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Buick’s revised 2017 LaCrosse spans a sizable bandwidth of configurations, from the base $32,990 front-wheel-drive model with sedate road manners to more upscale variants with high-tech underpinnings and loads of amenities. But opt for a well-equipped, driver-oriented setup and its MSRP will push well above $40,000, at which point the Buick’s near-luxury luster begins to fade as fancier, rear-drive sedan alternatives come into view. The added cost of the Buick’s optional all-wheel-drive system, which offers little benefit on the road and is available only on the LaCrosse’s top Premium trim level, accentuates the disparity.

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We’ve already tested our preferred front-drive LaCrosse setup, which adds 20-inch wheels (18s are standard on all models), adaptive dampers, and General Motors’ HiPer Strut front suspension—a bundle that is offered only on the upper Essence and Premium trim levels. All-wheel drive adds $2200 to the latter and features the twin-clutch rear differential that has spread to a number of GM vehicles, including versions of the Cadillac XT5, the GMC Acadia, and the new 2018 Chevrolet Traverse, as well as Buick’s own Envision crossover. The system adds about 150 pounds to the LaCrosse’s curb weight and works with the car’s standard front-strut and rear-multilink suspensions. But unlike the brand’s packaging on the Envision, Buick does not offer the HiPer Strut front end with all-wheel drive in the LaCrosse.

With the LaCrosse positioned on the softer, more relaxed side of the sedan spectrum, there was little drama to bending our 3888-pound test car into a corner. Initial turn-in is precise if slightly more lethargic than our previous front-drive test car’s, and the LaCrosse neatly sticks to a line as you get back onto the throttle, the trick rear axle subtly apportioning power from side to side to keep the Buick’s tail in step with its snout. But there are no pronounced moments of rotation under power, and any sense of enhanced agility over the front-driver was noticeable only when we caned the LaCrosse harder than we expect the average Buick buyer will do. This is still a big, lazy car that banks on the appeal of quiet composure.

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We also didn’t notice much change in handling attitude from our car’s optional adaptive dampers, which for $1300 are bundled with 20-inch wheels shod with Bridgestone Potenza RE97AS all-season tires (P245/40R-20), as well as a driver-selectable Touring and Sport modes activated via a button on the console. Toggling the latter sharpens responses from the throttle and the eight-speed automatic transmission, along with significantly firming up the effort of the electrically assisted steering without any gain in feel. Body motions are well managed in either mode. That said, we discerned minimal change in ride quality. This car felt excessively harsh as the big wheels clomped over road imperfections, invading the calm of the Buick’s otherwise hushed interior. We’ve yet to sample a new LaCrosse on the standard 18-inch wheels with taller-profile tires, but this all-wheel-drive example seemed to be much more susceptible to impact harshness than a similarly equipped front-drive model.

GM’s 3.6-liter V-6 with 310 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque is the sole engine option in the LaCrosse, and all versions feature the same electronic joystick shifter that manages to be even clumsier than the ones we’ve loathed in BMWs for years. With better traction off the line, our all-wheel-drive test car had a 0.1-second advantage over the front-driver both to 60 mph and through the quarter-mile (5.8 and 14.4 seconds), although its 98-mph trap speed was 2 mph slower. While those results put the Buick near the sharp end of its competitive set, a 2017 Lincoln MKZ with a 400-hp twin-turbo V-6 is about a second quicker in both measures. Each of our Buick test cars rolled on identical wheels and tires and returned the same 0.83 g of grip around the skidpad, with the all-wheel-drive version stopping slightly shorter from 70 mph (168 feet) and with a satisfyingly firm brake pedal.

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Fuel economy between the two drivetrains, however, was not as close. All-wheel drive cuts 2 mpg from the standard LaCrosse’s EPA combined estimate (23 mpg versus the front-driver’s 25), and we could manage just 20 mpg in driving conditions similar to those in which the front-drive model returned 24 mpg.

Little else was different between our two Premium-level test cars, with the all-wheel-drive model packing the same standard 10 standard airbags, array of active-safety assistants, and multitude of connectivity options through the Buick’s 8.0-inch central touchscreen. The LaCrosse’s styling remains classy yet reserved, and the spacious cabin is comfortable and quiet, despite the oversize center console and the goofy shifter. The layout and material quality, however, are merely satisfactory at this level and are no better than the execution in, say, the notably cheaper Kia Cadenza.

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But in adding all-wheel drive and the adaptive-damper bundle—as well as Buick’s $1690 Driver Confidence package (adaptive cruise control, automatic parking assist, and forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection), the $1550 Sun and Shade package (power sunroof with a second-row skylight and a power rear sunshade), the $1145 Sights and Sounds package (premium Bose audio with 11 speakers and navigation), and $395 for Dark Sapphire Blue Metallic paint—our test car rang in at a hefty $50,270. That figure may not make this the most expensive Buick we’ve driven (the three-row Enclave SUV can be pricier still), but it puts the all-wheel-drive LaCrosse in the company of more rewarding big sedans such as a heavily optioned Genesis G80 V-6 and an entry-level Cadillac CTS.

While the Buick LaCrosse is a fine upscale sedan in its lesser forms, it simply fails to ring the bell like those $50K luxury cars do. And considering the minimal change in driving behavior and the LaCrosse’s model hierarchy, adding all-wheel drive is an indulgent extra that inflates the big Buick’s price more than it improves the car.

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