Every summer, I spend a couple of weeks at my in-laws’ log cabin on Lake Michigan, in Door County, Wisconsin, and each time I try to drive a vehicle that will be admired and respected by right-thinking Upper Midwesterners. Last year, for example, that car was the 2016 Cadillac CTS AWD 2.0T Premium Collection; before that came the 2015 Ford Focus ST and the 2014 Mitsubishi Evolution GSR. This time I opted for perhaps the most Wisconsonian choice of all: a big Buick sedan.
I was born in Minnesota and left for California (in a ’73 Chevy Sportvan Beauville) at age 6, while my wife departed Wisconsin for South Dakota while in her 20s; like so many wandering Americans, we ended up in Colorado. When we return to our ancestral land every August, my childhood accent starts sneaking back into my speech, I develop a powerful hunger for perch, a thirst for Grain Belt beer … and I want to hold my head up high in a luxurious Detroit car, preferably with four doors and lots of chrome. Not an import, not a truck, but something more like the ’72 Buick Skylark of my wife’s childhood, or the 1949 Cadillac coupe of mine. The LaCrosse fit that need perfectly.
Like the stoic residents of the Upper Midwest, most Buicks have tended toward the conservative when it comes to styling during the 118 years since the founding of the Buick Auto-Vim and Power Co. This car is no exception, though it does have a more generous helping of shiny bits than most 2017 machines.
The LaCrosse went to a new platform for 2017, though it remains a close relative of such machines as the Chevrolet Malibu and Opel Insignia. Inside, you won’t find half-hearted attempts at German- or Japanese-style luxury; the LaCrosse’s cabin resembles the understated office of a very successful Green Bay attorney. The wood trim on the dash looks good and lacks the grabbing-by-the-throat “this is real wood, sucka!” flash of a more ostentatious luxury car.
The touchscreen interface is modern enough; no longer does GM need to worry that “traditional” Buick buyers will be scared off by electronic gadgets, as they were nearly 30 years ago by the Buick Reatta and its touchscreen-interface Graphics Control Center. Of course, the main purpose for this screen— if you’re going to go full Midwest, as I did— is to keep you informed of weather-related hazards in nearby and not-so-nearby regions. Looks like some bad cells coming down on out Winnepeg, might have to cancel the booya!
This car has respectable acceleration, with 310 hp out of a 3.6-liter V6, though I must live with my regret that I didn’t test the all-wheel-drive system’s abilities on the sand at nearby Whitefish Dunes State Park. The ordinary front-wheel-drive LaCrosse would have been just as good for my nearly-all-pavement driving experiences in Wisconsin.
The ride is plenty comfortable, as you’d expect and Buick shoppers demand, though the eight-speed automatic transmission seems to do more gear-hunting than necessary. I didn’t like the exceptionally annoying reflections of the dash onto the windshield, and my latent Gauge OCD got triggered by the coolant-temperature gauge reading on a C-H scale while the oil-temperature gauge displayed degrees (and don’t get me started on the 5/8-volt increments on the voltmeter).
Because my in-laws’ lake cabin has all the best 1940s technology, most pointedly not including cellphone coverage, I had to drive into Sturgeon Bay in order to take advantage of the car’s (optional) OnStar Wi-Fi hotspot and finish my huge Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats gallery post. The LaCrosse proved surprisingly good as a mobile office, with the air conditioning keeping me cool for hours at idle in 90-degree outside temperatures and plenty of room to spread out my notes and equipment.
I think you could get just as much GM sedan luxury for a lot less money — e.g., with the Impala or even the Regal — but the Buick name means something in these parts, and that may be worth paying extra for.