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2017 Buick LaCrosse: First Drive Review

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author photo by James Riswick August 2016

The 2017 Buick LaCrosse is a handsome car with a high-end interior, but when you drive it, it doesn't draw much attention to itself. And for a car like this, that's a good thing.

You see, some cars draw attention to themselves by providing your senses with provocative noises and an abundance of control feedback that immerse you into a sort of automotive show. That's not the LaCrosse. Others do so by simply messing things up: the overly aggressive throttle, the wonky steering or the floaty ride. Again, not so with the 2017 LaCrosse.

Instead, this full-size Buick sedan displays a quiet, unassuming competence. It goes about the business of getting you from point A to point B with a pampering ride, hushed cabin and easygoing driving efforts -- just the sort of qualities people are looking for in this type of car. There's also a mechanical sophistication working behind the scenes to save fuel, however, keeping body motions in check around corners and conveying information to the driver's hands. These elements, and the engineering components that go into making them possible, probably wouldn't be things you'd check off on a list of buying priorities, but they nevertheless amount to a better driving experience.

Moving Up in the World

This sort of driving experience is indicative of a true luxury car and indeed demonstrates that the completely redesigned Buick LaCrosse has moved up in the world. Though the previous model was probably much better than people realized, it was still a mainstream full-size sedan with some luxury aspirations -- the same could be said of a Chevrolet Impala, Hyundai Azera or Toyota Avalon.

The 2017 LaCrosse, on the other hand, seems more like a competitor for comfort-oriented luxury sedans such as the Lexus ES 350 and Lincoln MKZ. Actually, not only is it a competitor, but it could ultimately be a more appealing choice.

Compared to its predecessor, the new LaCrosse has a longer wheelbase, granting it extra rear legroom. The trunk is not only bigger in terms of its numerical measurement (15 cu ft. versus 13.3), but it's also been reshaped to exorcise the old car's odd protrusions and make it better able to hold luggage and, in particular, golf clubs.

Perhaps unfortunately for some, though, the roof has also been lowered 1.6 inches to grant the new LaCrosse an admittedly sleeker look. In the process, the seating position is a bit low in front and back, creating a legs-and-arms-out driving position for taller drivers and a lack of under-thigh support for those in back. Headroom in back is also just OK. Now, space in the ES 350 and MKZ aren't much different, thus making that comparison more apt. If you want more of a people carrier, an Impala or Avalon might be better.

A Nicer Interior

Those cars won't be able to match the LaCrosse's newfound interior quality, however. Even the base trim level has padded surfaces on the dash, doors and center console that are covered in simulated leather patched together with French stitching. The plastic surfaces have nice finishes to them, and the various buttons and switches look and feel appropriate for a luxury car in this price range.

There's also enough equipment on the base model that you might not need anything more: Xenon headlights, a rearview camera, 10 airbags, keyless starting, dual-zone climate control, active noise cancellation, on-board Wi-Fi through the OnStar emergency communications system and the top-of-the-line 8-inch IntelliLink touchscreen interface are all standard. The latter also brings two USB ports that can connect to a smartphone through standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The supremely quiet and comfortable driving experience described earlier is also present on the basic LaCrosse, though the above-and-beyond mechanical sophistication is enhanced when the upper Essence or Premium trim levels are equipped with optional 20-in wheels. With them comes a more advanced front suspension design, as well as 4-wheel adaptive dampers that constantly adjust the suspension for ideal ride and handling (there's also a Sport setting that firms up the steering and suspension, though we don't envision many using it).

If you want the LaCrosse at its finest, one of those two top trims is the way to go. You also get access to luxuries such as full leather seating (versus vinyl simulated leather) that can heat, cool and massage you. It's also the only way to get accident-avoidance technologies such as blind spot, lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems.

Quicker and More Efficient

Under the hood, every 2017 LaCrosse comes with a 3.6-liter V6 engine that produces 310 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque. An 8-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are also standard, though the Premium trim level can be equipped with an advanced all-wheel-drive system. Like the one offered by Acura, this torque vectoring system not only shunts power front and rear, but it can send as much as 100 percent of available rear power to one of the rear wheels, increasing traction and cornering ability.

We found this engine to be smooth, quiet and in possession of more than enough power for passing with vigor on the freeway. Crucially, it also has considerably more power than the Lexus ES 350 despite weighing about the same (the LaCrosse shed about 300 pounds from generation to generation).

This engine also has a few of those behind-the-scenes tricks up its sleeve. The Active Fuel Management system that shuts off two cylinders while cruising to save fuel is not unique, but it's imperceptible to the point that Buick doesn't even include the typical telltale light in the gauge cluster. There's also a standard automatic stop/start system that shuts down the engine when stopped to save fuel, then restarts again when you let your foot off the brake. These increasingly common systems often cause annoying delays, vibrations and engine-start noises, but this new Buick system is surprisingly seamless and imperceptible; many may not even notice it. So confident in that possibility is Buick that it didn't even include an off button -- a fact some drivers will nevertheless not appreciate.

It's hard to argue with the resulting fuel economy, though. Despite that ample power, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates the 2017 LaCrosse will return 21 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in combined driving. That should better the 2017 estimates for the less powerful Lexus ES 350, Lincoln MKZ and Toyota Avalon. The all-wheel-drive LaCrosse returns an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined.

Should You Consider It?

For those looking for a sedan that offers more comfort, refinement and space than a midsize family sedan, the 2017 Buick LaCrosse will meet those needs better than its predecessor did while boasting classier and more cohesive styling. And though it's not quite as spacious, it should stack up better than many full-size-sedan competitors in most other regards.

More impressive, though, is the new LaCrosse's positive comparison to luxury-branded sedans. If you have Lexus or Lincoln on your test-drive list, you'd be wise to write in this Buick as another worthy (and potentially better) candidate.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Buick LaCrosse: First Drive Review - Autotrader