2006 Buick Lucerne
This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2011.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
If General Motors built more cars such as the new Buick Lucerne, it might pick up enough sales to not worry as much about regaining North American profitability.
The Lucerne lacks the rear-wheel drive of top foreign luxury cars from BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, but has surprisingly good handling. That's especially true with the top-line Lucerne CXS, which has a special suspension, larger tires and a version of Cadillac's smooth 4.6-liter 275-horsepower Northstar V8, which provides very quick acceleration.
Buicks and eight-cylinder engines went together for as long as most people care to remember, but the Lucerne is the first V8 in a Buick since the automaker's 1996 Roadmaster sedan.
Various Trim Levels
The midrange $27,265 CXL V6 only comes with front bucket seats and leather seating material, along with 17-inch wheels. It lists at $29,265 with the Northstar V8.
The Magnetic Variable Assist steering in the CXS (and CXL V8) is precise, with the right amount of firmness. The CXS also has standard Magnetic Ride Control to better handle various roads, a StabiliTrak anti-skid system and Brake Assist (both optional for the CXL V8) to enhance performance of the anti-lock brake system. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard on all Lucernes.
All Lucerne trim levels have a good amount of comfort, convenience and safety equipment, including six airbags.
Buick General Manager Steve Shannon predicts that only about 25 percent of Lucerne buyers will order the V8. However, Buick may be underestimating demand for that engine, especially if the Lucerne catches on with younger buyers.
Old-Style Automatic Transmission
"The Avalon is the Lucerne's closest competitor," Shannon said. "The Lucerne gives Buick its best shot at bringing people to us, and we've gotten import cars in trade."
The new Buick may cause the age of generally older Buick buyers to drop, but Shannon seems largely unconcerned about Buick owner ages.
"Lots of people turn 65 every day," he said.
Decent Fuel Economy
The Lucerne replaces the aged Buick LeSabre and Park Avenue, and the CXS version feels like a good U.S. luxury car with Germanic overtones because it can be driven fairly fast on various types of roads without making a fuss despite its front-wheel-drive setup.
At the same time, the Lucerne delivers the smooth ride Americans have come to expect from Buick.
With the LeSabre and Park Avenue gone, Buick can't afford to alienate owners of those cars or other Buicks with the Lucerne. In fact, Buick has one of the most loyal American car owner groups, and many of its members should be impressed by the Lucerne, which is one of the best Buicks ever.
The Lucerne shares the enlarged, strengthened platform with the admirable front-wheel-drive Cadillac DTS full-size sedan. It was used by the original Oldsmobile Aurora, which had one of the most rigid GM platforms.
Largely Conservative Styling
While more flamboyant styling probably would draw more younger buyers to the Lucerne, such styling really isn't expected from a luxury Buick. Fit and finish of Lucerne body panels and trim pieces in the interior is superb. It shows that the Lucerne is made at one of GM's highest quality plants.
Car buff Bob Lutz, who's head of GM's global product development, held up production of the Lucerne until satisfied with its styling, quality and performance.
"GM didn't build bad cars in the 1980s and 1990s, but those autos lacked the fit and finish and styling and elegance they should have had," Lutz said in an interview.
Buick designer Ned Nickles, inspired by World War II figher planes, developed the portholes, originally called "VentiPorts," by cutting holes in the sides of the hood of his 1948 Buick Roadmaster convertible. Nickels then installed flashing amber lights behind them to give the impression of a potent engine with a flaming exhaust.
To Nickels' surprise, colorful Buick boss Harlow Curtice liked the portholes so much that he ordered them used on 1949 Buicks—but without the lights. They became a Buick styling cue, although their shape evolved from round to oval to rectangular slits. They were discontinued in 1958, but returned several years later.
Why mention such tradition? Because it's something the Lucerne's Japanese rivals lack and is a selling point for potential Lucerne buyers.
Lucerne seats are comfortable and especially supportive when taking curves in the CXS. But gauges should be backlit, as in a Lexus, for easier reading under different light conditions.
Easily Used Controls
However prominent red turn-signal arrow lights that flash in the outside mirrors when a driver activates the turn signal lever can soon become annoying.
The big trunk has a low liftover, but its lid uses old-style manual hinges instead of hydraulic struts. The hood raises easily on such a strut, and the trunk lid will be opened much more than the hood.
The Lucerne is quite good. But it won't be easy for Buick to convince those who've fallen in love with Japanese or European competitors to visit a Buick dealer and take the Lucerne for a test drive.