PORTLAND, Oregon – The Buick brand is slowly but surely gaining market share in the U.S. and Canada, after some very lean years with a small product lineup. As we might all know by now, Buick’s presence in the Chinese market is significant, which likely explains why it survived the economic meltdown of the domestic automakers back in 2009, while the Pontiac, HUMMER and Saturn divisions were given the boot.
Like many other brands, Buick figured out that a strong presence of SUVs in their lineup would increase sales. And thanks to the aging—but still surprisingly popular—Enclave, the Encore and the new, made-in-China Envision, there’s now a strong in-between choice separating Chevrolet and Cadillac on GM showroom floors.
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SUVs are good, but there’s still a good portion of buyers out there that prefer cars. Buick announced the arrival of seven new models by 2018, and number three—after the Cascada convertible that isn’t sold in Canada and the Envision—is this totally redesigned LaCrosse midsize sedan.
More than just new looks
The most significant change is the most obvious one. The car has been restyled, drawing inspiration from the Avenir and Avista concepts that recently toured the auto shows across North America. To give the LaCrosse a stronger visual presence, the front grille has been widened and the Buick crest is enhanced with chrome wings that really catch the eye.
The LaCrosse’s silhouette is elegant and voluptuous, with soft creases on the hood and bulges along the car’s flanks. The brand’s stylists spend a lot of time sculpting the area around the rear door handles, making sure the flow is harmonious and the light shadowing is just right. The boomerang-shaped taillights and ducktail trunklid also add finesse.
The attractive bodywork is bolted to an all-new chassis composed of more high-strength steel. Unlike the current trend in the automotive industry, Buick’s engineers told us that they didn’t rely on aluminum, because they feel it doesn’t reduce weight, since its lesser rigidity means you must use more of it. Only a front-end component is made of aluminum, the rest of the sedan’s chassis is built with different types of steel. However, that didn’t prevent the engineers from reducing the car’s weight by 300 lbs. (136 kg) while making it stiffer.
The new LaCrosse is longer, wider, lower and rides on a slightly longer wheelbase than the 2016 edition. Interior space is a few millimetres more or less, here and there, but the trunk is significantly bigger, growing from 376 to 425 litres.
The spec sheet might seem pretty similar compared to the outgoing LaCrosse’s, but the powertrain has actually changed. The new-generation 3.6-litre V6 is now more powerful, boasting 305 horsepower and 268 lb.-ft. of torque, and it’s managed by a new eight-speed automatic transmission. As before, front-wheel is standard, all-wheel drive is optional. The four-cylinder eAssist engine has been retired.
The 2017 Buick LaCrosse’s V6 engine is smooth and refined, and perfectly suited to the car’s mission. It isn’t as muscular as the numbers might suggest, but acceleration is nonetheless more than adequate, and very little torque steer was felt in the front-drive version of the car we drove. The eight-speed automatic seamlessly rows through its gears, although driving up hills and through bends en route from Portland to Astoria, the transmission occasionally felt like it was searching for the right gear.
The available AWD system favours the front wheels under normal driving, and uses a twin-clutch setup to send available power to the rear wheels if slippage occurs. Of course, we’ll have to validate this new system’s effectiveness in winter, but Buick engineers clearly pointed out that the LaCrosse’s AWD hardware wasn’t designed with performance in mind. Which makes sense. During our drive in the all-wheel-drive LaCrosse, the trip computer displayed a decent fuel economy average of 9.0 L/100 km.
A quiet ride
The LaCrosse’s strongest selling point is its high level of comfort and cabin quietness. The benchmark competitor being the Lexus ES 350, Buick sought out to make their sedan’s cockpit more serene by filtering out road noise with extensive sound insulation, and actively cancelling out noise frequencies that do manage to seep through the body. The result isn’t Mercedes-Benz S-Class quiet, but it’s a peaceful haven in which discussions can be carried out by simply whispering.
In addition, Buick succeeded in duplicating Lexus’ seat design, which has a cushy firmness, or firm cushiness, to them. After a couple of two-hour drives in 2017 Buick LaCrosse, the supportive seats proved very comfortable, and could likely stay that way for longer drives. There’s a generous amount of legroom in the rear-seat area, and as is the case with many other sedans, the bench is designed to emphasize the comfort of two occupants instead of three.
The latest version of the Buick IntelliLink infotainment system is standard in all versions, which integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although the navigation system is optional. As with many GM models with a similar setup, the eight-inch touchscreen is reactive to finger output and the menus are simple to browse through. The automaker said it worked hard to increase outward visibility, and there is an improvement over the outgoing LaCrosse, but the A-pillars are still pretty wide.
Four trim levels are available with the 2017 Buick LaCrosse, including base, Preferred, Essence and Premium. The latter is the only one that can be equipped with AWD. Pricing ranges from $35,345 to $47,400 before freight and delivery charges, undercutting rivals such as the Lexus ES 350, the Lincoln MKZ and the Genesis G80.
Among available high-end features are heated and ventilated seats covered in perforated leather, blind spot monitoring and lane change warning, automatic park assist, precollision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control as well as GM’s Safety Alert Seat. Ten airbags, a rearview camera and an intelligent key system are all standard.
For a little more handling character, a HiPer Strut front suspension and a damping control system with Touring and Sport modes are optional on the Essence and the front-drive Premium. The standard 18-inch wheels can also be upgraded to 20-inchers.
As the in-between brand in GM’s lineup, Buick can be often overlooked, or viewed as a purveyor of vehicles catered for the geriatric crowd. Is there room on the market for “affordable luxury” brands? Would our neighbours think we really wanted a car with a prestigious hood ornament, but couldn’t quite swing the monthly payments?
Or maybe we’re just making a rational purchase. If the sportiness of a BMW, a Cadillac or an Audi isn’t our cup of tea, we can be perfectly happy behind the wheel of the LaCrosse. And if the perception of our customers seeing us pull up in an expensive luxury car could be seen as if we’re overcharging them, arriving in a Buick will probably put those negative thoughts to rest. As for its benchmark, the Buick is nose to nose to the ES 350 in regards to seat comfort, refinement and smoothness, but doesn’t clearly surpass it.
Here’s the obvious conclusion. If we’re into performance, racy engine sounds and all the latest technological innovations, the 2017 Buick LaCrosse is not for us. On the other hand, if we’re simply looking for a stylish, comfortable and spacious sedan, one that offers a serene and relaxing driving experience, the new LaCrosse is a welcome improvement over the old one.