For a long time, if you wanted an entry-level luxury sedan that didn’t have sporting pretenses, your choices were few and far between. Realistically, you were most likely going to buy a Lexus ES 350. Luxurious, comfortable, spacious and reliable, it delivered everything a great many luxury shoppers desired. It still does. But while the Lincoln MKZ might be the ES 350’s most obvious alternative, we think the new 2017 Buick LaCrosse gives this classic Lexus a more serious run for its money. Let’s take a look at which might be better for you.
2017 Buick LaCrosse
Although the appeal remains mostly the same, the 2017 Buick LaCrosse is otherwise a brand-new car and will certainly attract a broader, more upscale audience. It has classier styling, a more luxurious interior in terms of both design and quality, a more powerful and efficient engine, updated electronics and a more sophisticated suspension with adjustable dampers for improved ride and handling. Those updated electronics include both safety and convenience features like wireless phone charging, pedestrian detection and cylinder deactivation for improved fuel economy under light loads. See all 2017 Buick LaCrosse models available near you
2017 Lexus ES 350
The ES is essentially unchanged for 2017. It hasn’t undergone a complete redesign since 2013. See all 2017 Lexus ES350 models available near you
Trying to find an owner complaint about the Lexus ES 350 is extremely difficult. Either things rarely go wrong or its owners like to keep their lips sealed — we’re guessing the former, since the ES also boasts some of the best reliability ratings possible. Now, there weren’t many owner complaints about the last LaCrosse either, but the 2017 is too new to accurately judge it.
At first glance, there’s barely a difference between these two cars in this department, but if you dig deeper, you’ll realize the 2017 LaCrosse has a big advantage. For starters, the Buick does indeed get better fuel economy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with estimates of 21 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in combined driving. That compares to the ES 350’s 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/24 mpg combined. Big deal, right? That’s only about a $50 difference in estimated annual fuel cost.
However, the LaCrosse achieves that with a new 3.6-liter V6 engine that produces 310 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque (a standard 8-speed transmission, a cylinder deactivation system and surprisingly seamless automatic stop/start get a lot of the fuel-saving credit). By contrast, the ES 350 produces only 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque from its 3.5-liter V6. Considering that both cars weigh about the same, the LaCrosse feels quicker as a result. Its engine is also remarkably smooth and quiet, delivering the sort of serene environment you’d expect from, well, a Lexus.
The Lexus ES 350 is not the isolating couch it once was. It’s still comfortable, but the steering possesses more precision and feedback, and its body motions are more controlled. Some may prefer the old couch, but we think the more balanced 2017 ES 350 represents an improvement. Having said that, the Buick LaCrosse arguably betters it with a truly supple ride and impressive composure. When equipped with its optional adaptive dampers and upgraded front suspension, its handling is surprisingly sharp for such a big car while still providing a pleasant ride.
The new LaCrosse has not undergone third-party crash-testing yet, so stay tuned. The 2017 Lexus ES 350 received the best-possible 5-star overall crash rating from the government, along with four stars for frontal protection and five stars for side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a Top Safety Pick+ due to top marks in all crash-worthiness and crash-avoidance technology tests.
As for that advanced tech, both cars are available with forward-collision warning, a blind spot monitoring system, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert. These systems on the Lexus are available within the Lexus Safety System+ package and also include an automatic braking system. In the Buick, these systems are included in the Driver Confidence Package 1 (forward-collision warning comes standard on the Premium trim), but automatic braking is included on top of everything else in the Driver Confidence Package 2.
The Lexus ES used to be well-known for its easy-to-use interior controls. Its simple buttons and knobs became pleasant relics — it was even one of the last cars to come with a tape deck. It doesn’t anymore, though, and we can’t say this is necessarily a good thing. The Lexus Remote Touch technology, included with the navigation system and found on the majority of ES 350s on dealer lots, can be frustrating and distracting to use. Its tiny, joysticklike mouse allows you to move between icons on the large center screen. This can require a level of dexterity and concentration while driving that isn’t ideal.
The LaCrosse, on the other hand, utilizes a big, 8-inch touchscreen that has large virtual buttons and an easy-to-understand menu structure. It may be a bit of a reach, and it’s susceptible to fingerprints, but we think most people will prefer it. It also comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, as well as an additional USB port for a passenger or a second device. Those are not available on the Lexus.
Both cars are standard with emergency-communications systems that automatically send help in the event of an accident. They can also be equipped with adaptive cruise control and automated parking systems.
Comfort and Space
Both the Lexus ES 350 and Buick LaCrosse offer more space than sportier, similarly priced luxury sedans, but they aren’t quite as limo-worthy as you might imagine given their size. Both have somewhat low back seats to compensate for low roofs, meaning that thigh support could be better — especially for tall occupants. This is a shame, since there’s an abundance of space between the two rows.
In terms of storage, the LaCrosse has a big advantage up front, since most of the Lexus center console is taken up with the shifter and massive Remote Touch controller. There’s actually only one main cupholder. The Buick, by contrast, has two high-mounted and covered cupholders, a dedicated smartphone bin and a storage area under the console. It’s really not all that special, but the Lexus is comparatively pathetic in this regard. Both have roughly the same-sized trunk at 15 cu ft., which is what you’d get in most family sedans.
How much is that Lexus badge worth to you? Also, and probably more importantly, how much is the ES 350’s stronger interior quality and craftsmanship worth? The LaCrosse is greatly improved, and its interior is lovely, but this is one clear area where the ES 350 is the finer automobile.
But again, how much is that worth, because from a bang-for-your-buck perspective, the Buick has an advantage. For the ES 350’s base price of $38,900, you get keyless start, a sunroof, LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, 8-way power front seats, premium vinyl upholstery, a rearview camera, HD Radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth and a simple 7-in touchscreen. However, with the base $32,065, the LaCrosse may not have satellite radio and makes do with xenon headlights instead of the LEDs, but otherwise, you’re looking at an almost identically equipped car.
As the equipment levels rise, the two cars start getting much closer together, but the LaCrosse remains a few hundred dollars cheaper when brought up to the equipment levels of a loaded ES 350 (both are a shade under $50,000). Still, the top-end Buick includes things like massaging front seats and offers big-ticket items like all-wheel drive and an adjustable suspension — none of which are available on the Lexus. As such, it can actually hit the register with a heftier price tag.
Your friends, family and neighbors will probably be more impressed by a new Lexus ES 350 in your garage. Besides its arguably more appealing badge, it’s impeccably made and quite obviously worthy of the term "luxury car." However, in many respects, such as driving dynamics, fuel economy, value, and technology, the 2017 Buick LaCrosse outdoes it. It’s been a long time since Buick was seriously in the luxury game, but this new LaCrosse could change that. It at least deserves a chance.