2017 Buick LaCrosse First Look Review

#hashtags: #Americans #China #Buick #LaCrosse #June 2009 #Murica #Michigan #Shanghai

Most Americans don’t get much chance to travel to China, so you might be shocked to learn that Buick has sold more than 900,000 of its flagship LaCrosse sedans globally since the current model hit production in June 2009. Obviously li’l ol’ ’Murica gets only a fraction of those, but that statistic should help you understand the gravity with which its redesign has been undertaken—in Michigan, not in Shanghai where its predecessor was penned. The new one is longer, lower, wider, sleeker, more sculptural, and (we’re assured) quieter and more comfortable. Built on the new Epsilon II architecture (’16 Malibu, next-gen Impala, Cadillac XT5) the LaCrosse’s wheelbase has been stretched by 2.7 inches, mostly by pulling the powertrain and front axle forward. This improves both the visual proportion and stance of the car (dash-to-axle!) while enabling wider front door openings that ease entry and exit and reducing front wheelwell intrusion for better front footroom. Overall length grows by only 0.6 inch, and trunk space improves from 13.3 to 14.2 cubic feet, so something had to give, and that something was rear legroom. But at 39.9 inches (down 0.6), it’s still plenty generous. The roofline drops by an impressive 1.7 inches—impressive because front headroom inside grows by 0.4 inch in front and only drops by 0.2 in back. Overall body width wiggles up by a tenth, but savvy packaging lets shoulder room expand by 0.3 and 0.6 inch front and rear. Track width expands by a fender-lip-bulging total of 1.3 inches in front and 1.1 in back. The roomy new interior looks nothing like the old one. A new by-wire shifter enables a floating center console with storage underneath open to both sides. A horizontal element segregates this console from a new center stack that’s dominated by an 8-inch CarPlay/Android Auto-ready touchscreen. Hard controls are provided for volume and station seeking beneath the screen (praise be!), and dedicated climate controls get their own area below that. The instrument cluster gets another 8-inch TFT screen and a head-up display is available. The seats are swathed in soft Soleil Keisol leather and offer eight-way adjustability, ventilation, faster heating elements, and massage. The outgoing LaCrosse revived the dramatic sweep spear character line that defined Buick design in the 1950s, and this one preserves the idea of that bodyside swoop, but the character lines are split, and where the single line used to mark the intersection of mostly flat surfaces, the metal on either side of these new lines is much more deeply sculpted. Viewed indoors, it looks a bit busy, but we suspect that with natural light playing on these surfaces—especially the fender bulges—it may look better. The steeply sloped rear window and new side-window treatment resemble the current Impala but share no parts. Motivation will come from a variant of the second-gen 3.6-liter V-6 powering various other new GM cars. It boasts cylinder deactivation and auto start/stop. Quieter intake and exhaust tuning will reduce output from that of the Euro-chaser Cadillacs to a (for now estimated) 305 hp and 268 lb-ft. It’s bolted to a paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic, and front-drive is standard, but top-trim models can specify a new twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system co-developed with GKN. The clutches independently engage the rear wheels individually on a predictive basis, with sensors monitoring the driver’s every twitch of the steering wheel, gas, and brake pedal. It also enables a sort of passive torque vectoring by releasing the clutch of an inboard wheel when accelerating out of a turn. (We prefer this approach to squeezing an inboard brake.) The system is shared with the XT5 and uses a GKN Twinster rear axle unit similar to those found on Land Rover’s Evoque and Ford’s Focus RS. The suspension setup is similar, with a base front strut/five-link rear suspension that gets 18-inch wheels and an optional upgrade to continuous damping control with HiPer struts in front (less torque steer, better steering feel) and 20-inch wheels. Comfort is said to be increased with both, and the belt-driven, rack-mounted electric power steering now provides compensation for side winds or road crowns, lane keeping assist, and park assist for parallel and back-in parking. The whole car weighs about 300 pounds less, and the body structure is 15 percent stiffer in torsion (see sidebar), all of which positively impacts every aspect of performance and comfort. Some 32 pounds of that weight loss come from replacing conventional mastic-backed sound deadeners with innovative new sound-dissipating material that supposedly looks like diaper cloth sandwiching a furnace filter. These internal fibers scatter and absorb noise rather than just muffling it. It’s employed on the firewall and under the carpet. The rest of the car is blanketed in absorbers, sprayed-on gunk, sound-absorbing glass (forward of the B-pillar), and body-cavity baffles. They made it so quiet that the windshield-wiper noise became obtrusive, so the motors that drive the wiper arms were programmed to slow more gradually before reversing direction. Buick’s Michigan design team hopes that this level of detail sweating will help its third-gen LaCrosse (which is even being built in Hamtramck, Michigan) trump its Shanghai-sourced predecessor by becoming a million-seller before it gets replaced. We’ll know better after we see and drive it outdoors, but on paper that seems possible (Chinese economic collapses notwithstanding). Lighter, Stiffer, Bumpier. Upon first glancing at the new LaCrosse’s brightly colored body-in-white, one is struck by how corrugated every panel looks. Darts and bumps and ridges cover practically every panel bigger than the center touchscreen. These stiffening ridges prevent those panels from acting like speakers to transmit NVH and contribute to overall body stiffness. There are loads of other tricks toward that end, too, most of which were learned after a cray-cray amount of CRAE super-computer time. This “multi-disciplinary optimization” work led to crash rails that employ a light-gauge square tube with heavier gauge “corner stiffeners” welded in, putting mass only where it does the most good. Tougher roof-crush standards are met with thinner-section A-pillars, thanks to “patch-welded blanks,” where a super-stiff U-channel gets welded to a lighter-gauge material before it’s stamped into the rough shape of the A-pillar. (A similar strategy is used at the base of the B-pillars.) Materials geeks, the body breakdown looks like this: 9 percent high-strength low-alloy steel 4 percent mild steel 3 percent ultra-high-strength steel 1 percent advanced high-strength steel 7 percent bake-hardenable steel 7 percent press-hardened steel 9 percent aluminum (bumper beams, hood, decklid) And exactly where did the “almost 300” pounds of weight savings come from? 150 pounds: the body-structure lightweighting efforts 45 pounds: chassis components 36 pounds: closure panels (hood, doors, decklid) 32 pounds: sound-deadening materials 25 pounds: seats 2017 Buick LaCrosse BASE PRICE $32,500 (est) VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan ENGINE 3.6L/305-hp (est)/268-lb-ft (est) DOHC 24-valve V-6 TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic CURB WEIGHT 3,700-3,850 lb (est) WHEELBASE 114.4 in LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 197.5 x 73.2 x 57.5 in 0-60 MPH 6.0-6.2 sec (MT est) EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet rated ON SALE IN U.S. Summer 2016