Mountain Wheels: All-season-friendly Buick LaCrosse provides full-sized comfort (column)
2017 Buick LaCrosse Premium AWD
MSRP: $43,265; As tested, $48,970
Powertrain: 310-HP 3.6-liter V6 engine; eight-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 23 combined (20 city, 29 highway)
It’s been about seven years since Buick opted to end its relationship with Tiger Woods, an earnest attempt to try to provide a sense of youthful urgency and elan to one of General Motors’ longest-running automotive brands.
Maybe the mystical/acid-trip route Matthew McConaughey is taking with Lincoln might be a better role model for Buick’s efforts to be young and vibrant and mysterious with North American car buyers. The Chinese are still all over Buicks, for a variety of cultural prestige reasons; here, it’s the tiny Buick SUV and its enormous Enclave that are doing the big business, while sedans such as the Regal haven’t quite lit the world on fire, despite their various Euro-inspired charms.
Which brings us to the company’s sedan flagship, the LaCrosse. Now in its third generation, LaCrosse went from being sort-of big and kind-of memorable and officially graduated to the full-size luxury sedan category. That’s meant basing the automobile on the same long platform as the Chevrolet Impala, a stretched version of the setup used for the new Malibu (it also seems awfully similar in scale to the full-sized Cadillac XTS sedan).
That means a handsome and fulsome automobile whose proportions are a little unusual nowadays, outside of the very expensive full-size European makes such as the BMW 7-Series or the Mercedes S-Class.
And maybe that’s the secret sauce for some rekindled interest in Buick, outside of China. As a potential concession to High Country Buick sedan aspirants (maybe those currently driving a 2002 LeSabre with Indiana plates, not really the best setup for a good Summit County snow year), LaCrosse can also be equipped with all-wheel drive, making it a more potent year-round choice.
Sassy or sporty motoring is still not the objective here, though it’s certainly got plenty of rip with a new edition of GM’s reliable 3.6-liter V-6, putting out 310 horsepower and still allowing 29 MPG on the highway, even in AWD guise.
This is a very smooth and sedate cruiser with humongous rear passenger room, and a blend of details that are poised well above Chevrolet finishes but still not quite as audacious as Cadillac. Happily, nowadays you’ve only got those choices, not further Oldsmobile or Pontiac variations of the same thing; if you’re big on brown wood veneer plastics, dark forest green paint jobs (which mine had, naturally) or a very soft and comfortable overall experience, this might be a more practical choice than one of those insanely expensive Lexus LS or GS models.
Sound isolation is a huge part of the Buick appeal (its Quiet Tuning mantra, the polar opposite of the Gratingly Loud Tuning found in monsters like the Camaro SS), and the 2017 is outfitted with loads of noise-deadening components to do so very effectively.
Despite its considerable size (197.5 inches of length, 40 inches of rear leg room, and a 15-cubic-foot trunk), the 2017 LaCrosse also manages to lose 300 pounds from the previous model, adding to the overall efficiency.
My Premium AWD model stickered at a little over $43,000 but finished just shy of $49,000 with the addition of a giant power sunroof and second-row skylight, an 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround-sound system, a CUE-styled touchscreen navigation system and Buick’s electronic safety package (adaptive cruise control, automatic parking assist and emergency braking, plus pedestrian detection). Next-gen Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work very successfully with the IntelliLink system.
Those all worked in a much more sensitive fashion than I’ve found in other makes’ recent cars, which is probably a good thing. Even the lane-keep assist is subtle, not the wheel-yanking robot madness I am fighting with in many new automobiles. You’ll also still take a little bit of time to adapt to the pistol-grip shift knob, first seen in the Cadillac XT5 SUV and a bit like the awkward one found in Land Rover products; once you figure out what button to hold and how to up-and-to-the-left it to get into reverse, you’ll be fine.
LaCrosse is the test market for Buick’s new front-face design, and is certainly pretty, with a bit of retro tri-color emblem work, gone for more than a decade. Inside, there’s an adaptation of the wraparound dash experience from the larger GM sedans; seating is wide and pillowy and not damaged by stiff side bolstering or faux-sporty touches. It’s about as Buick as a Buick can be.
Maybe that will all change if the 2018 Regal Wagon TourX fantasy car I’ve seen online, which looks much like the new Volvo V90 Cross Country, actually comes to life.
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