PORTLAND, Oregon—Buick’s big sedan was introduced in 2009 and well-received—more than 900,000 LaCrosses have been sold in the two markets in which its available, North America and China. The 2017 model marks an all-new generation of the car and the first major redesign.
Owners were critical of the sightlines of the original generation, impeded by large A-pillars. They liked the quietness of the car but wanted something even quieter. And they wanted better fuel economy, of course.
The new LaCrosse used Lexus’ ES 350 as its benchmark for cutting back on noise, and Infiniti’s 3.7-litre V6 engine as the benchmark for its 3.6-litre motor.
There’s a Sport button now for adding some “feel” to the ride and it’s very effective indeed. This is intended to appeal to younger drivers, to broaden Buick’s traditional customer base of retirees to include families. Most of those families will be in China, which sells three times as many LaCrosses as Buick does here.
Buick’s designers worked very hard to create a feeling of timelessness for the new LaCrosse, with elegant lines and creases that keep the eye moving around its profile and its flanks.
The split crease behind the rear doors was especially tricky to bring to production, apparently. It’s worked well: the sedan is a handsome vehicle, with a distinctive profile and attractive face.
Of course, all this designer-speak is meaningless when the car is encrusted with February road salt and stuck in city traffic. When it’s clean and sitting ready in the driveway, though, it all comes together very nicely.
There’s more space inside than the previous generation. It now includes an open storage cubby under the transmission shift lever, thanks to the much smaller electronic box that’s needed for choosing the eight-speed duties.
Fewer buttons make the centre console less busy, too; the eight-inch touchscreen display has taken over many of their functions.
All trim levels include leather seating except for the base model, which features “leatherette.” There’s lots of soft-touch plastic at every point where you might actually touch something, and the entire cabin has a premium feel that’s definitely not Chevrolet.
There’s plenty of legroom front and back, and now the rear doors open wider to make access easier. In China, the families that will buy the LaCrosse will often be chauffeuring parents, and it’s very important for those seniors in the back seat to be comfortable.
The most significant feature of the LaCrosse, however, can’t be seen or heard or even really felt: it’s the fact it’s so quiet, you literally only know it’s running by looking at the tachometer.
There’s no vibration to be felt from the engine, and Buick created a special noise-absorbing material to block as much outside sound as possible. It’s sprayed on everywhere that’s accessible, such as inside the wheel wells, where the noise is already reduced by a new five-link rear suspension.
That wasn’t enough. The windshield and front windows are acoustic glass and the doors are triple-sealed. Even the windshield wipers are now parked below the windshield, to curb any sound from that pesky slipstream.
And on top of all this, there’s active noise cancellation by Bose that starts with microphones in the front and rear of the cabin to pick up whatever engine and road noise still creeps in; the sound system then generates sound waves through the car’s speakers to cancel it out, just like with a pair of Bose’s noise-cancelling headphones.
It’s not totally muffling – the crappy roads in and around Portland still kicked up plenty of protest against the tires – but it’s certainly very quiet indeed.
All the cutting-edge technology you could want is provided with the new LaCrosse, but you’ll have to pay extra for most of it. Active lane keeping, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, a heads-up display, wireless phone charging – it’s all available if you want to buy the high-end $44,950 Premium model, and then tick off some more option boxes.
Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come as standard, though, and features that are connected to the actual driving of the sedan are the same across the model line. All LaCrosses come with electronic steering, for example, and all come with a Sport button that, when pushed, tightens that steering, speeds up the throttle response, firms the suspension, and changes the shift ratios of the new eight-speed transmission.
All LaCrosses also come with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. If you tap the left paddle while driving, it will shift down through the gears and, if the lever is set to Automatic, it will revert back to Drive after a while. If the lever is set to Manual, it will hold that gear until you either change it with the paddle or return the transmission to Automatic.
In Manual, it won’t shift down at all if you press on the throttle pedal – the thinking is that you wanted that particular gear, so that’s what you’ll get unless you select something different with the paddle. I don’t think this is a good idea. If you need extra speed for any reason, it’s an ingrained action to mash down on the throttle and, if you’re in a high gear, you’ll wonder why nothing seems to be happening. It’s not like you can hear the engine, after all.
Buick’s proud of the performance of the new 305-hp engine, but it didn’t seem exceptional—the only reason I’m writing home about it here is because the editor asked me to. It makes 268 lbs-ft of torque, and that’s fine for driving and getting past slowpoke Priuses and Subarus here in Oregon, but this is not a performance sedan.
More impressive is the handling. It’s improved now by stretching out the wheelbase by 65 mm, pulling the front wheels forward and pushing all four wheels out about 30 mm. The car is only marginally longer and wider, however. Parking is very tight in China.
This helps the car to stay flat around corners, and it felt very confident around the hairpin turns of the Oregon countryside. Steering feel was a little vague in Regular mode, but spot-on in Sport.
The new LaCrosse is also significantly lighter, weighing about 135 kg less than before. This is thanks to more lighter-weight materials, including six different kinds of steel, each used for specific purposes to find the right balance of strength and weight.
This in turn helps reduce fuel consumption. The new engine has Displacement On Demand for every trim level, turning off two of the six cylinders when you don’t want or need the power of a V6.
As well, when you’re not moving, every LaCrosse comes with automatic start-stop. This is a much improved technology, more seamless than before and far less annoying. It doesn’t save much gas but it does save some, and that’s a real help to General Motors’ overall fleet consumption.
The official rating for LaCrosse is 11.1 L/100 km in the city and 8.4 on the highway, for an overall average of 9.9. I saw an actual average of 11.2 L/100 km over 1,400 kilometres of driving by myself and others, some of which was probably a lot more spirited than the average LaCrosse driver might appreciate.
Buick’s set itself an ambitious target by benchmarking the Lexus ES350 for noise, vibration and handling, but the new LaCrosse is easily a match for the Japanese car’s ambience. It’s a premium vehicle intended to cosset its passengers as much as its driver, and there’s no lack of comfort in either the front or the back.
Realistic pricing starts around $40,000. The company expects the volume-seller to be the “Preferred” trim level, which includes all-leather seating and begins at $39,730. This is a fair bit more than the similarly-sized Ford Taurus but comes in below the premium Lincoln MKS, which starts at $44,370.
It’s always tough to be objective about the value of a premium or near-premium car. How much value do you put on French stitching, or genuine wood in the fascia? And how much value is in a name? In China, buyers will pay extra for an American brand like Buick, but not here.
This is why the new LaCrosse is priced right on the money against its competition. Many of its older buyers will be wary of the new-fangled electronic drivers’ aids, and that’s okay because they don’t have to pay for them. But they do want quietness and smoothness and a near-total isolation from the chaos of the road, and the LaCrosse delivers this for a price that’s at or below the others.
Not everyone is going to want the tomblike ride of the LaCrosse, but the many buyers of the previous generation will be more than happy. Buick’s added the Sport feature to help appeal to a younger generation and perhaps that will work, though if those drivers are wanting space, they’re usually still enamoured with SUVs and crossovers.
There’s plenty of room in the LaCrosse for five people, and cargo area is increased by seven percent – the trunk will now carry four sets of clubs, which will be appreciated by its traditional older owner. It’s more enjoyable to drive than most higher-stanced vehicles, though, and especially if you push the Sport button. You might want to do this after you’ve dropped off your golfing partners, maybe to celebrate whupping them on the green.
This second generation of LaCrosse is a well-executed evolution from the first. It has more space and improved visibility, as well as an uptick in materials and finish. If you’re looking for a full-sized sedan in which you can escape from the madness of the world for a while, what’s not to like?
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.