2017 Buick LaCrosse: breakthrough tech advancements in a classy full-size sedan

Built-in AppShop and expanded WiFi capabilities are just the start

Buick is back. After years of hiding in the background, one of GM's most storied brands is suddenly having its best era in a very, very long time. This week, we were able to spend two solid days inside, outside, and in all available seating positions with its refreshed 2017 LaCrosse. Not only does it look starkly different (read: better) than the outgoing generation, but it has received a laudable helping of technological advancements.

Chief Engineer Jeff Yanssens told me that he wanted the 2017 Buick LaCrosse to be "segment leading" in every possible way. In the grand scheme of things, a large sedan's tech package probably won't sway prospective customers from one brand to another, which makes the company's focus on it that much more impressive.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Before we dive into the nitty gritty on what's new, here's the skinny on pricing. The 2017 Buick LaCrosse goes on sale in August 2016 and starts at $32,990 nicely equipped, running up to nearly $50,000 for the loaded AWD model. Buick has massively simplified the shopping process, offering a trio of trim levels (Preferred, Essence, and Premium), a single redesigned 3.6L V6 engine option, a single transmission option (an all-new eight-speed auto), and a standard rear-vision camera.

A speedy screen

2017 Buick LaCrosse

So, the touchscreen - an 8-inch frameless gem that acts as the heart of the Buick IntelliLink system. Unlike mushy, sluggish resistive screens of the past, this capacitive panel is both perfectly situated for both driver and passenger interaction and strikingly quick to respond. By and large, flagship smartphones like the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy have shaped the way consumers expect any screen to react. In turn, automakers have struggled mightily to bring their infotainment responsiveness in line with phones.

The 2017 Buick LaCrosse has a panel that finally rivals a high-end phone in terms of the time it takes for finger taps to be recognized and subsequent actions to occur. We tapped and swiped every possible combination of icons, and were continuously impressed with how quickly the system responded. It's one of the only full-size sedans where your Snapchatting kid won't dial up a route and ask why it's so much slower than the phone in their pocket. That sounds trivial, but it's not.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

The display is set midway between the driver and passenger, and at arm's length. That enabled Buick to skip a console-mounted controller. Reaching all corners of the screen was a breeze while driving and riding shotgun, and even after approximately four and a half million taps, we saw nary a hint of fingerprints. We'll chalk that up to black magic or bright engineering - perhaps a cute combination of both.

AppShop and BYOH (Bring Your Own Hotspot)

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Second only to GMC's Acadia SUV, the 2017 Buick LaCrosse is offering access to GM's internal AppShop. The system is entirely phone-free, allowing drivers to download familiar apps to their car and use them without a smartphone. At launch, just three apps (Glympse, an internal location-based deals app, and The Weather Channel) will be available, but the addition of a few high-profile music streaming services were hinted at for the near future. You'll need access to the internet for these to function, but that's getting a lot simpler as well.

For US motorists who wish to pay monthly to AT&T for an unlimited in-car data plan, that's a new $40/month option. You can also add your car as another device to draw from your family's data pool, but the new alternative is even more exciting. If you dig into the settings, you'll now be able to connect the car to your phone or your own WiFi hotspot, essentially providing car-wide WiFi using a device (and associated data plan) that you already own. That's huge for folks intrigued by their car being a rolling hotspot, but entirely uninterested in shelling out for another data plan.