2006 Buick Lucerne
Buick is overhauling its lineup and the Lucerne is the second new car, following last year's introduction of the LaCrosse. In keeping with tradition, the 2006 Buick Lucerne is positioned as an affordable entry-level full-size luxury car. The Lucerne replaces the LeSabre and the Park Avenue, which are no longer being made.
Buick says the V6 models compete with the Toyota Avalon and Lexus ES 330, and likes to compare the V8 models with the Infiniti M and Lexus GS, which cost much more than the top of the line Lucerne CXS. In any case, we found the new Lucerne to be a plush, highly competent full-size sedan at a compelling price.
Buick's new flagship sedan boasts clean lines suggestive of fine German sedans, while maintaining Buick traditions. Inside, it's elegant and comfortable and easy. Underway, the Lucerne is smooth and quiet, but its steering is precise and it handles winding roads with aplomb. These are benefits of a new chassis and structure the Lucerne shares with the all-new 2006 Cadillac DTS. The DTS and Lucerne represent GM's new, full-size, front-wheel-drive luxury sedans.
The most enjoyable of the new Buicks is the Lucerne CXS with its Magnetic Ride Control, a sports suspension developed for the Corvette and Cadillac XLR that further improves handling. Yet we might opt for the Lucerne CXL V6, a very enjoyable car to drive, with agile handling and plenty of performance.
Buick Lucerne CX ($26,265); CXL V6 ($28,265); CXL V8 ($30,265); CXS ($35,265)
Walk AroundThere is no mistaking the Lucerne for anything other than a Buick. The Lucerne has a handsome appearance with a good stance thanks to its long wheelbase and wide track. The classic Buick waterfall grill blends in well with the large integrated headlamps. The side profile, with its steeply raked windshield, is reminiscent of several recently introduced European sedans such as the VW Passat and Audi A6. The rear of the Lucerne features a high trunk line with nicely integrated tail lamps.
Chrome trim is kept to a minimum. The only stylistic link to Buicks of old are the small portholes on each side of the front fenders. They are also the only clue to what's under the hood: the V6-powered Lucerne gets three portholes on each side while V8-powered models get four on each side. (They are not functional, however.)
InteriorThe Buick Lucerne is built on the same platform as the Cadillac DTS, also new for 2006. That means the Lucerne benefits from the newest techniques for building a quiet luxury car.
These include hydroformed frame rails for a stiffer body and use of laminated steel with plenty of sound deadening material placed in strategic locations. Buick engineers shaped the outside of the door mirrors to lessen wind noise. Laboratory test results show that the Lucerne is quieter than a Lexus ES 330 and this was evident in a back-to-back driving comparison.
Much like the exterior, the Lucerne's interior is cleanly designed with just enough touches of wood and chrome trim to make it luxurious without being too opulent. The dashboard is fairly traditional in design with a smallish instrument pod containing three round gauges in front of the steering wheel.
The center stack with large knobs for operating the climate control and audio system is located high up for easy access.
Six airbags provide plenty of protection in a crash. Along with the Cadillac DTS, the Lucerne gets the first ever application of a dual-depth passenger airbag. It has two sections; a smaller section deploys in a less severe crash or if the passenger is small or seated nearer the dashboard. In a bad crash or if the passenger is not wearing their seat belt the full bag deploys for maximum effect.
For those who need seating for six, Buick continues to offer a traditional front bench seat in all but the performance CXS model. Most people opt for front bucket seats, which provide a good level of comfort and have an armrest in the center console.
Rear-seat passengers are well taken care of with good headroom and excellent leg room. The long wheelbase also allows for a wider opening rear door with almost no intrusion from the wheel well, making it easy to get in and out of the car.
Driving ImpressionsWe sampled three different levels of the all-new 2006 Buick Lucerne over the course of several hours, winding among the vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley just north of Santa Barbara, California. The mid-range Lucerne CXL is expected to be the most popular model, and we spent most of our time in a CXL V8.
Overall, the Lucerne proved to be a spirited car along the not always smooth roads, even at high speeds. The Lucerne handled with aplomb, exhibiting no wallowing or causing any untoward moments. A rigid chassis is the key to balance sharp handling with a smooth ride, and the new Lucerne really delivers.
The Lucerne's ride is excellent, thanks to the long wheelbase and stiff body structure. In back-to-back driving along a stretch of less than perfect road, we found the Lucerne's ride quality comparable to that of the benchmark 2006 Toyota Avalon. Buick loyalists who are used to a cushy ride will not complain about the Lucerne. It might be stiffer than they are used to but it's still plenty smooth enough. And the steering is precise and responsive.
The CXS features GM's Magnetic Ride Control, a sports suspension designed to enhance overall ride performance. Magnetic Ride Control uses magnetically charged particles suspended in a synthetic fluid to continuously adjust the fluid's viscosity to varying road surfaces and driving characteristics. The system, which first appeared on the sporty Cadillac XLR and then the Corvette, delivers a quicker response than conventional valve-damping systems. We tried a CXS with the system and found it did handle better but not significantly.
Indeed, when we tried a CXL V6 we were pleasantly surprised at just how well it performed. With the lighter V6, the CXL seemed more agile on twisty roads and the front end felt a bit lighter. The V6 models also suffer less from torque steer, a slight tugging felt through the steering wheel when turning and accelerating at the same time.
So which model? If you don't require instant power when accelerating away from traffic lights or merging onto freeways, the V6 model is probably a better bet because it costs less and gets better fuel economy. We were pleased with its performance. However, GM's excellent StabiliTrak electronic stability control system is available with the V8 models, which improves driving control by reducing the chance of skidding. StabiliTrak is well worth having.
The all-new Buick Lucerne is an attractive near-luxury car offering looks, features, quality and value. If you like a modern comfortable ride with competent road manners, the Lucerne, with either a V6 or V8 engine, is well worth consideration. It also comes with a longer warranty (4 yrs/50,000 miles) than Buick has offered in the past. It is warranted as Buick has been doing quite nicely in J.D. Power and Associates studies recently.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie files this report from Santa Barbara, California.