Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Buick LaCrosse Premium AWD

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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A few powerful clues that the latest LaCrosse is targeting a new, younger shopper are apparent as you simply walk up, get inside, and get seated.

This is a fresh face, in a sea of familiar faces.

You see the all-new-for-2017 Buick LaCrosse body first. It’s elegant, swoopy and upscale, peppered with details in the form of sculpts and character lines: the low, swept roofline, steeply raked windshield and graceful curves. It all calls to mind a great big coupe, not a bloated land barge. It’s gorgeous and provocative – distinctive in contrast to the boxy Chrysler 300, or the discreet-looking Toyota Avalon. This is a fresh face, in a sea of familiar faces.

Hop in, and a similar approach to styling is apparent. Like its body, the LaCrosse’s cabin is energized with shapes, angles, contrast, and a sense of numerous elements flowing and intersecting. Layers of color and texture and lustre play off of one another, with digital screens and subtle chrome breaking up the scenery. It’s all assembled with an eye for detail, towards a cabin that’s daring, unique, and flaunts itself well.

The centre console flows steeply from the central dash, bisecting the front of the LaCrosse into two individual cockpits. So, once seated and comfy, you notice another clue that there’s a new shopper in mind: you feel like you’re sitting down, deep inside the cabin and surrounded by it, not up above it all. It’s a driving position not unlike a BMW 6 Series or Mercedes CLS: low and sporty and deep. Headroom actually surprises – at least for your 5'11" writer, who had a few inches to spare beneath the headroom-munching panoramic sunroof.

If you’re 82 and your back sucks, this new cabin layout, swoopiness and coupe-like driving position may be problematic. But if you’re, maybe, half that age and find big-dollar four-door coupes to be pretty delicious, it’s safe to salivate.

Rear seats are big and comfy and pillowy, with enormous legroom, for even taller adults. Headroom isn’t quite as generous, but sufficient for most. Ultimately, the LaCrosse lets four adults of average or slightly greater height cruise and socialize from deep within a sort of rolling luxury lounge, with space to spare.

There’s comfort to spare too – thanks to the effective deployment of two signature Buick technologies.

First, as part of Buick’s Quiet Tuning system, there’s active noise cancellation, which deploys sound-cancelling waves from the stereo to neutralize incoming noises before they get to your ears. This system specializes in intercepting dull, droning background sounds, like wind and tire roar, or the low tone of the engine lugging along at low revs. It works similarly to those fancy sound-cancelling headphones you wear on an airplane – and even at a good highway clip, and even wearing a set of typically noisy winter tires, this tester rode as quietly as I’d expect of a pricier car. Background noise is still present, though quieter, more consistent, and easier for the brain to just ignore. Even at a good clip, there’s minimal need to raise one’s voice for a conversation, even with rear passengers.

The other technology of note is Continuous Damping Control, or CDC, which does to incoming road harshness what active noise cancellation does to incoming sounds. Shocks can adjust their stiffness in real time, so LaCrosse can intercept and neutralize pavement upsets, adapting to surfaces on an inch-by-inch basis. The result from the driver’s seat is more consistent comfort on more surfaces, with a rough road indeed required to degrade ride quality into discomfort. The ride feels fine-tuned and dialed-in, unflustered, and plush, at almost all times.

This CDC system is a tremendous bit of engineering, and the benefits continue: Encounter a rough expansion joint or a hefty dip in the road, and there’s a disconnect between the sound and the sensation. You hear the suspension striking potholes and bumps, but all you feel is a little squirm, as the system turns big bumps into little ones, more notably at higher speeds.

Really rough roads can feel like they’re beating the suspension up – noise levels increase, as does the harshness allowed back into the cabin – but the overall comfort never degrades drastically, and the ride is consistently above average where a dense, durable and comfortable feel is concerned.

The CDC system’s ability to all but arrest unwanted body motions the instant they come into existence is another major plus. In situations where you expect to go for a bit of a ride (imagine cornering through an off-ramp at speed, and hitting a rough expansion joint), you get a little squirm, a little shift, and that’s it. No lurching, rebounding, or churning and undulating like an upset stomach. This body motion neutralization also negates the need to continually stabilize yourself in your seat, and contributes to drivers getting out fresh and alert, even after hours at the wheel.

So, LaCrosse cruises for hours, the way a luxury car should: very quietly, and very comfortably. I’ve recently driven luxury sedans that cost 20 to 30 thousand dollars more and didn’t feel this well balanced in the ride quality department. The expert calibration towards comfortable long-haul cruising is arguably the LaCrosse’s biggest asset.

Best of all, it’s not a soggy spongecake of a thing to drive. There’s a slight firmness to the core of the dampers, facilitating a willingness to play ball when high-speed corner browsing is in order. Steering is light, nearly playful if you get to driving it hard. It’s not big on feel or feedback, but the relatively quick steering ratio quickly transmits your requests to the road. At highway speeds, it heavies up, locking the LaCrosse onto its line nicely, and reducing the need to readjust.

Brakes are nearly sports-sedan precise, biting hard and fast, and getting the LaCrosse back down to a stop quickly, when needed. It’s that touch more sharp and precise at the controls than you’d expect: more Nissan Maxima than Toyota Avalon.

And, getting up to speed, the new 3.6L V6, now with numerous revisions and added fuel-saving tech, operates nearly imperceptibly on a gentle drive. A muted howl from the tailpipes seeps in at times, but it’s pleasing to listen to. At full throttle, a smoothly satisfying howl is emitted, the engine sounds keen and healthy, and never feels strained or overworked – even if it often feels like you’ve startled the eight-speed transmission when it decides to downshift. Paddle shifting calls up semi-rev-matched shifts, if you like – these aren’t impressive if you’ve driven something German lately, but they’re responsive enough to warrant occasional use.

Other notes? A few clever touches throughout the cabin help to add further appeal for the modern shopper. LaCrosse has built-in Wi-Fi, which can stream high-speed data to multiple devices, including your smartphone, which can be slid into a rubberized slot and recharged wirelessly, which is super slick. The head-up display is clean and colorful, adding a touch of high-tech flair. The central command system boots up and connects to all relevant devices in seconds upon engine start-up, and the pass-through beneath the high-mounted center console adds a unique styling touch while opening up more storage space.

Gripes? The headlight system is only average in performance, color and reach, and at times I wished for a whiter light colour, and more saturation up the road. The shifter is a bit fussy until learned – especially to engage reverse, which requires pushing it forward, then moving it to the left. Finally, I wished for a wider angle, higher-resolution image from the back-up camera.

End of the day, shoppers after distinctive styling, highly relevant tech, a stand-out cabin, and an expertly tuned long-haul cruising experience that hits above its price point should add the new LaCrosse to their test drive list.

Engine Displacement 3.6L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 310 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Peak Torque 282 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Fuel Economy 8.1/11.6/10.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 425 L
Model Tested 2017 Buick LaCrosse Premium AWD
Base Price $47,400
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,650
Price as Tested $53,640
Optional Equipment
$4,490 – Sun and Shade Package $2,135; Driver Confidence Package $1,860; Premium Paint $495