury brand.

Impressions

The 2017 LaCrosse is longer, wider, and lower than the outgoing model--a typical trifecta commonly associated with redesigns. But that lower stance make the new LaCrosse harder to get in and out, especially compared to chair-height crossovers that have been stealing sales from sedans. Then again, the LaCrosse smartly matches SUVs by offering all-wheel drive, making it one of the few large affordable sedans available (along with the Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger and Ford Taurus) with that snowbelt-friendly feature. Big sedan heavy-hitters like the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon are strictly front-wheel drive.

Either way, GM fits its latest 3.6-liter V6 engine in the LaCrosse, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Power is plentiful, with enough reserve punch for stress-free merging. One noteworthy observation is the vroom on startup which might raise an eyebrow for a Buick.

The ride of the LaCrosse we rented is mostly agreeable, but comfort depends on how you option the car. The AWD Premium trim we drove has 20-inch wheels and a continuously damping suspension. It struggles to compete with road impact, as some harshness sneaks through in a very un-Buick way. We expect cars with the 18-inch wheels to ride better, hopefully emulating its platform mate Chevrolet Impala's ride and handling balance.

Buick promotes library-like quiet as a brand cornerstone, and despite its diversity, most of the lineup lives up to the boast. The LaCrosse definitely ticks the box of the quiet requirement, thanks to a list of acoustic improvements, including active noise cancellation and laminated glass.

The LaCrosse interior isn’t flashy. For some, that may be a good thing because the older LaCrosse had lots going on, including too many buttons. The new uncluttered dash is easy to read. In fact, the entire interior is simplified. GM's current infotainment system is one of the best in the industry and has standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Our biggest gripe about the controls is the new electronic gear selector. Drivers used to a traditional PRNDL configuration--in other words, those drivers who kept the lights on for Buick for many years--will be puzzled, if not angered. Beyond that, the design could prevent the driver from finding the desired gear quickly at a critical time, which could be potentially dangerous.

Big sedans promise plenty of space and the LaCrosse delivers, with generously proportioned front and back seats. Visibility was horrible in the previous LaCrosse because of billboard-sized windshield pillars becoming blinders in corners. The redesign has thinner--but not supermodel thin--roof pillars. Rear visibility still isn’t great due to a high package shelf.

Safety-wise, forward-collision warning and emergency braking should be more widely available. (We want both to be standard on all cars.) FCW is standard on top Premium trim but not available on the more mainstream Essence trim line. At least the Essence has the option of blind-spot warning with lane change alert and rear cross-traffic alert.

CR's Take

Buick has been able to attract a new--and possibly even younger--crowd to the marque with crossovers like the Encore and Enclave. In redesigning the brand’s most traditional product, they hope to have the same effect with the LaCrosse, yet remain faithful to the traditionalists. But we’re not sure that a newfangled shifter and a lower stance will satisfy either crowd.

We just bought an Essence version for $43,225. Look for a full road test, after we start testing the LaCrosse.

New Car Reliability Prediction


Warranty

All cars come with basic warranty coverage, also known as a bumper-to-bumper warranty. This protects consumers against unexpected problems with non-wear items. Powertrain warranty protects against engine and transmission troubles. Rust through, or corrosion warranty, covers rust to non-damaged components. Roadside aid provides on-location assistance in case of a breakdown and may include limited towing services.

Extended warranties provide peace of mind. Owners of models known to have worse-than-average predicted reliability can mitigate risks with an extended warranty. Generally, we recommend buying a model with better-than-average reliability and skipping this expensive add on. If you do buy an extended warranty, it is key to read the small print to understand what is covered and where you can bring the car for repairs.

Basic (years/miles)
4/50000

Powertrain (years/miles)
6/70000

Rust through (years/miles)
6/100000

Roadside aid (years/miles)
6/70000