2017 Buick LaCrosse First Drive: Buick’s Trendsetter

Circling Portland, Oregon’s trendy Pearl district in a Buick LaCrosse is about as cool as saddling up for an afternoon of work at one of the area’s many coffee shops with a chunky HP laptop and not a slick new MacBook. It gets the job done, but it feels rather out of place—and not in an ironic sort of way.

That’s not going to change overnight, but the third-generation LaCrosse represents a big enough leap forward for the brand that maybe soon we’ll see one mixed in with Portland’s regular flow of old Volvos and bicycles with fenders. This latest flagship from the brand your grandfather drove sheds much of its predecessor’s frumpiness—not to mention its curb weight—to become what may be the most polished sedan under $40,000.

Oh, and it’s way under $40,000, listing from $32,990 for the base LaCrosse. Even though it stickers for about a grand more than last year’s model, the new-for-2017 LaCrosse is worth every extra penny. Underneath its more svelte, but still voluptuous body sits an updated platform shared in part with the latest Chevrolet Malibu. That new architecture sheds about 300 pounds of weight (for a curb weight of about 3,600 pounds) over the last LaCrosse, which in turn assists in boosting fuel economy by 3 mpg on the highway to what Buick estimates will be 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined (figures that drop about 2 mpg with optional all wheel-drive)

Stopping at fewer gas stations isn’t the biggest benefit to the LaCrosse’s diet. It’s how remarkably lithe this still large four-door feels over the road. Its steering is light but precise enough to allow this sedan to be hustled along with more authority than your average full-size sedan. Winding through a quiet, freshly paved forest road on the way to Astoria, Oregon, we quickly grew confident in the LaCrosse’s stable handling—this is a full-size Buick that is almost fun to drive. That may not be a major selling point for buyers in this segment, but this newfound poise pays off in routine driving.

Base models ride on 18-inch wheels, but 20s bundled with GM’s HiPer strut front suspension and adjustable dampers are optional. Frankly, we preferred the slightly more plush ride of the 18s, which better suit the sedan’s mission of silent, comfortable motoring. The 20s offer sport and touring suspension modes, but the difference between the two is negligible. Parent company GM’s much-ballyhooed HiPer strut front suspension is designed to negate torque steer, but this balanced chassis delivered little of that undesirable wheel tugging even in base trim.

Under its hood, the new LaCrosse features GM’s new 3.6-liter V-6 engine that we’ve already seen in the Cadillac CT6, but Buick hinted to us that there may be more on the way. Gone is the slow-selling, but thrifty 2.4-liter 4-cylinder mild hybrid powertrain that had been rated at 36 mpg. With gas hovering around $2 a gallon, Buick decided to focus only on the V-6. However, a LaCrosse hybrid that utilizes the Chevy Malibu Hybrid’s powertrain is sold in China—by far Buick’s largest market—and it would make sense over here should gas prices rise again.

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