LOS ANGELES -- Buick is counting on a svelte redesigned LaCrosse to carry on as the brand’s flagship and draw more buyers to a declining big-sedan market.
The 2017 LaCrosse, unveiled at the auto show here, borrows from the sleek Avenir sedan concept that Buick showed in January -- its front end, including the wing-shaped element in the grille, bears a strong resemblance. But despite the buzz created by the Avenir, don’t expect a production version of that rear-wheel-drive looker to supplant the LaCrosse at the top of Buick’s lineup anytime soon.
“We have no plans to bring that in,” Buick chief Duncan Aldred said of the Avenir. “We’re absolutely delighted with the LaCrosse being the flagship.”
To that end, the third-generation LaCrosse takes a step up in sophistication and technology. It keeps its basic profile but in a taut, more-sculptured package. The signature “sweep spear,” the side panel crease that runs up and over the rear wheel, is more pronounced than on the outgoing LaCrosse -- designers said they wanted to have it visually pop off the body.
Stretching the wheelbase 2½ inches enabled designers to pull the wheels forward for a longer dash-to-axle, a look seen in large luxury sedans.
Wide grille, less chrome
The wide grille keeps the waterfall pattern but with less chrome. The vertical bars appear darker and muted, set back to allow the wing-shape design and red, silver and blue Buick shield to stand out. It’s a face that will spread across Buick’s vehicle lineup over the next few years.
The car is scheduled to go on sale next summer. Production will move to General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck plant, from the company’s Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan.
The LaCrosse will be built on a new global midsize platform. Use of lighter high-strength steels help it shed nearly 300 pounds from its predecessor. Dimensions change little -- it’s about a half-inch wider and longer, but front and rear wheels are pushed to the corners for a more planted stance, and the roofline is 1.6 inches lower.
A 3.6-liter V-6 will be the sole engine. (Buick won’t offer a four-cylinder at launch.) The new V-6 has the same displacement as the V-6 offered on the outgoing LaCrosse, but it’s a new, from-scratch powerplant, which GM says is smoother, quieter and more fuel efficient. Its 305 hp and 268 pounds-feet of torque are higher than the outgoing engine’s.
The new powerplant will be combined with an eight-speed Aisin transmission and will have a stop-start system, a technology that is expanding across much of GM’s engine lineup. Engineers said the new engine was designed for stop-start, which makes it lighter and smoother than the retrofitted versions that GM has offered. It will improve fuel efficiency by nearly 7 percent, or about 1 mpg in city driving.
The LaCrosse has been Buick’s top-selling car for six years. But this redesign is arriving as consumers are shifting toward crossovers and away from sedans -- especially large ones. This year through October, the large-sedan segment sank 14 percent vs. 5.8 percent growth across the industry.
Also through October, the LaCrosse has been outsold by both of Buick’s crossovers, the large Enclave and subcompact Encore. Buick sold 35,526 LaCrosses in that period, down 14 percent from a year earlier.
Aldred said the LaCrosse still can be a major volume contributor for Buick by expanding its appeal beyond traditional big-sedan buyers. He said the redesigned car also must draw buyers from the vast market for mainstream midsize sedans -- think the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion -- as well as from the midsize luxury category.
“There’s no doubt in our mind that this vehicle acts as a real brand ambassador for us,” Aldred told reporters last week. “We also know and expect it will deliver real tangible volume for us.”