We’re hustling down a glorious stretch of freshly paved road just south of Astoria, Oregon, late braking, pushing hard into wide sweepers. The big sedan is handling its business well, the car’s 310-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 providing ample motivation and appropriate sonic thunder as we power out of a corner. Did we mention that it’s a Buick?
Yes, it’s a Buick. Specifically, the 2017 Buick LaCrosse full-size sedan. No, this isn’t a sport sedan, and it isn’t trying to be. But the mere fact that it doesn’t roll over and play dead through the twisty bits is a development that Buick worked hard to achieve with the new LaCrosse, a way to lure potential customers looking for a smidge more dynamic appeal from an otherwise comfy, quiet sedan.
The biggest reason why the LaCrosse is better in the ride and handling arenas is the addition of a five-link rear suspension, which is now standard across the sedan’s lineup. According to LaCrosse chief engineer Jeff Yanssens, the benefits of the five-link are myriad: “It’s done a lot for this car. It helps the car turn in, it helps on impacts, it helps rolling over bumps,” Yanssens says. After my drive, I didn’t find any reason to disagree with that assessment.
While the full-size sedan segment isn’t exactly blowing up in the U.S. (all signs point to it further contracting as crossovers continue to push the market’s growth), the second-generation LaCrosse is nonetheless an important vehicle for the brand on multiple levels.
It’s a style play, as it carries through several cues from the well-received Buick Avenir concept first seen at the 2015 Detroit auto show. It’s a technology showcase, thanks largely to the addition of the five-link, an updated powertrain, and new convenience and connectivity options. It also pushes Buick’s ‘quiet tuning’ philosophy forward thanks to further refinements.
According to Yanssens, there are two distinct versions of the 2017 LaCrosse, the base models with 18-inch wheels and front-wheel drive and the “twin-clutch” all-wheel drive versions with 20-inch wheels fitted with Buick’s continuous damping control system. We sampled flavors of both variations, and as expected, the 18-inch package is the more sedate car, the less expensive volume model most buyers will gravitate toward. You can option the front-drive LaCrosse with GM’s HiPer strut front suspension if you opt for the 20-inch wheels, which is primarily a torque steer mitigation play. For a car with a 62/38 front/rear weight distribution, we’d recommend it to those who like to stomp the throttle from a stop light.
But it was the 20-inch, AWD model we were hustling on the way back from Astoria to Portland, the car that Yanssens called out as the performer of the two. Our car even had a sport button, which primarily firms up the steering and shock damping just a bit, but that’s about the extent of the enhancements when the button is pushed.
The car’s updated, naturally aspirated, direct injection 3.6-liter V-6 with the aforementioned 310 horses and 282 lb-ft of torque, paired to a capable and smooth operating 8-speed automatic, motivates the car with relative authority and sounds pretty darn good doing it with the throttle pinned. (All LaCrosse models have paddle shifters that proved relatively responsive). While Buick wasn’t providing performance estimates, the outgoing car was in the high sixes to 60 mph. Expect similar or a bit lower from the new car, especially the lighter weight, 18-inch rim models (3,598 lbs for FWD and 3,840 for AWD, according to Buick). One thing, if you hate stop/start systems, you’re going to be annoyed that you cannot turn it off. Yanssens says this is a GM-wide initiative: “We’re aiming to have the best, least intrusive systems in the industry.” To be fair, it is pretty good, but still noticeable.
The LaCrosse’s AWD system is an on-demand type that can send up to 100 percent of available torque forward or rearward when necessary. The torque split is constantly varied to best suit the driving conditions. Instead of a more traditional front-drive based unit, which utilizes a clutch pack in front of the rear drive unit, which controls the torque flow to a differential that then splits the torque to the rear wheels, the Buick system employs two clutch packs located in the rear drive unit to do the torque shifting between axles. It also replaces the need for a differential as the clutches can also independently transmit 100 percent of available torque to either rear wheel depending on the situation.
So in addition to simply acting as a bad weather traction system, the twin clutch setup can also help with dry-weather handling when you’re getting after it like we did out on the Oregon back roads. Combined with the car’s continuous damping control system, the MacPherson strut front and five-link rear, and strong, power assisted brakes with a firm pedal feel, it adds up to a solid dynamic package.
We had so much fun ripping around in the LaCrosse that we apparently overheated something, getting an “all-wheel drive system deactivated” warning twice. We talked with Yanssens about it. He smiled and said “you guys must have been getting really aggressive out there” (guilty as charged). While he reminded us once again that the LaCrosse isn’t a performance sedan, he promised to report back on the exact cause when they track it down. They told us that indeed, we got things too hot and it dialed it back to front drive as a preventative measure to keep hot-footed journalists like yours truly from damaging the internals. Fair enough.
When the road straightened out and things got more relaxed, we had a chance to better take in the cabin and its amenities. From my seat of the ear evaluation, the 2017 LaCrosse seems relatively isolated inside at speed, especially so when we had stretches of road where tire noise wasn’t an issue. Buick engineers utilized several abatement strategies, including next-level stuff like layering special sound-deadening materials into the A-pillars and active noise cancellation through the car’s speakers (whether the stereo is on or not), to further tune the quietness.
The LaCrosse is a luxury-leaning fullsizer at its core. To that end, the seats are supremely comfortable in front, and there is plenty of room in back for rear seat denizens, thanks in part to a wheelbase stretched by 2.7-inches over the outgoing car. Fold down rear seats further open up an already copious 15 cu-ft of trunk space.
Buick has a new shifting mechanism that takes a little getting used to (up and to the left for reverse), but its electronic setup allowed the interior team to open up storage room below the center console. Most of the vehicle functions are run though the 8-inch center screen or in the instrument panel using the steering wheel controls. There aren’t a lot of buttons other than a prominent set for the climate control. While the cabin seemed pretty well put together overall, swaths of black dominating the dash and center infotainment area in the cars we drove came off a bit drab (to be fair, there are two alternative color packages). As is the case with many GM cars these days, 4GLTE connectivity, heads up display, advanced OnStar capability, Apple CarPlay and Andriod Auto, adaptive cruise and other safety nannies like lane departure are either standard or available.
At our midway stop, we had a chance to walk around and take in 2017 LaCrosse’s new suit. It’s a significant step forward from the previous car. The roofline is 1.6-inches lower and it is 0.4-inches wider. The wheels have been pushed out 1.3-inches in front, 1.1 at the rear for the vaunted wheels-at-the-corner effect. And while the wheelbase is stretched 2.7-inches, it’s just 0.6-inches longer overall.
Out front, a version of Buick’s harplike grille is punctuated by a winged element with the proud red, white and blue Buick badge affixed in the center—all of it framed by attractive, sweptback LED light banks. The side mirrors have been moved to the door and optimized to lower sound issues, and the flanks are dominated by a version of Buick’s swoopy ‘sweepspear’ design theme.
The rear is attractive enough, with rectangular chrome exhaust ports and more LED lighting that integrates neatly into the trunk. We could do without the really tired faux portholes and the chrome trim piece on the lower profile, but other than that, it’s a good looking package and certainly every bit the match for the Lexus ES, which Buick has called out as the LaCrosse’s primary competitor.
Buick’s made a lot of hay lately with its “That’s a Buick?” ad campaign, its cheeky way to showcase how far it has come and how much it’s breaking away from its past. With cars like the LaCrosse, Buick is proving that it has a pretty good shot at carving out a promising future.
2017 Buick LaCrosse Specifications
|Engine:||3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/310 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 268 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD sedan|
|EPA Mileage:||20-21/29-31 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||197.5.X x 73.5 x 57.5 in|
|0-60 MPH:||6.6 sec (est)|