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’17 LaCrosse wears sporty new Buick face

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

With its sleeker, better-performing and quieter 2017 LaCrosse, Buick continues its efforts to aim for a younger, hipper image and attract new buyers while retaining loyal traditionalists.

2017 Buick LaCrosse.

The next-generation flagship sedan, unveiled Wednesday at the Los Angeles Autos Show, will be built in Detroit and should be in showrooms in early summer 2016.

It represents the latest attempt by Buick to appeal to younger buyers and shift away from being known as the car of choice for grandparents. A new convertible, the Cascada, will arrive in dealerships early next year, aiding in the image makeover.

“The current Buick LaCrosse holds the title for highest rate of buyers in the 65-plus age bracket among all models in the industry, an image that Buick is trying to shed,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds.com director of industry analysis.

The redesigned LaCrosse is first to wear the new face of Buick that includes a darkened grille design and a tri-color (red, silver and blue) shield accented by wings that gives it a sportier-looking front. The grille was influenced by the Buick Avenir concept, which won accolades in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

2017 Buick LaCrosse.

The 2017 LaCrosse receives a new 3.6-liter V-6 engine with stop-start technology to save fuel in stop-and-go driving. It’s paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission that delivers motion through a twin-clutch all-wheel drive system.

The redesign of Buick’s flagship cars comes amid sluggish sedan sales, as buyers continue to gravitate toward SUVs and trucks. The LaCrosse will compete with vehicles such as the Lexus ES 350, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Chrysler 300 and Lincoln MKZ.

“Technology and driving dynamics may need to be a key focal point for the LaCrosse to succeed,” Akshay Anand, analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said.

LaCrosse sales are down 14.1 percent this year through October to 35,526 sold. All Buick sedan sales have dropped by double-digit percentages this year.

Still, Buick’s vice president of sales and marketing, Duncan Aldred, said the LaCrosse has an opportunity to win sales from premium buyers in the midsize and large car segments which represent about 3.7 million sales annually in the U.S. He said Buick can pull customers from the upper end of mainstream and the lower end of luxury, and he believes the new LaCrosse will succeed. “Buick’s positioning as a premium brand, it can reach up into the luxury or get the aspirational buyers from mainstream,” he said.

IHS Automotive said the next-generation LaCrosse, which rides on the updated Epsilon platform shared with the Chevrolet Malibu and Impala, could hit 50,000 U.S. sales in 2017.

“There’s no doubt in our mind that not only will this vehicle act as real brand ambassador for us, but we also know and expect that it will deliver real tangible volume here in the U.S. and on an international scale as well,” Aldred said.

The LaCrosse was all-new for Buick in 2009 as a 2010 model, and was refreshed for the 2014 model year. The company has sold more than 900,000 worldwide since 2009. Aldred called the car “critical” for Buick internationally and in China.

GM confirmed Wednesday that the sedan will be built at General Motors Co.’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, which is adding a second shift early next year. Production is moving from GM’s Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kansas. GM is investing $384 million at Detroit-Hamtramck for a new body shop, tooling, equipment and upgrades to build the new 2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric, 2016 Cadillac CT6 sedan and the 2017 LaCrosse.

The latest version of the LaCrosse sheds about 300 pounds from the current version, which means improved handling, acceleration and braking, GM says. The car is less than an inch longer longer than the current LaCrosse, but the roofline is 1.6 inches lower and the front wheels were pulled forward and the wheelbase stretched 2.7 inches – all to give the car a sleeker design.

Jeff Yanssens, chief engineer for the LaCrosse, said engineers focused on improving in four areas: overall performance with a new V-6 engine, ride and handling, safety and the quietness Buick is known for.

The 2017 LaCrosse receives a new suspension, sound-absorbing materials, active noise cancellation, acoustic laminated windshields and side glass, and triple-sealed doors. Engineers even worked to reduce wiper noise, Yanssens said.

Inside, Buick engineers and designers worked to make it easier to enter and exit the back seat by making the doors open wider. The trunk can handle four golf bags. The interior has soft-touch and premium materials, a new center stack with fewer buttons and controls, moon-white ambient lighting and available wireless charging. An electronic precision shifter is positioned higher and closer to the driver. Front massage seats are available.

Pricing for the 2017 LaCrosse has not been released, but Aldred told reporters that pricing won’t “massively move” from today’s pricing. The 2016 LaCrosse starts at $31,990.

mburden@detroitnews.com

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2017 Buick LaCrosse