The giant here is General Motors, a company that may be a little slow on the uptake – after 25 years of mostly hollow promises for class-leading all-new cars, this global behemoth has let domestic market share fall to an all-time low. But now GM is making promises again, launching a revitalized product offensive, and finally the turn toward relevance is being made and competitive cars like the 2006 Buick Lucerne are seeing the light of day. At a media drive for the Lucerne in California, everyone from the detailer to the head engineer seemed to be interjecting every sentence with the phrase “attention to detail.” The tighter gap tolerances? The focus on a much quieter ride? The use of better interior materials? The availability of a more powerful engine and more controlled handling? You got it – all a result of this purported new emphasis on the little, and not so little, things.
Overall, it shows. The 2006 Buick Lucerne, when properly equipped, is a great driving car, one with style, comfort, and a choice between two competent powertrains. This is the closest Buick has come to satisfying driving enthusiasts in recent years, the last successful effort being the 1987 GNX. But that’s not to say all is perfect. Fit and finish is markedly improved, though there are some glaring exceptions, lower level models still have that floaty ride for which Buick is famous (or infamous), and the absence of options like a navigation system will have potential buyers heading for the nearest Chrysler or Toyota dealer. And the Lucerne’s V6 engine, while capable, is about as technologically advanced as a phonograph.
Clearly, there’s room for improvement, but the 2006 Buick Lucerne is a true departure from the warmed-over tri-shield sedans offered in years past. This is a Buick worthy of a buyer’s consideration, not just a business person’s rental upgrade.
Buick has made choosing a 2006 Lucerne easy work, thanks to three clearly-defined trim levels and the availability of both V6 and V8 engines. Entry-level buyers will be interested in the Lucerne CX, with a starting price of $26,990 (all prices include a $725 destination charge). The CX may be the least expensive Lucerne, but it comes with a long list of standard convenience and safety features. Among them are cruise control, a V6 engine, a trip computer, OnStar telematics, a CD player, a power driver’s seat, antilock brakes, and front-side and side-curtain airbags. Serving to dress up the CX a bit more is a Comfort and Convenience Package offering rain-sensing windshield wipers and heated mirrors; a Driver Confidence Package features rear park assist, an anti-theft alarm, and a remote starting system. Also on the options list is a Harmon Kardon sound system with an MP3 player, a power sunroof, and a front split bench seat that increases seating capacity from five to six.
Straddling the middle of the 2006 Buick Lucerne lineup is the CXL, with V6-equipped models starting at $28,990 and V8-powered examples going for $30,990. The CXL’s equipment list is a bit more extensive and includes dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, a power front passenger’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an MP3 player, and heated mirrors. Optional creature comforts include heated and cooled front seats with or without perforated leather, handling can be improved with the StabiliTrak stability control system (V8-equipped CXLs only), and the Lucerne will shine more brightly when chrome alloy wheels are chosen to replace the standard rims.
Poised at the top of the lineup is the best 2006 Buick Lucerne available, the CXS. Priced at $35,990, the CXS comes standard with all the equipment on the CX and CXL plus a V8 engine, multiple memory functions, power lumbar for the driver and front passenger, fog lights, an automatic tilt-away steering wheel, perforated leather seats, a 280-watt Harmon Kardon audio system, and XM satellite radio. Buyers wanting more can add heated and cooled seats, chrome alloy wheels, a power sunroof, and other goodies. But what really adds value to the CXS is its standard StabiliTrak system, electronic brake assistance, and magnetic steering and suspension systems. In combination, these technological tweaks transform a rather generic domestic sedan into a responsive machine that’s actually fun to drive.
Nuts and Bolts
For the first time in over a decade, Buick is outfitting one of its cars with a V8 engine. In CX guise, the 2006 Lucerne is powered by GM’s oldie-but-a-goody 3.8-liter, overhead valve, 12-valve V6 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission of similar vintage. Though this powertrain may not be the most technologically advanced, it’s tried and true and gives weight to the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The 2006 Buick Lucerne CX puts 197 horsepower to the front wheels at 5,200 rpm and 227 lb.-ft. of torque kicks in at 3,800 rpm. Regular 87 octane gas works just fine with an EPA fuel economy rating of 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.
Move up to the 2006 Buick Lucerne CXL and that V6 is still available, but a V8 is also added into the mix for your driving pleasure. It’s a 4.6-liter eight-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams, 32 valves, and 275 horsepower at 6,000 rpm backed up by 295 lb.-ft. of twist peaking at 4,400 rpm. The EPA estimates that a V8-equipped Lucerne will travel 17 miles per gallon of premium fuel in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. During our press drive, we recorded 17.2 mpg overall, reaching as high as 22.1 mpg on an extended highway jaunt. A four-speed automatic tranny directs power to the front wheels.
Those wheels are always alloy; the CX gets 16s with 225/60 Bridgestone Insignia tires; CXL models get 17-inch wheels with 235/55 Continental Touring Contact rubber; and the CXS rides on 18s wrapped in 245/50 Bridgestone Turanza tires. Controlling the ride is an independent MacPherson strut front suspension and an independent multi-link setup in the rear. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard. All models feature variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering and disc brakes, though V8 models get larger rotors.
What serve to truly differentiate 2006 Buick Lucerne models, aside from obvious visual items, are the magnetic suspension and steering systems. The latter, dubbed Magnasteer, uses an electromagnet to vary steering effort depending on vehicle speed, similar to other speed-sensitive steering systems. The magnetic suspension component, called Magnetic Ride Control, is a bit more unique, and is only offered as part of the CXS model’s standard sport-tuned setup. In short, Magnetic Ride Control uses a special electrically-charged magnetic damper fluid that adjusts shock stiffness thousands of times per second, providing instantaneous response in hard corners and on uneven road surfaces. Featured on the redesigned Corvette and several Cadillac models, this advanced technology single-handedly separates the 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS from images of the ponderous land barges of the past.
It used to be so simple to spot a Buick. First, look for one of the biggest cars on the road, though that became less of a telling sign in the 1970s and 80s. Next, zero in on the wheels – if the behemoth had wire wheel covers and whitewall tires, it just might’ve been your target. Of course, a vinyl roof was also a pretty good giveaway, as were blinding amounts of chrome and portholes incorporated into the body work.
Thankfully, the 2006 Buick Lucerne bears little resemblance to its foregoers, aside from the familiar tri-shield badge and the reintroduction of portholes to the fenders. When a V6 is fitted under the hood, three chrome-trimmed holes are featured on each front fender; V8 models get four holes. But get past those bits of trim and the Lucerne looks like anything but a domestic sedan for geriatrics. That’s especially true when viewed from the rear, where the Lucerne exhibits simple but attractive taillights reminiscent of those on Volkswagen Passat and Jetta models. From that same perspective, observers will also notice a wide, aggressive stance and fluid body lines free of garish amounts of chrome. Dual exhaust tips denote the V8 models. The side view shows a beltline that gradually rises toward the rear section of the car, and a perfect wheel-to-body relationship (most notable with the 18-inch alloys). If there’s one area that could use improvement, it’d be the Buick Lucerne’s front end. There’s an attractive chrome-ringed grille, and CXS models have small fog lights in the lower corners of the fascia. But the headlights are typical corporate GM, meaning they’re large, bland, and offer the same vague styling as those found on the Chevy Malibu or Impala. Overall, our test car exhibited uniform exterior panel gaps, though the A-pillar/front fender joint was much wider on the right side versus the left. Also, the headlights and right rear door didn’t line up well.
Inside, the 2006 Buick Lucerne was a different story in terms of build quality, as all components fit properly and were securely fastened. Rubberized and soft plastics are used on the sides of the center console and on top of the dash, relegating less appealing hard plastic to the door frames and the dash face. Unfortunately, that’s one of the places that tactile senses would most appreciate soft-touch materials, though serving to compensate for that deficiency are a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather shift handle, rubberized radio and climate control knobs that are clearly marked and within easy reach, and an upscale mesh material used on the headliner, visors, and pillar covers.
Taken as a whole, the Lucerne’s interior design is a marked improvement due to its simplistic functionality. The look is less busy than before, primary buttons and controls are minimized, and wood paneling works with subtle chrome accents to create a premium feel. When so equipped, the leather upholstery is soft and GM designers proudly point out that the armrest covers are hand-cut and sewn.
What one thinks of the 2006 Buick Lucerne depends largely on which model is driven. Hop into the CX or CXL with the V6 and drivers may check their rearview mirrors for the Enterprise-Rent-A-Car sign. From the ride to the engine noise, a six-cylinder Lucerne screams generic rental sedan. But toss a 275-horsepower Northstar V8 into the mix, and suddenly you’ll be scratching your head thinking, “Buick? Fun? Together, in the same sentence?”
Well, almost. Tying fun and a sedan together would require a BMW M5 and the Autobahn, but the Lucerne definitely has the power to surprise. Twist the key and the V8 fires up with a nice rumble, albeit appropriately subdued for application in a Buick. Power delivery is linear and plentiful, providing for easy highway passes, and the four-speed automatic tranny is always on top of its game, seldom needing to hunt for the correct gear. Drivers will be pleasantly surprised by the lack of torque steer, despite the Lucerne’s front-wheel-drive platform. However, that powertrain is only part of this Buick’s allure. Buyers who consider themselves enthusiasts, even just a little bit, need focus their attention only on the CXS model. All V8-equipped Lucernes benefit from the Magnasteer system, but Magnetic Ride Control is reserved for the CXS, and that’s what adds excitement to the Lucerne. During spirited runs in the corners and along gradual high-speed sweepers, the instantaneous response of this suspension system helped keep the ride relatively firm and controlled, giving the driver a greater sense of confidence. By no means does this technology transform the Lucerne into a Mitsubishi Evolution or a Chevy Corvette, though the result is a more athletic Buick than drivers are used to. At the press drive, Buick offered the Toyota Avalon XLS and Lexus ES 330 for comparison, and sure enough, the Lucerne proved to be the most nimble and entertaining chariot of the trio.
Again, that’s with the V8 and a smattering of magnetic gizmos. With the V6 and traditional steering and suspension systems, the 2006 Buick Lucerne provides adequate power for everyday driving situations, though the engine gets a bit frantic when it’s worked hard. The ride is soft and body-roll is fairly well controlled, though the steering is vague and too light. All Lucerne models provide capable brakes with a progressive pedal feel and modulation.
Also drawing praise is the focus on visibility and interior noise. With ample side mirrors and large rear windows, drivers are afforded plenty of opportunity to see what’s going around them. The only point of contention may be wide A-pillars that can interfere with a clear line of sight. The second point is noise, an issue that Buick engineers are quite boastful about. A variety of materials have been used throughout the Lucerne in an effort to keep things quiet, from laminated double-pane windows to a laminated firewall to the addition of acoustic absorption pads and sound deadening materials. Even the exterior mirrors and windshield wipers were redesigned to limit wind noise. And the results are real – engineers point to their own tests that prove the Lucerne to be quieter than the acclaimed Lexus ES 330. If you’re skeptical, take a Lucerne for a test drive see for yourself.
Old Buicks may have been chrome hogs that were oblivious to corners, but boy were they comfy. That’s one of the few characteristics shared with the 2006 Lucerne.
Passing time and miles in the Lucerne is a treat. Front passengers are granted excellent overall dimensions, and the seat bottom length and width will accommodate butts and thighs of all sizes. Front chairs are a bit firmer than the rear bench, but they should prove to be supportive over the long haul, and multiple power adjustments help drivers and passengers (if equipped) find a suitable position. However, drivers looking for significant side bolsters will be left wanting. A center armrest welcomes tired arms and boasts a generous cubby underneath. Other front seat storage includes a glovebox, dual door pockets, and a small pocket on the lower dash. Four cupholders are fitted within the cabin.
The rear bench features a comfortable backrest recline angle and ample head, foot, and leg room. At the center is a fold-down armrest with a small storage spot; longer items may be extended from the trunk when the armrest is lowered. Rear headrests are fixed and limited to outboard passengers only. Seatback storage pockets are found on each of the front seatbacks.
Should more space be needed, the 2006 Buick Lucerne’s 17 cubic-foot trunk will swallow loads of gear. Raise the lined lid and notice a huge opening, which helps with quick and easy loading. The floor has a thick pad like you’d find under household carpet that keeps noise down, and numerous tie downs and hooks are featured to keep cargo secure.
How does the 2006 Buick Lucerne’s warranty rate against the competition?
The 2006 Buick Lucerne is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile basic and powertrain warranty, while rust protection spans six years or 100,000 miles. In contrast, the outgoing 2005 Buick LeSabre offered only three years or 36,000 miles of basic and powertrain coverage. In regard to competitors, the 2006 Lexus ES 330 provides better powertrain protection (six years or 70,000 miles), though the 2006 Chrysler 300 offers only three years or 36,000 miles of basic and powertrain coverage and only five years or 100,000 miles of rust protection.
Where can the 2006 Buick Lucerne be improved?
From a styling perspective, everything looks good except for the headlights – some personality could definitely be injected into those shiny, emotion-less lenses. There are no complaints with the powertrain, though making the Magnetic Ride Control and Magnasteer available across the lineup might spice up life with V6 models. Finally, the interior is one of the best to come out of GM in recent years, but there’s still too much hard plastic.
Does the front-wheel-drive platform hurt the 2006 Buick Lucerne?
No. Driving enthusiasts may not relish the thought of a large, V8-powered sedan without rear-wheel drive, but engineers have blessed the 2006 Buick Lucerne with a good balance of weight and handling, not to mention little torque-steer. Also, the majority of the Lucerne’s competitors are front-wheel drive, the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 being the notable exceptions.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS
Base Price of Test Vehicle: $35,990 (includes a $725 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 4.6-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 275 at 6,000 rpm (V8)
Engine Torque: 295 at 4,400 rpm (V8)
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight, lbs.: 4,013
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 17/25 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 17.2 mpg
Length: 203.2 inches
Width: 73.8 inches
Wheelbase: 115.6 inches
Height: 58.0 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 42.5/41.4 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 39.5/37.7 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 6
Max. Cargo Volume: 17 cu. ft.
Competitors: Acura TL, Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Crown Victoria, Ford Five Hundred, Honda Accord, Hyundai Azera, Kia Amanti, Lexus ES 330, Lincoln Zephyr, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Mercury Grand Marquis, Mercury Montego, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Pontiac Grand Prix, Saab 9-5, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Passat, and the Volvo S60
Photos courtesy of General Motors