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You've probably seen the commercials. Thirty-something woman is surprised her friend drives a Buick. Super-cute actor Max Greenfield and his super-cuter French bulldog extol the luxury of heated seats.
Buick's mission to attract a younger demographic means it brought out the big guns with the redesigned 2017 Buick LaCrosse.
The LaCrosse is Buick's full-size sedan, slotting in above the midsize Regal and the compact Verano. It's offered in base, Preferred, Essence and Premium trims. Front-wheel drive is standard, but there is an all-wheel drive option in the Premium trim for an extra $3,000. New this year is an optional sport suspension package, a quieter ride and a 300-pound weight loss.
But it's not just better driving dynamics that will attract a younger buyer. This is the internet/technology/Instagram generation we're talking about. I wanted to see if the Buick had the tech goods, so I decided to spend my time in the LaCrosse only using its voice controls on the IntelliLink infotainment system.
IntelliLink's simple interface, 8-inch touchscreen, 4G LTE wireless hotspot and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto made me a fan. But while most manufacturers have got voice recognition down, the Buick and I seemed to be speaking a different language.
The IntelliLink system allows for point of interest search, so you can just say "Target" or "Starbucks" and the nav system brings up a list of the nearest locations. I tried it with my gym.
When I said "24 Hour Fitness," it asked me if I said "finesse." A second try resulted in "mixed nuts." (I can't make this up, people.) I tried just saying, "24 Hour" and it came up with one location in San Francisco, about 12 miles away, instead of the location less than a mile from me. That's a partial success?
When it came time to make a phone call, the system took much longer than expected to load my contacts, then insisted they weren't loaded at all. Saying, "Call Mom Home" resulted in an innocent sounding, "I don't recognize that command," but the subtext, if a robot voice can have a subtext, was a very Kubrick-esque, "I'm sorry Emme. I'm afraid I can't do that." I tried again and the system asked me, "What kind of destination is Mom Home?" It's like the IntelliLink robot lady was choosing to be daft. What's so hard about "Call Mom Home?"
Fortunately, all this was made null and void once I plugged my phone in and started using Apple CarPlay. Siri immediately called my mom when I asked and directed me to my local gym. IntelliLink could take a few lessons from Siri.
Tuning to a satellite radio station was pretty easy, as long as I didn't follow the system's voice prompts. While it asked for a station number or name, it refused to recognize Sirius station names like First Wave or Classic Rewind. It would only respond to a command using the station number.
It's 2017 and voice recognition has been around for years. Buick should be able to get this right -- or at least, mostly right -- on its largest luxury sedan.
The base LaCrosse comes with a back-up camera, and that's about it for driver assistance. Optioning in the Driver Confidence Package 1, available on the mid Essence trim, adds alerts of the Rear Cross-Traffic and Side Blind Zone with Lane Change variety. You have to step up to the top-of-the-line Premium trim to get features like Front Automatic Braking, which hits the brakes if the car senses an impending collision, and Full Speed Range Adaptive Cruise Control.
I'm a fan of adaptive cruise control systems, which match speeds with slower traffic ahead, as long as they work in stop-and-go traffic. The LaCrosse makes it halfway to the finish line. The technology brings the car to a stop, but it won't automatically move forward when the lead car accelerates away. The driver has to tap the gas to re-engage the system. It's a small thing but many other vehicles, like the Hyundai Elantra and Sonata and Ford Fusion, allow for a three-second pause when stopped.
The LaCrosse is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 engine, good for 310 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque. To save fuel, the engine can run on four of its six cylinders when cruising on the highway. Auto stop/start works pretty seamlessly, but there is no off button. Some folks might find that annoying, but it's all in the interest of better fuel economy. The EPA estimates that the LaCrosse returns 21 miles per gallon in the city, 31 on the highway and 25 combined, a bit more than the 22.7 miles per gallon I achieved during my time with it.
True to its luxury forbearers, the LaCrosse glides across broken pavement like it was deep-pile carpet, all while remaining whisper quiet. This might be all there is to say about it, if not for the optional Dynamic Drive Package. It's a bargain at $1,625 and adds adaptive suspension, 20-inch wheels and a Sport mode.
That Sport mode turns the LaCrosse from a comfy ride to an almost-aggressive one, engaging quicker shifts, a more responsive throttle and heavier steering with a quicker ratio. The suspension tightens up and combined with the HiPer strut assembly in the front, torque steer is kept at bay.
The transmission still upshifts too quickly for my taste, but every LaCrosse comes with paddle shifters, so feel free to click your own as you see fit.
The large sedan is a competitive segment, and you might find a comparable pick with more power. The 2017 Lincoln MKZ can be optioned up with a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 good for 400 horsepower while a Chevrolet SS, though certainly not as sophisticated as the LaCrosse, gets a good ol' American V8 under the hood, pumping out 415 horses. The MKZ and the Lexus ES 350 are available as hybrids, if a combined powertrain is your bag. Both the MKZ and ES 350 hybrids get about six mpg better, on average. Offerings like the Nissan Maxima and Kia Cadenza are fine choices, but neither have the option of all-wheel drive like the LaCrosse.
Buick pulls a bit of a fast one when it comes to choice. In order to get any packages you have to start with the $39,590 Essence trim. Both the base and the Preferred have no packages available, which essentially means you have to get the second-best trim level to even get heated seats. With that in mind, I'd start with the Essence trim and add the $445 Driver Confidence 1 package, which unfortunately adds the Sights and Sounds Package for $1,145. Buick, if I wanted the navigation and Bose surround sound I'd buy it. This is bundling at its worst.
At any rate, I'd leave the sunroof on the table but would definitely pony up the $1,625 for the Dynamic Drive Package. This brings my optioned up LaCrosse to $42,805 with destination charges. Just for comparison, my top-of-the-line and fully-loaded Premium trim test model is $48,395.
The 2017 Buick LaCrosse is a good choice for those wanting quiet, affordable luxury. Apart from the voice recognition, most of the tech is there if you're willing to pay for it.