2017 Buick LaCrosse Review: First Drive

2017 Buick LaCrosse

CARS.COM — The 2017 Buick LaCrosse is about as all-new as you can get without slapping a new name on the trunk. The retooling of the chassis and everything above it has transformed the `17 LaCrosse into one of the quietest sedans this side of a Mercedes S-Class. And when properly equipped, the LaCrosse is much more than a wallowing, numb-driving geriatric special, showcasing a surprisingly capable driving experience that matches its sleek new look.

Related: 2017 Buick LaCrosse: First Look

Choose Your Flavor

There are two distinct LaCrosse variants: Sporty Spice and Old Spice. Versions with 20-inch wheels include a unique adaptive suspension for a sportier drive, while cars with the 18-inch combo are the more traditional, comfortable driving cars of which current LaCrosse owners will be accustomed. These 20- and 18-inch wheel packages are the equivalent of sport and touring trims, respectively, and both use a new 310-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. LaCrosse variants include the Standard ($32,990 with destination charge), Preferred ($36,990) and Essence ($39,590) trim levels in front-wheel drive, while the top trim Premium ($41,990) can be had with a new twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system ($2,200) able to split torque front to rear as well as between the left and right rear wheels for improved handling.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Buick invited us to drive both versions in Portland, Ore., home to some of the loudest pavement in the country, with coarse, sandpaper-like highways that pour gritty road noise into the cabin for miles. The LaCrosse development team targeted the Lexus ES 350 for performance benchmarks in noise levels. The LaCrosse is the quieter, better driving car of the two any way they’re sliced. Compare the LaCrosse’s specs to the 2016 ES 350’s here. A new, stronger chassis is 297 pounds lighter than that of the outgoing LaCrosse and has a longer wheelbase, wider track and increased use of high-strength steel.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Surprisingly Sporty

The real surprise of the show is the LaCrosse’s optional 20-inch package ($1,300), which is much more than simply a tire and wheel combo because it pairs with Buick’s Continuous Damping Control adaptive suspension. Available on Essence and Premium trims, drivers can choose between a comfortable, soft suspension (Touring mode) or stiffer, performance-tuned damping in Sport mode that heightens handling and backroad fun. The ES 350, Acura TLX and Nissan Maxima can’t match that kind of ride quality customization because they lack adjustable suspension firmness. Lincoln’s MKZ has it, however, and it’s standard on that model.

LaCrosses with the 20-inch wheels unleash their most proficient handling in Sport mode, where increased suspension firmness flattens out handling and increases turn-in responsiveness to where it’s actually entertaining to drive the car spiritedly, even if it’s not something that will come natural to most owners. Sport mode also firms up the steering wheel, holds transmission gears longer and transfers more torque to the rear wheels in all-wheel-drive models.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Comfort is King

A LaCrosse with the 18-inch wheels, though, is the car you can spend hours driving without a flinch of a lower back spasm. There’s no Sport mode — not even for transmission or steering tuning — and the supple ride of the fixed-firmness suspension is specifically tuned to the wheel and tire package. The 18-inch tires have a taller sidewall to better absorb road imperfections than the 20-inch wheels. Riding over a freshly paved highway at 60 mph in a car with the 18-inch package, you could have told me I was driving an electric car — that’s how quiet the new LaCrosse can be.

I couldn’t hear a whisper from the engine and only a faint, distant whistling of the wind over the side mirrors. Standard active noise cancelling and a host of features in Buick’s QuietTuning strategy — like an acoustic-laminated windshield and front-door windows — keep the cabin quiet, and a new five-link rear suspension improves road noise isolation over the previous, four-link rear suspension design.  The LaCrosse with 18-inch wheels is refreshing, actually, considering how many competitors want to be the “sporty” luxury type and end up being neither sporty nor quiet and comfortable.

The optional leather seats up the comfort factor beyond a pillowy ride. The fronts are supportive and plush with design and stitching that are among the interior’s highlights, especially with the classy brandy-colored upholstery. Top Premium trims also have a lumbar massaging function, though it’s mostly a novelty with only a shred of the range that higher-end massaging systems have.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Short on Luxuriousness

The rest of the interior quality doesn’t do much to pull the LaCrosse out of the “near-luxury” category alongside Acura and Lincoln. The nicely appointed ES 350 and even the Maxima have an edge in materials quality and a more luxurious style. Holding the LaCrosse back is faux wood trim plastered in highly visible areas of the interior, and low-grade paneling and pockets below the door handle look straight from a non-luxury compact or midsize sedan.

If you can look past the fact that the LaCrosse’s materials aren’t as rich as that of a Lexus, you’re treated to desirable multimedia features. The large touch-screen is complemented by physical tuning and volume controls instead of gimmicky capacitive buttons, plus the always-welcome Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. A more questionable inclusion is the new electronic gear selector. Like the Cadillac XT5 SUV that shares it, the selector layout in the LaCrosse takes time to learn and become accustomed to the operation — and comfortable picking the right gear. My opinion is that if you have to pause, think about it or “get used to it,” then the setup has an unneeded complexity. The space this electronic lever frees up under the center console is nice and the gear selector has a unique, techy look, but I found the gear engagement unsatisfying and frequently questioned which gear was chosen.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

What Makes the LaCrosse Unique

With the LaCrosse’s noticeable shortcoming in interior quality, the 2017 isn’t a serious luxury competitor to the ES 350, but the LaCrosse beats the ES 350 in any driving category (quietness, sportiness, comfort) and comes in at a strong value with desirable Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all-wheel drive and adjustable firmness suspension the ES lacks. The two latter options, however, are available only on higher trim levels; to get the optimal experience, be prepared to look at a $45,000 LaCrosse. But even without all-wheel drive and the 20-inch package, the LaCrosse is a delight to drive, hitting the bullseye for comfort and quietness, something a lot of premium cars seem to have forgotten how to do well.

 
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