The 2017 edition of the Buick LaCrosse has managed to garner positive attention from the Canadian automotive press recently. After having taken Best Intermediate Sedan of the Year honours from the Auto123 team, the Buick LaCrosse also earned the title of Best New Large Premium Car from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). The third generation of the model – the first edition was marketed in Canada under the name Allure – should be setting itself up for some strong sales performances… at least, that’s the idea.
Unfortunately for the brain trust at Buick and at other manufacturers, the mid-size sedan category is but a shadow of its former self. North American sales have plummeted in recent years, the victim of utility vehicles’ success.
In 2005, the first full year it was available in our market, the Buick Allure sold over 14,000 units. In 2015, the last year the second-generation Buick LaCrosse was offered here, the car’s sales total did not even attain the 1,000 mark. This trend was reflected south of the border as well, providing further proof that the model had lost its momentum since the mid-2000s. Will the new generation LaCrosse reverse the slide? That remains a highly uncertain proposition.
A seductive new LaCrosse
That said, the 2017 Buick LaCrosse does have the merit of offering a new, more seductive look – though to be fair the older model was no slouch in that department either.
In a bid to attract the attention of those growing numbers of consumers interested in fastback sedans, the manufacturer’s design department followed current market-dictated unwritten laws, lengthening and widening the body and setting it lower on the wheels. Buick claims that the platform on which it rests is more rigid while being lighter than before, thanks to the use of high-resistance steel – another growing trend in the industry at the moment.
The front end of the American sedan borrows the front grille introduced with the splendid Avenir prototype unveiled at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It must be said that the design team at Buick has done a great job in renewing the famous and distinctive “waterfall” grille that has long been a trademark of the company’s vehicles. The profile of the new version of the LaCrosse, which is highlighted by a roofline that extends to the extremity of the trunk, is another salutary feature. As for the back end, suffice to say that those tail lights that arch upwards make it more discreet.
Only one option under the hood
Unlike last year’s model, the new LaCrosse is only available with one engine setup. Gone is the 4-cylinder option, in favor of a recipe that is typical for the segment: a powerful V6 twinned with a multiple-speed automatic transmission – 8 in this case. Though the sedan can be equipped with an all-wheel drive that the driver has the particular option of disconnecting from the rear axle when the car doesn’t need the extra traction, the version provided for this road test was a front-wheel drive model.
The 3.6L 6-cylinder is new for 2017, and features direct injection as well as dual variable camshafts. With a motor that can produce 310 HP and 282 lb-ft of torque, this grand dame has no problem getting around with ease. The mechanics can also shut down during prolonged stops – a function that is increasingly common in the industry – or run on only 4 cylinders during easier portions of a drive. As for the 8-speed automatic, this is a new addition in the LaCrosse; drivers also can change gears manually using the paddle shifters placed on the back of the steering wheel.
The model provided by Buick featured an all-black interior, a conventional choice that does have the advantage of not showing dirt as much during this winter season. Beige colour schemes and faux-wood trims are all well and good, but they quickly lose their cachet when subjected to a healthy dose of slush!
Like any self-respecting American sedan, the Buick LaCrosse offers a fairly vast interior universe, despite its new, more streamlined shape. The dashboard is more minimalistic than ever, with the number of traditional buttons reduced to a bare minimum. The quality of the screen display is still among the best the industry has to offer, and its use is quite intuitive; a greater number of applications are now voice-activated as well.
Setting the driving position for optimal comfort is easy thanks to several adjustments that can be made to the electric seat. The steering wheel is for its part pleasant to hold and handle, even with the multitude of buttons present on the two horizontal arms. On the other hand, the gear shift lever, while attractive enough, can be confusing to use. On more than one occasion I had to start over in pushing on the small lateral button to select the reverse gear. No doubt buyers of the sedan will get used to it, but I still feel that an old-fashioned gear shifter would be simpler for daily use.
At the wheel
A seductive as the 2017 Buick LaCrosse is on a number of levels, the fact is the car must be able to attract its traditional core of buyers - that is to say consumers who first and foremost want a large sedan that is highly comfortable, in both rows of seats. On that front, Buick’s entry in the category meets the criteria. Sound insulation inside the cabin is impressive, and the suspension is silky smooth, though that doesn’t prevent the LaCrosse from being quite able when handling more sinuous roads, notwithstanding the steering which is just a bit loose when centered. I love the sound of the V8 when working at high RPM, something which couldn’t necessarily be said about the present generation of 6-cylinder models. For its part, the automatic transmission fulfills its mandate with ideal transparency for this type of sedan.
While interior space is ideally suited for four adults, I found the rear visibility to be downright execrable due to the car’s sloped silhouette. The same shape constraint also explains the narrower opening for the trunk.
It would be frankly surprising to see the Buick LaCrosse regain the full measure of the popularity it enjoyed at the turn of the century, if only because of the surge in sales of all things “utility”. Hats off though to the American division of the manufacturer for doing what it takes to stay competitive in this truncated market segment. The final product is interesting, even when compared with the several alternatives that are out there.