Buick is back. After years of hiding in the background, one of GM’s most storied brands is suddenly having its best era in a very, very long time. This week, we were able to spend two solid days inside, outside, and in all available seating positions with its refreshed 2017 LaCrosse. Not only does it look starkly different (read: better) than the outgoing generation, but it has received a laudable helping of technological advancements.
Chief Engineer Jeff Yanssens told me that he wanted the 2017 Buick LaCrosse to be "segment leading" in every possible way. In the grand scheme of things, a large sedan’s tech package probably won’t sway prospective customers from one brand to another, which makes the company’s focus on it that much more impressive.
Before we dive into the nitty gritty on what’s new, here’s the skinny on pricing. The 2017 Buick LaCrosse goes on sale in August 2016 and starts at $32,990 nicely equipped, running up to nearly $50,000 for the loaded AWD model. Buick has massively simplified the shopping process, offering a trio of trim levels (Preferred, Essence, and Premium), a single redesigned 3.6L V6 engine option, a single transmission option (an all-new eight-speed auto), and a standard rear-vision camera.
A speedy screen
So, the touchscreen – an 8-inch frameless gem that acts as the heart of the Buick IntelliLink system. Unlike mushy, sluggish resistive screens of the past, this capacitive panel is both perfectly situated for both driver and passenger interaction and strikingly quick to respond. By and large, flagship smartphones like the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy have shaped the way consumers expect any screen to react. In turn, automakers have struggled mightily to bring their infotainment responsiveness in line with phones.
The 2017 Buick LaCrosse has a panel that finally rivals a high-end phone in terms of the time it takes for finger taps to be recognized and subsequent actions to occur. We tapped and swiped every possible combination of icons, and were continuously impressed with how quickly the system responded. It’s one of the only full-size sedans where your Snapchatting kid won’t dial up a route and ask why it’s so much slower than the phone in their pocket. That sounds trivial, but it’s not.
The display is set midway between the driver and passenger, and at arm’s length. That enabled Buick to skip a console-mounted controller. Reaching all corners of the screen was a breeze while driving and riding shotgun, and even after approximately four a half million taps, we saw nary a hint of fingerprints. We’ll chalk that up to black magic or bright engineering – perhaps a cute combination of both.
AppShop and BYOH (Bring Your Own Hotspot)
Second only to GMC’s Acadia SUV, the 2017 Buick LaCrosse is offering access to GM’s internal AppShop. The system is entirely phone-free, allowing drivers to download familiar apps to their car and use them without a smartphone. At launch, just three apps (Glympse, an internal location-based deals app, and The Weather Channel) will be available, but the addition of a few high-profile music streaming services were hinted at for the near future. You’ll need access to the internet for these to function, but that’s getting a lot simpler as well.
For US motorists who wish to pay monthly to AT&T for an unlimited in-car data plan, that’s a new $40/month option. You can also add your car as another device to draw from your family’s data pool, but the new alternative is even more exciting. If you dig into the settings, you’ll now be able to connect the car to your phone or your own WiFi hotspot, essentially providing car-wide WiFi using a device (and associated data plan) that you already own. That’s huge for folks intrigued by their car being a rolling hotspot, but entirely uninterested in shelling out for another data plan.
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and in-car projection
All trims in the 2017 Buick LaCrosse ship with two USB ports in the center console, allowing divided households to take turns tapping into Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. During our six hour jaunt in the wilds of Oregon, we were able to experience both sides of the projection fence, and again, response times were shockingly quick. It took about one full second before a phone was recognized in the IntelliLink menu, and a single tap launched us into the Android Auto or Apple CarPlay interface.
Of note, Buick has managed to keep its inbuilt navigation system fully functional even when a phone is projecting through the vehicle. (Some vehicles will force users to rely on Apple Maps once an iPhone is connected through CarPlay.) Furthering the integration, audio tracks hosted on your phone can be scrubbed by swiping across the panel.
It’s worth pointing out how easy Buick has made it to jump between systems. At no point in time did we feel locked into CarPlay / Android Auto or Buick’s own IntelliLink. There’s a dedicated Home button just beneath the screen that takes you back to Buick’s launcher screen from anywhere else, including a menu inside of CarPlay or Android Auto. For such a dynamic in-dash solution, the learning curve was fantastically low.
Audio, wireless charging, and safety
For those who spring for the Essence and Premium trims, an added outlay of $1,145 nets you the aptly-named Sights and Sounds package. That adds navigation and an upscale Bose audio system, which handled six solid hours of 90s on 9 with poise. (There’s a 3-month SiriusXM trial included, and no, we’ve no shame whatsoever about our adoration for Shawn Colvin and Gin Blossoms.) It’s no Panaray, and the Revel options across the Lincoln line are superior to our ears, but it’s still an option worth splurging on.
The baseline LaCrosse is one classy lady, and the list of standard features is stout. That said, tech aficionados will find plenty to appreciate on the Premium trim. That’s the only way to get a wireless charging pocket for your phone, a 110-volt outlet in rear cabin, a heads-up display, and the all-important massaging seats for both driver and front passenger. (Those, by the way, were vital in keeping our backs fresh through hours of winding mountain roads.)
While the usual array of safety features are here – you can’t accidentally throw it in park while driving, you can’t put the car in reverse without a deliberate two-way motion, etc. – there was one amenity we hadn’t yet seen before. The rear seat reminder is a nifty alarm that reminds you to check your back seat for humans, animals, and things that’ll surely melt if left alone. It’s set into motion if you open the rear door before you hop in the driver’s seat and take off for the day. We’d all like to think we’d never leave our sleeping child or dog in the back, but it’s nice to have a car that’ll make sure it doesn’t get overlooked.
The tech you don’t see
We’re told that the average buyer for a LaCrosse is in their mid-40s, roughly 60/40 when looking at male/female purchasers. These people deal with enough noise at work, which is why Buick spent lavishly to beat out Lexus in the cabin racket department. Indeed, we had zero issues communicating with rear-seat passengers while cruising over a freshly stripped roadway – a stretch that flung up plenty of pebbles and did its best to break our concentration on Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Life. Put simply, the car punches well above its weight (er, price segment) when it comes to reducing road noise, leaving passengers feeling as if they’re encapsulated in a premium sedan that would typically run north of $60k.
YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wsr-Guv0gw
Underneath, Buick has installed a five-link rear suspension that one-ups the outgoing four-link model. That, paired with Continuous Damping Control on LaCrosse models equipped with 20-inch wheels, enables the vehicle to drive like something much more akin to a sports car. We pressed the 2017 Buick LaCrosse hard in corners along US-30 and US-47, and it felt quite strange to have a car this sophisticated react so well to our brashness. You wouldn’t think you could toss a full-size sedan around mountain roads with abandon, but here, you really can. It seems to work best if you first unbutton the top of your shirt and loosen your tie, but perhaps that’s just our imagination.
Should you buy it?
The full-size sedan segment isn’t lacking for competition. In fact, Buick is attempting to unseat the Lexus ES 350 with the new 2017 LaCrosse – a vehicle that starts at over $5,000 more. What surprised us most was just how well it did precisely that. The brand itself is still working to regain respect, having to prove everything it claims while others can coast a bit more on prestige alone. That grit was evident in the artists, designers, and engineers who shaped the vehicle, and the resulting product is more refined because of the proverbial chip on their shoulder.
If you’re in the market for a spacious full-size car that’s ripe with new technology, gets fantastic gas mileage (around 28MPG on average with plenty of spirited sprints), can get eerily quiet, and looks as good as anything emanating from Europe these days, it’s worth test driving the 2017 Buick LaCrosse. We suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the amount of fun you’ll get for the price.
(Just be sure you order the dark sapphire blue exterior and brandy interior. You’ll thank us later.)