Review by Jacob Black, photos courtesy of GM.
The flagship Buick has a big upgrade for 2017. An all-new chassis and engine plus twin-clutch AWD system and eight-speed automatic are at the heart of the new LaCrosse. Buick told us they had four focus areas to improve: performance, ride and handling, quietness, and safety; though it was obvious that fuel economy was also of significant concern.
An all-new chassis and engine plus twin-clutch AWD system and eight-speed automatic are at the heart of the new LaCrosse.
The all-new 3.6L V6 has also been designed from the ground up to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness while also improving fuel-economy. It is, GM says, the first engine from the group which was developed with automatic stop-start technology from the very beginning. This should translate into smoother restarts. To achieve this goal the V6 has continuously variable valve timing courtesy of a geared drive on the camshaft. This allows the valves to be set to the optimum position for ignition during auto stop-start events, and then fall back into phase when the engine is running. Even the engine mounts were designed to facilitate smooth stop-starts.
High-pressure direct fuel injection delivers gains in power and economy by allowing more precise fuel metering. Despite the all new engine, power remains almost identical to the outgoing model with 305 hp available at 6,800 rpm and 268 lb-ft at 5,200. Fuel economy is yet to be determined but is promised to be greater with help from the all-new eight-speed auto.
Final drive output is via the twin-clutch AWD system which operates in front-wheel drive most of the time. When needed, up to 90 percent of torque can be sent to the rear wheels, where the twin clutch unit will split torque as required left and right.
Further improving fuel economy is substantial weight reduction of 131 kg. Of which 68 kg comes from the structure and materials, 21 kg from the chassis itself, 16 kg from the doors, hood and bootlid, 15 kg from a reduction in acoustic barrier material and 11 kg from the seats.
The power-to-weight ratio has been improved by just under seven percent as a result of these changes which were aided by a Lacrosse that is both smaller and larger than its predecessor (but mostly larger).
The Lacrosse is 40 mm lower and 15 mm longer, while the wheelbase has been pushed out by 60 mm reducing the front overhang substantially – this should provide better balance and better stability with less understeer in particular. Track has also been widened by 33 mm up front and 28 mm out back while width is up only 10 mm, shrinking the body around the footprint on the road.
The rear suspension is now a five-link independent setup and front comes in two guises: standard MacPherson strut, or up-spec Hiper Strut. The Hiper strut uses the same mounting points as the MacPherson but uses a different spindle mount (what Buick calls a “revolute joint” to maintain camber during cornering and also reduce torque steer. Road and Track has a good explanation of this system.
Hiper strut is cool, but it’s the five-link rear suspension that Buick says was key to improving NVH and ride comfort in the Lacrosse by allowing more control over more axis of movement. The new setup sits in an isolated subframe with hydraulic bushings and has been tuned for ride more than sportiness.
The up-spec suspension comes with 20-inch wheels – up from 18 – as well as two-mode driver adjustable damping. Park assist and lane keep assist have also been added to the Lacrosse, made possible by the addition of rack-mounted electric steering.
Acoustic materials have been removed courtesy of Multi-Disciplinary Modelling (MDO) which allowed the designers and engineers to work through iterations of the design that absorbed and dissipated noise and vibration in a holistic way.
Triple-sealed doors, acoustic wheel well liners and acoustic glass as well as Active Noise Control all work together to eliminate the need for thick, heavy acoustic padding within the chassis. Buick says even the switchgear and door latches – including the fuel door – were tested in a sound lab to ensure a “quality sound”. Even the windscreen wipers were adjusted to remove the slap heard when they are on their backwards sweep. An engineer was so irritated by the noise he had the motors adjusted to slow down slightly on the return stroke, resulting in a 20 percent noise improvement.
Visually, the new Lacrosse features wide, sculpted hips and a new Buick grill – which if we’re honest has strong hints of Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz in it. The look is purposeful and interesting from most angles though the back is a little plain in comparison to the dramatic flanks and front fascia.
Sitting inside the Buick I felt immediately comfortable and noted excellent visibility in all forward directions. Rearward visibility is compromised by a small rear windscreen however. The design is elegant and well executed with real stitching in the leather-clad surfaces. The fake wood laminate looks good but feels cheap to touch – especially when others like Chrysler and Hyundai are using genuine porous wood in their interiors.
I was impressed to see Bluetooth microphones in the rear seats, a subtle nod to GM’s commitment to connectivity. The stunning, fully configurable 8.0-inch information display nestled in the instrument cluster is backed up by a head-up display, and the gauges are clear and easy to read. There is a second eight-inch screen in the centre stack which caps off the infotainment system. This system comes with Android Auto and Apple Carplay as well as 4G LTE wireless connectivity. A wireless charging tray is also available.
The ergonomics for the driver are first class, with no reach needed to access the key functions for the radio (volume, tune) which are accessible via the touchscreen, the steering wheel controls and also via redundant hard buttons. The gear selector module has been shrunk down to an ultra-compact size, allowing the BMW-style lever to be placed closer to the driver – optimizing storage space and also driver ergonomics. It also allows for a floating bridge console and a storage pass-through underneath.
The eight-way adjustable front seats have massaging features and are extremely supportive. Rear access has been improved with wider-opening doors and the 402L trunk has been designed to accept four golf bags.
Front pedestrian braking has been added to improve safety as has lane-keep assist. They join already available features like lane departure warning, blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, rear-vision camera and the ten airbags. GM’s safety-alert seat which vibrates to warn the driver has been applied here, removing the tell-tale beep that let your passengers know you were drifting in your lane.
The Buick Lacrosse will be built at the Detroit-Hamtramck facility and will be available early in summer of 2016.