For nearly 30 years, we’ve seen the Lexus ES grow throughout six generations, from compact to fullsize sedans, eventually becoming a mainstay in the luxury market. Today’s Lexus ES is in many ways the same as its fifth-generation iteration, which was introduced a decade ago and has become the brand’s best-selling sedan by remaining a comfortable, capable offering—impressive qualities, if not for some newer, more advanced luxury competitors biting at its wheels.
Buick’s approach with the LaCrosse is refreshingly different. Its clean, organic body lines preface an equally clean and organic cabin. Its four-spoke steering wheel feels more ergonomic, with more intuitively laid-out controls. Its dash frames a larger, 8-inch (diagonal) touchscreen display in a more attractive manner, positioning it lower and closer to driver and passenger. Padded door panels and a “bridged” center console perfectly join dash and bring additional controls within reach, making for a comfortable, elegant, driver-surrounding environment trimmed with leather appointments, aluminum, and dark woodgrain.
The road only reinforced our impressions of each car. The ES delivered everything we’ve come to expect from Lexus over the years: confident acceleration and response, competent handling throughout the twisty two-lanes, and a liveable interior with adequate room for driver and passengers. But the Buick LaCrosse surprised us. Acceleration ranged from comfortable, to brisk, to powerfully assertive when we needed it to be, all while seeming completely effortless. It felt right at home navigating Malibu’s winding canyon roads, with steering response and cornering noticeably improved over the Lexus—just as we’d hoped to find in an all-new platform designed for improved driving dynamics and luxury.
The LaCrosse’s wider track and longer wheelbase, together with its decreased weight, translated to a heightened sense of agility and control. Its all-new 5-link rear suspension—a rarity in this segment—provided impressive traction and stability. What’s more, while the Buick LaCrosse impressed us with the front-wheel-drive model we tested, it’s the only car of the two to offer an all-wheel-drive variant, which improves traction not only in poor driving conditions and across rough roads but also in more “spirited” driving, thanks to its active twin-clutch technology.
At the end of our day, the advantages of each car were tallied and compiled with Bell’s own notes, and the verdict was clear. In its sixth generation, the Lexus ES’s combination of adequate performance, luxury, and style once again earn it a spot near the top of the fullsize luxury segment…but a spot just under the Buick LaCrosse, which after our long day of testing, came in first place.
For an even deeper dive into the attributes that set the Buick LaCrosse apart from the fullsize luxury pack, check out our Walk-Around and Feature Benefits videos.
Enter the all-new Buick LaCrosse, a fullsize luxury sedan that has garnered increasing praise from the automotive press for its striking style, heightened performance, and more modern approach to luxury. With solid numbers and a host of new benefits to back up these claims, the completely re-designed LaCrosse may just offer buyers an all-around better luxury experience than its competitors—namely, the Lexus ES. But alas, the truth of how well a car will perform in the real world isn’t solely defined by specs or critical acclaim. You need real-world testing for that.
So, to get to the bottom of which sedan sets the bar in terms of all we’ve come to expect from a fullsize luxury offering in the modern day, we took each of these capable contenders—a 2017 Lexus ES 350 and a 2017 Buick LaCrosse—and headed to Malibu, California, with renowned racing driver, color-commentator, and automotive authority Townsend Bell, for an exciting head-to-head showdown.
To experience it all through our eyes, watch this head-to-head video featuring the Buick LaCrosse and Lexus ES:
The hills of Malibu are known particularly for their acres of beautiful estates nestled within. At first glance, it’s apparent both our test vehicles fit into the landscape well: the Lexus ES for its sheer longevity as a strong seller in the luxury segment, but the LaCrosse even more so for its clean lines and elegant, contemporary styling. Despite its more attainable starting MSRP (coming in under the ES’s), the LaCrosse looked right at home parked in front of one of the most stunning homes in this world-renowned region.
According to Bell, the Lexus packs a real performance punch: 268 hp from its 3.5L V-6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, with an EPA-estimated combined fuel efficiency of 24 mpg. But the LaCrosse beats it, producing 310 hp from its larger, direct-injected, 3.6L V-6 mated to an eight-speed transmission, while still returning better fuel efficiency, at a combined EPA-estimated 25 mpg. The Buick LaCrosse is also a bit longer and wider than the Lexus, for a more athletic appearance with generous interior room inside its lighter and stiffer chassis—a testament to the benefits of an all-new design rather than a simple refresh.
Inside each car, the design languages from the exterior continue. The Lexus’ sharp lines and bold styling reveal a cabin with equally sharp and bold amenities. Aluminum trim divides the dash and finds its way onto the doors, climate controls, shift selector, center console, and thick, three-spoke steering wheel. A 7-inch (diagonal) touchscreen display sits high and deep within the dash, rising almost level with the top of the steering wheel. The Lexus’ layout brings the controls within reach of driver and passenger however, with a style that seems more appropriate for an SUV rather than a luxury sedan.