2008 Buick Lucerne

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2006 Buick Lucerne

This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2011.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Buick officials seem to think they need to change the names of all their cars while introducing new, updated models. Hence, as of 2006, the full-size Buick sedan is the Lucerne. Besides the new name, the most interesting feature is the Lucerne's V8, which is a first at Buick in 10 years.
Pros:
  • Smooth V8 power
  • Quiet, spacious interior
  • New styling
Cons:
  • V8 fuel economy
  • Driver seat needs to be higher
  • Not a distinctive car

Anyone who hasn't been at a Buick showroom in the last few years faces a challenge, just getting to know the new names of the cars.

Buick's well-known autos—the Regal, Park Avenue and LeSabre—are gone. They've been replaced by new sedans. One is the midsize Buick LaCrosse; the other is the full-size Buick Lucerne, which debuted for the current model year.

After the new name, perhaps the most noteworthy item of the 2006 front-wheel-drive Lucerne is its V8 engine, because Buick hasn't offered one in 10 years.

The Lucerne's top engine, in fact, is a 275-horsepower Northstar V8. Northstar engines are refined and strongly powered and have largely been exclusive to Cadillac. Both Buick and Cadillac are owned by General Motors Corp.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for a base, 2006 Lucerne CX with V6 and automatic transmission is more than $25,000. A Lucerne with a V8 starts at more than $29,000.

Buick officials say the Lucerne competes against the entry Lexus sedan, the ES, which starts at more than $30,000 for a V6 model. The ES doesn't offer a V8.

But shoppers are likely to cross-shop the Lucerne with other premium large sedans from non-luxury brands that are more in the Lucerne's price range. These include the 2006 Toyota Avalon, which has a starting MSRP of more than $26,000, and the 2006 Chrysler 300, which starts at more than $23,000.

Note, though, that the Avalon is front-wheel drive and doesn't offer a V8. Chrysler's 300 is a rear-wheel-drive car and has two V8 offerings, both of which are more powerful than the Lucerne's V8.

Buick's changes
The new cars and new names are part of a rebuilding effort at Buick, which saw its U.S. sales decline during calendar 2005 to below 300,000. This is the worst sales performance for Buick in decades.

Some of the problems are tied to financial woes of parent company GM. Others stem from Buick's image as a brand for older people whose median age can reach into the 60s.

Buick officials are striving to change the image. For example, to help promote the Lucerne during 2006, the Lucerne is the courtesy car for 30-year-old pro golfer Tiger Woods at golf courses across the country.

But during my test drive, I wondered how many 30-somethings or even aging Baby Boomers now hitting 50 really would pick the Lucerne as their car.

While this sedan has many good traits, it doesn't come across as distinctive or ahead of the pack of large sedans in any one area or another.

For example, where Chrysler's full-size 300 sedan has attracted young people with its bold styling, inside and out, the Lucerne's modern looks are fairly mainstream. Indeed, at a mall parking lot, I couldn't locate the Lucerne at first because it wasn't that differentiable. Only when I started to look for the shiny silver portholes on the upper front fender did I find the Lucerne.

These portholes, on the V8-powered Lucerne only, are a style cue from earlier Buick's and not found on other cars. But beyond them, the Lucerne's headlights, grille, taillights and general styling, while pleasant, doesn't attract attention.

Keeping noise out
Available in three trim levels—CX, CXL and CXS—the large Lucerne immediately impresses with its quiet interior.

There was nary any wind noise on the highway, and road and suspension noise didn't intrude, either, in the test, mid-level Lucerne CXL with V8 and five seats. In fact, I scarcely heard the engine at startup and at idle.

Buick officials say it's because of their "Quiet Tuning" that, among other things, added a special wheel housing lining and more aerodynamic, lower-profile windshield wipers.

Other highlights: The upscale, textured fabric on the Lucerne's softly cushioned ceiling as well as excellent fit and finish throughout.

And, the Lucerne has a spacious interior that can carry up to six people, if a buyer doesn't mind a front bench seat. Few cars today offer this front-bench choice.

Powertrain details
I'd prefer a more modern, multi-gear, fuel-efficient transmission in this near-luxury car. But GM's old four-speed automatic shifted smoothly and worked well to manage the power of the Northstar V8.

This 4.6-liter double overhead cam engine with 275 horses provides 78 more horses than the Lucerne's base, 197-horsepower naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V6.

Torque from the V8 is a strong 295 lb-ft at 4400 rpm, up from the V6's 227 lb-ft at 3800 rpm.

Note that this 3800 V6, which dates back decades at GM, also is in the smaller 2006 LaCrosse sedan.

But the supercharged version of this 3.8-liter V6 that used to be in Buicks is no longer offered.

I loved the V8's strong performance because it let me merge easily into traffic and accelerate away from problem situations. I especially liked the engine, when it was heard, it had an authoritative, confident sound, not some raucous exhaust note.

But I winced at my fuel mileage. According to the test Lucerne's onboard information center, I averaged less than 15 miles a gallon in trips around town. I did better with careful driving on the highway.

For the record, the Lucerne's government fuel economy ratings—conducted in laboratory conditions, not on real roads—are higher and rank about average for large sedans. With the base V6, the rating is 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. With the Northstar V8, it drops to 17/25 mpg.

Both engines can use regular unleaded gasoline, though premium is recommended for the V8 for maximum performance.

Some isolation from the road
Driving the Lucerne is a bit like driving an older car, as there were floaty sensations over some rises and dips on the roads in the test vehicle.

Overall, this big sedan, which uses the platform of the pricier Cadillac DTS, keeps road bumps away from passengers. I often didn't even feel vibrations coming through.

There's good room inside, front and back, and I enjoyed the sizable rear door windows that go down all the way.

Seats cushions are mostly flat, and the 17 cubic feet of trunk space tops that of the Avalon and 300.

But I wished the power driver seat sat higher. At 5 feet 4, I felt like I was peering over the gauges. The Lucerne's steering wheel also seems larger in diameter than needed.

Standard safety features on the Lucerne include six airbags and stability control. But unlike Chrysler's rear-wheel-drive 300, the Lucerne isn't available with all-wheel drive.

Big expectations
The Lucerne faces a big task at Buick. The sedans it replaces accounted for 59 percent of all Buick car sales as recently as calendar 2004. This would mean more than 100,000 annual Lucerne sales.

Fortunately, the Lucerne is being produced at the same factory that built the high-quality LeSabre. In fact, this facility in the Detroit area was named a high-quality plant in 2005 by automotive researcher J.D. Power and Associates.

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BB05 - 9/2/2014 2:25:40 AM