LaCrosse steers Buick back to its softer past

The Buick LaCrosse gets a new look for the 2017 model year.

2017 Buick LaCrosse Premium FWD: For men of a certain age?

Price: $47,445 as tested. $41,065 for a base premium. Driver Confidence Package 2 added adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, and automatic braking for $1,690. (More options in the review.) The base price for a LaCrosse is $32,065.

Marketer’s pitch: “You’ll find any reason to get behind the wheel.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver liked the “strong V-6, competent handling, handsome styling,” but not the “brittle ride on big wheels, awkward joystick shifter, near-luxury trappings at full-luxury price.”

Reality: Not so sure I’d find any reason.

A car for oldsters: I’d been steering away from “Buick for old people” jokes in my columns all these years. I found the LaCrosse’s previous incarnation to be fun enough, comfortable and roomy, and an attractive car. But when I approached the all-white 2017 Buick LaCrosse in my driveway, I almost went back in the house for plaid golf pants, white shoes and belt, and a driving cap.

Or something too youthful? On the other hand, perhaps I’m actually too old for the LaCrosse. Sixteen-year-old Sturgis Kid 4.0 found the car attractive, and the interior design really caught his eye. He described it as luxurious.

What’s new: The LaCrosse gets a redesign for 2017, with a sleeker, lower look than previous models. (Perhaps white is not its most attractive color.) Its new profile looks like nothing if not a 1990s Chrysler LHS.

Up to speed: Well, it’s my column, so, too bad, 4.0; I say it’s for old people. And that’s unfortunate, because underneath the senior-community-living exterior, the LaCrosse is a nice machine. The 3.6-liter V-6 creates 310 horsepower and powers the sedan superbly.

Shifty: The eight-speed automatic transmission’s BMW-style trigger is less than satisfying. I found it difficult to switch between drive and manual modes while on the fly; this is the second of these types of General Motors transmissions I’ve had issue with. But somewhere between the transmission or the function that allowed the LaCrosse to use only four of its six cylinders, a shudder frequently arose when downshifting in slower traffic.

On the curves: Here, though, the LaCrosse lost me. Most of the time, I mention how sedate a car is, its handling uninspiring, and then I find the sport mode button, fun is had by all and yeehaw. The LaCrosse is not one of those stories. This time the sport mode seemed to offer very little change over the sedan’s regular drive mode, which was mushy. If you prefer comfort to handling, check the LaCrosse out.

Lost and found: Buick sure is playing to the younger driver with the LaCrosse’s steering wheel controls. The icons for the cruise control and related functions must be the equivalent of 7-point type.

Play some tunes: The Bose 11-speaker stereo system (part of the $1,145 Sight and Sound Package) offers excellent sound quality. Functionality, not so much. A row of buttons includes only “Home” and “Nav,” and some other highlights. In map mode, stereo changes -- and even substantial HVAC changes -- mean forgetting about where you’re going for a minute. A touchscreen controls most of the functions, and no good place to rest your hand means a screaming Mr. Driver’s Seat while he tries to simply find a song while cruising the highway. Fortunately, the voice command system operates as well as Cadillac’s.

Friends and stuff: No one should complain about comfort in the LaCrosse, except maybe the person in the middle of the back row. All four corners offer plenty of legroom, foot room, and headroom, and the seats are roomy, supportive, and supple. A large console is easily accessed between the seats, and a phone slot keeps communication devices solidly in place. The rear seat hump seems enormous for a front-wheel-drive car, but the LaCrosse does come in all-wheel drive as well. The trunk offers 15 cubic feet of space.

Night shift: The interior lights shine fairly brightly but don’t interfere with the view of the road. The headlights shine brightly as well.

Fuel economy: I averaged 24 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver’s Seat test arena of country and suburban roads. The LaCrosse is not picky, and drinks regular.

Where it’s built: Detroit.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts LaCrosse reliability to be average, the same as 2016 and a tick down from previous years.

In the end: General Motors has offered some intriguing new models for 2017, among them the Chevrolet Impala, Malibu, and Cruze. The LaCrosse shows Buick is still exhibiting a softer side, and I’m not a fan.

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