As the 2017 Buick LaCrosse in the driveway of Automobile magazine’s Palm Springs outpost happened to catch a neighbor’s eye, we took a chance and extolled the sedan’s attributes to him. Yes, it really is good-looking, even somewhat fancy, and well equipped, too. Taking it all in, the neighbor, who is old enough to remember General Motors’ inglorious foray into diesel engines, had to ask, “But will it last?”
Persuading people like him is GM’s enduring task. We can say the LaCrosse and its nearest competitor, the Toyota Avalon, are designed to meet the same crash tests and fuel-efficiency standards, and they’re made by the same robots with components from the same suppliers. (The LaCrosse has a transmission sourced from Japan.) Nevertheless, some people can’t forget that day in 1978 when their Olds/Buick/Pontiac wouldn’t start.
We sense GM is doing all right, though. Offered the pick of some middle-of-the-market products to sample, we chose three cars and one crossover vehicle for an enjoyable month of testing. The group encompassed four distinct body styles, four different powertrains, and a reassuring display of ambition and good taste—spirited efforts, all.
2017 Buick Cascada Sport Touring
Boy, was this a surprise! Detroit Bureau Chief Todd Lassa informs us the 2017 Buick Cascada has been on the market for about a year, with more than 7,000 units sold, and that it’s made in Gliwice, Poland, on an Opel Astra platform. We had never noticed a Cascada in California. Nor was there any way to be prepared for the commotion it caused when we cruised through the tony El Paseo shopping district in Palm Desert. Everybody was watching. One woman pushing a shopping cart over to her Mercedes-Benz SL500 stopped and took photos for a friend. Learning the two-plus-two convertible stickered at $37,065 as tested, she was even more impressed.
The Cascada is stubby from some angles, but with True Blue Metallic bodywork and 20-inch wheels, it mostly looks terrific. The turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission were just fine, even though this porker weighs 3,979 pounds. The power top goes down faster than you can say, five times in a row, “Helio Castroneves will win a fourth Indianapolis 500.” Heated seats and steering wheel were included, and you’d better believe we used them after overnight temperatures had dipped into the 40s, delaying early tee times.
Detroiter Lassa says the Cascada is “a bit of a stopgap for Buick.” It’s built on an older platform. The center stack is narrow and cluttered, and there’s an old-fashioned key that must be inserted into a switch on the steering column. How vulgar! The car’s other, biggest drawback is the lack of rearward vision when the soft top is up. Otherwise, the Cascada excelled, reminding us how pleasant a convertible can be on a 70-degree January afternoon.
How’s this supposed to work? The 2017 GMC Acadia lost about 700 pounds, yet it still weighs in at 3,956 pounds in a front-wheel-drive configuration. Would the direct-injection 193-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that’s paired with a six-speed automatic get the job done? Sure thing: The Acadia joined freeway traffic without a fuss and kept pace with fast-moving traffic. The four has an unpleasant, buzzy note; otherwise, the Acadia is quite polished, with a smooth ride, just the right amount of steering assist, and no body resonance.
Like a lot of vehicles these days, the Acadia has thick A-pillars that aren’t easy to see around. The instrument cluster is the same one found in the Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback (see below). From some angles, the body looks like a chukka boot (especially in this ho-hum Dark Sapphire Blue color). A final drawback is that this “truck” is rated to tow just 1,000 pounds. But it presents a decent value for $40,515 as tested. The interior was nicely appointed, safety and driver-assistance features abounded, and it was thoroughly modern.
It’s easy to see why the Acadia sells so well. The redesigned 2017 model deserves to do even better.
2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback
Let us provide some perspective on the 2017 Cruze Hatchback, an all-new offering from Chevrolet. Our car was $24,440 as tested. Not long after we turned in the key, we rode a new Indian motorcycle that was priced at $26,999. (That bike’s 1.8-liter V-twin engine is larger than the Cruze Hatchback’s spunky, turbocharged 153-hp, 1.4-liter four-cylinder.) Chevrolet has to be value-oriented, and the Cruze Hatchback meets that goal.
While the design tries but fails to be extraordinary, there are some vivid flourishes, especially around the grille. (The Red Hot color just didn’t suit this car at all.) The LT trim level’s interior has sweeping lines and appealing quilted fabric trim, but the instrument panel was somewhat plain and the plastic steering wheel needed a wrapper. The most important thing is that it was simple to pair a phone, and Apple Car play is a nice feature, whether in a Ferrari GTC4Lusso or the Cruze Hatchback.
Our test car was equipped with a $1,150 convenience package that added, among other things, keyless start, heated front seats, and lane change and rear cross traffic alerts. We love hatchbacks; this one offers access to as much as 47.2 cubic feet of space. The Cruze Hatchback will scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, yet we saw 35.5 mpg overall. Not bad!
The main thing with the 2017 LaCrosse is that it no longer looks like the cocoon that will hatch a 32-foot butterfly. This new car is sharp, and the Crimson Red Tint-coat sparkled. The cabin is lovely, too — especially at night when courtesy and accent lighting are in play. While the two-tiered dashboard is a good piece of work, the well for the head-up display makes a large and unpleasant reflection on the windshield.
Our LaCrosse Premium—$48,495 as tested—had optional 20-inch alloy wheels ($1,625) and 40-series tires that we would not have for all the world: they spoiled the ride, especially when we switched ever so unbearably to Sport mode. We also had an ongoing fight with lane-keep assist before just turning it off. Who needs cars that continually beep and chime and fight you? Next thing you know, every new one will come with a welcome letter from Joan Claybrook.
The best part of driving the LaCrosse was provided by the direct-injection 305-hp V-6, which is nicely matched with the eight-speed automatic. Overall, though, we hadn’t expected the sedan to be this conflicted about its mission. It’s a Buick and should have a plush ride instead of trying to be a 197.5-inch-long sport sedan.
It’s still a car, though, and even a crossed-up one like this is preferable to an SUV.