For the first time in history, we’re living in an era where there really aren’t any bad new cars. Short of a catastrophic defect, the days of five year old cars abandoned on the side of the road, rebuilding engines with 30k miles on them, or cars that are already rusting when they leave the factory are over.
From the cheapest runabout to the most exotic hypercar, we expect our cars to start the first time, every time, and automakers have risen to the occasion. But this has led to an interesting phenomenon: With quality as a baseline, more entry- and mid-market models are becoming more aspirational, and giving more expensive models some unexpected competition.
You could argue that this rising tide lifts all boats; that competition from the bottom up will benefit everyone. But what happens if competition comes from within? What do you get when you have platform-mate fighting with platform-mate for sales supremacy? Well, you have this week’s Buy This, Not That: The Chevrolet Impala versus the Buick LaCrosse.
Tale of the Tape:
For decades, General Motors thrived on a strict brand hierarchy that offered something for everybody. That started to go off the rails in the ’80s, and all came crashing down in the 2000s – which ironically enough, is when the LaCrosse was introduced, and the Impala was revived. But those days are long gone, and a surging GM is back in the saddle. Its full-size cars are too; the tenth-generation Impala is handsome, upscale, and a far cry from the fleet-focused and rental and cop-special models that came before it. The full-size Chevy is due for a major refresh next year for the ’18 model year, but the Buick just got its big refresh, and boy is it good.
To car buyers of a certain age, the Impala name brings to mind long, low, powerful full-size sedans of the ’50s and ’60s. To people who didn’t live through the nameplate’s glory days, Impala means cop cars, taxis, rentals, and maybe grandma’s car. Thankfully, the current-generation car erases the sins of the recent past while drawing on the qualities that made the car legendary.
For an American public that is abandoning sedans for crossovers and SUVs, the Impala is the full-size sedan perfectly suited for the times. It’s big and tall, with a roomy interior and tall driving position. The base engine is a 2.4 liter inline-four, which makes 196 horsepower, 186 pound-feet of torque, and returns 31 miles per gallon on the highway and 22 in the city. Slotting above that is the 3.6 liter V6, which is good for 305 horses, 260 pound-feet, 18 MPG in the city and 30 on the highway.
Base price ranges from the $27,300 LT model to the $35,645 Premier (which replaced the LTZ). And while the LT is fairly pared down, the Premier comes with everything you’d want in a full-size near-luxury sedan, including dual-zone climate control, MyLink infotainment system with eight inch touch screen, a suite of safety sensors, and built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi. It’s a lot of car for something wearing a bowtie badge, and offers all the luxury most buyers would ever want or need.
But by the time you get to the leather and tech features of the Premier, you’re well into Buick LaCrosse territory, the Impala’s upscale cousin. After decades of redundancy, GM has figured out how to differentiate between its brands again, and these two platform-mates are a shining example of it. We recently drove the all-new for 2017 LaCrosse (and will have a much more in-depth write up coming soon), and came away convinced that Buick is back in that sweet spot right between Chevy and Cadillac.
The new LaCrosse is, simply put, the best car to ever wear the nameplate. Virtually everything has been improved, from performance to comfort. With styling borrowed from the gorgeous 2015 Avenir concept, it’s longer, lower, and wider than the outgoing LaCrosse, and has a presence that recalls both the Maserati Ghibli and Mercedes CLS from certain angles, while still looking thoroughly American. And while the Impala is a great Chevy, the Buick feels special, and has been designed to punch well above its weight.
Lincoln may be trying to corner the market on “Quiet Luxury,” but Buick has beat them to the punch. Not only is it quieter than any other car in its class, it’s also quieter and smoother than the Lexus ES. It still has a 3.6 liter V6 under the hood, but the engine has been entirely redesigned, and is the first powerplant in GM history to be designed specifically for start/stop technology. That may not sound like much, but it means that it’s now better on gas, and makes restarting in traffic barely perceptible, and without placing any extra stress on the engine or starter. Even with the V6, fuel economy is better in the Buick too: 21/31 with on front-wheel drive cars, and 20/29 on all-wheel drive models. The 2017 LaCrosse starts at $32,990, but that entry point climbs all the way up to $44,190 for the all-wheel drive.
The current Impala is one of our favorite American sedans, and is leaps and bounds above anything to wear the nameplate in decades. Despite rumors of its impending demise, GM’s working on making a next-generation model for 2018, that will likely be hitting dealers this time next year. And we can’t wait to see it, because if it’s anything like the redesigned LaCrosse, GM could be able to corner the full-size market completely. The Buick was designed to over-perform in every metric, and it does. It’s bigger, safer, lighter, faster, quieter, more luxurious, and better looking than the outgoing model, and is a premium car without a premium price tag. The Impala can be spec’d to the nines, but until Chevy proves that they can do full-size as well as their in-house rival, we’ll take the new LaCrosse any day of the week.