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2006 Buick Lucerne CXL V8 Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Not Just Pandering To Its Base

By Steve Purdy
TheAutoChannel Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Buick

Like a smart politician the brand new Buick Lucerne has not forgotten where its support comes from – my father-in-law and his ilk. But, unlike most politicians, Buick is looking to bring its base ahead into the forward-looking world. Old Herb still drives his ’96 Park Avenue and still loves it in spite of what to me might feel way too squishy and soft. His old Buick bounces and wallows down the road like an old dancer gone to seed. Herb and his pals would like Lucerne, this new big Buick, slotted above the sportier LaCrosse and just introduced last year, but so do I.

The front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger Lucerne (optional split front bench seat makes it a traditional 6-passenger sedan), which replaces the LaSabre and Park Avenue, shares a platform, and in the case of this CXL, the V8 engine, with the pricier Cadillac DTS. Lucerne is thoroughly modern and completely updated while maintaining the soft, gentle and convenient personality the full-size Buick base demands.

Styling and design are certainly conservative. “Elegant and contemporary” says GM. OK, that’s fair. I find it very pleasant, clean and neat to look at including the stylized classic holes in the fenders reminiscent of 1950s Buicks. Called VentiPorts in the old days they used to be round or oval-shaped instead of the squared strung-together version in this new iteration. But they still say “Buick”, to be sure. Compared to some of its contemporaries there seems to be excessive front and rear overhang but the overall shape is pleasing. The 18-inch, 10-spoke cast aluminum wheels, shod with standard 245/50 Bridgestone Turanzas, go a long way toward making the Lucerne look more modern and meaty as well.

As soon as our test car was delivered we took off for the Chicago Auto Show, a 3 -hour drive. Our colleague, Thom (whose reviews you regularly read here), was luxuriating in the back seat working on his computer as another colleague was in front pouring over some other work. The Lucerne made a nice traveling office.

Power comes from the high tech 4.6-litre Northstar V8. The chain-driven dual overhead cam, port injected, aluminum engine puts out 275 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque. Power gets to the wheels by way of the smooth-shifting 4-speed automatic transmission and 3.11 final drive gears. Acceleration is brisk with zero-to-60 mph reached in 6.9 seconds and zero-to-100 in 18 seconds. Look for the chrome tipped dual exhaust to know it’s the V-8 Buick. If you were in Montana with a radar detector you could comfortably reach about 125 mph before the speed limiter kicks in. This V8 Lucerne made me think of our old high school track coach, Mr. Abbott, who was notorious for flying low in his ’64 Buick Wildcat – a hot sedan with a long stride.

Fully independent front and rear suspension with anti-roll bars at both ends stabilize the handling although there is a bit too much body lean for my taste. Magnetic variable assist power rack and pinion steering feels tight and quick for a big luxury sedan. Disc brakes with ABS and traction control at all four wheels make for extreme confidence in stopping.

Our platinum metallic (silver-gray) CXL V8 cruiser has a base price of $30,265. Heated and cooled front seats cost $1,075 extra. The entertainment package (Harman/Kardon system with 9-speakers, with 3 months worth of XM Radio) adds $795. Driver Confidence System (remote start, theft deterrent system and rear parking assist) is $595 extra. Luxury Package (8-way driver and front passenger power seats with memory) is $595. Stabilitrak electronic stability control is $495. AM/FM 6-Disc CD Changer with MP3player adds $300. And Heated Washer fluid system is $300. With the $725 destination charge the bottom line is $34,945, about the price of Toyota’s new Avalon.

EPA estimates mileage to be between 17 and 25. With an 18.5-gallon fuel tank we have about a 350-mile range at a tad less than 20 mpg on regular fuel - about what we got going to Chicago and back in this two-ton luxury sedan.

Standard safety and security features include air bags in front of the driver and front seat passenger. Head curtain air bags for both them and the rear seat passengers are standard as well. OnStar service with 1-year directions and connection plan, tire inflation monitoring system, child seat anchor and security locks, remote keyless entry, theft deterrent, daytime running lights.

Inside features include Buick “Quiettuning” (whatever that is), automatic dimming rear view mirror with compass, air filter system, dual zone climate control, leather seating and steering wheel, power locks, mirrors and windows. The faux-wood accents and large, chrome-ringed knobs as well as the generally fine-looking materials give the cockpit a warm comfortable feel. Quiettuning, I suppose is just Buick vernacular for whatever steps they have taken to insulate passengers from the external noise. They’ve done a good job. It is very quiet and serene in there.

Buick general manager, Steve Shannon, reports a “great start” since introduction last October with Lucerne accounting for 27% of large-car sales in the fourth quarter of last year and segment leading sales in December as well. “We’re very pleased at how Lucerne is performing out of the gate,” he said. Lucerne has also won accolades from USA Today, The Detroit News and Kiplinger’s.

There is no need to worry about build quality, fit and finish and those other quality factors that have plagued GM products in the past. This Lucerne comes from a factory in Detroit that has consistently won JD Power awards for quality. I think GM, and the other American manufacturers got the message long ago that poor quality would put them out of business. Now they’re as good as anyone.

Warranty is 4 year/50,000 miles.

The older the buyer, the more they look for the familiar. There is plenty about the new Lucerne that would be familiar to old Herb and I think he would be sold on this one, though he’s not ready to give up his old Park Avenue quite yet. In fact, I’m sold and I’m waaaay younger. Buick is bridging the generation gap.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions