Car Culture: Buick buffs LaCrosse, image

John McCormick
Special to The Detroit News

Who knew Buick could make a large sedan that does not make one reach for motion sickness pills as soon as the roads turn twisty?

Buick designers took a series of steps to raise the LaCrosse’s game.

On the hilly, winding roads in the countryside outside Portland, Oregon, the latest Buick flagship, the 2017 LaCrosse, proved its worth as an entertaining driving companion.

Were Buick owners crying out for a more dynamic LaCrosse? Not exactly. But Jeff Yanssens, chief engineer of the latest version, has past generation Corvette-engineering blood in his veins. And he was not about to build an old-school Buick that wallowed through the turns like a boat.

That’s not to say Yanssens has turned the LaCrosse into a BMW 5 Series fighter, but he has put some daylight between the Buick and its primary rival, the Lexus ES350.

This competitive advantage is not just evident in terms of crisp handling and steering response, but also engine smoothness, lack of road noise and interior comfort.

Yanssens lists a whole series of steps his team took to ensure the LaCrosse sets a new standard in its class. Key changes include a stronger body structure that is lighter by 300 pounds, a five-link rear suspension system and the widespread use of advanced sound-deadening materials.

The LaCrosse comes with a 3.6-liter V-6 producing 310 horsepower and a strong torque output of 282 pound-feet. That power is routed through an eight-speed transmission either to the front wheels or to all four.

Buyers need to step up to the 20-inch wheel versions (versus the standard 18-inch rims) to experience the best handling characteristics offered by the LaCrosse. With the 20-inch wheels come Buick’s so-called HiPer strut front suspension, a design which reduces torque steer, as well as an adaptive damping system that tunes out bounce and float.

The LaCrosse has evolved into a better handling, more modern-looking sedan as part of Buick’s efforts to change perceptions of the brand.

Aesthetically, the LaCrosse has evolved into a more modern-looking, contemporary sedan, not exactly groundbreaking but elegant enough to turn heads. The same is true inside where the dashboard is now an attractive blend of artful design and well-chosen materials, with a nicely integrated 8-inch screen.

Front seat comfort is excellent and the rear compartment is spacious, if slightly compromised on headroom due to the lower roofline.

The latest Buick flagship starts at $32,990 but quickly climbs well into the 40s, once you select the higher, more desirable trim levels and options. Even at the higher price point, the LaCrosse remains an attractive option in its class.

Molly Peck, Buick marketing director, says the brand is registering with younger buyers. “People think it’s older body styles for older people, but it’s not,” she said.

Buick plays a vital role in GM’s successful Chinese market strategy, but it’s also transforming itself on its home soil. The LaCrosse is another proof point.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer.