Ringers are dismissed as uncompetitive based on first impressions, then unveil hidden talents to rise up and surpass the competition for the win. These hidden talents are masked, intentionally or not, behind facades of mediocrity, and any new Buick has ringer potential thanks to decades of unremarkable product. Though the 2006 Buick Lucerne does not bubble up to the head of its class, it does possess distinctly pleasing attributes that will appeal to specific kinds of buyers – buyers that likely aren’t listening to Aerosmith CDs produced in the past two decades.
Press materials for the 2006 Buick Lucerne promise “a fresh approach to the entry-luxury segment,” and say that it “underscores GM’s commitment to offer Buick customers a line of premium vehicles with elegant designs, finely crafted interiors, and exceptional levels of power, comfort, quietness, and quality.” After driving a metallic red Lucerne CXS around the Los Angeles and Orange County regions, we’d say Buick’s staff writers got it half right. The Lucerne is comfortable, quiet, and constructed with quality materials except for one glaring issue, but it is not elegantly designed, finely crafted, or exceptional in any way. And since it’s a front-wheel drive sedan equipped with a standard cast-iron V6 engine that’s among the weakest on the market or an optional V8 that barely surpasses a Nissan or Toyota V6 in terms of horsepower, the Lucerne is hardly a fresh approach to anything, let alone the entry-luxury segment.
Available in three trim levels – CX, CXL, and CXS – the Buick Lucerne’s standard engine is a blast from GM’s past, a heavy cast-iron 3.8-liter V6 engine with valves operated by pushrods. This so-called 3800 Series III V6 is, after decades of service, more refined and reliable than ever, but it makes just 197 horsepower. That’s less than the much-maligned 3.0-liter V6 found in the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego. Evidently, the trade for ponies is decent fuel economy, because the V6 is rated by the EPA to get 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Step up to CXL or CXS trim and you can benefit from a substantial jump in motive force thanks to an aluminum dual overhead cam 4.6-liter V8 engine making 275 horsepower. This engine marks the return of V8 power to Buick’s car lineup (the Rainier SUV has one), and is a repurposed Caddy Northstar unit. Premium fuel is recommended but not required, and the EPA says you can expect 17 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. We averaged 17.3 in a mix of driving.
Both engines are connected to a four-speed automatic transmission, which is rapidly becoming outdated in a segment littered with five- and six-speed automatics. All Lucernes have four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, and an automatic leveling suspension comprised of MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link arrangement in the rear. Lucerne CX is your grandpa’s Buick, the one that floats and bobs and weaves down the road on skinny 16-inch tires. Lucerne CXL gets a firmer suspension and wider 17-inch tires. Lucerne CXS is equipped with 18-inch rubber and an impressive Magnetic Ride Control suspension that employs shock absorbers with magnetically charged particles suspended in synthetic fluid to continuously adjust the fluid’s viscosity to varying road surfaces and driving demands. The rack-and-pinion steering gear is also magnetically assisted on Lucernes with a V8 engine, while versions with a V6 have conventional hydraulic assist. Either way, the turning circle is huge, so plan to engage in plenty back-and-fill maneuvering.
As far as safety is concerned, the 2006 Buick Lucerne is well equipped. The dual front airbags include a dual-depth front passenger airbag that deploys into different shapes and at different pressures depending on crash impact, seatbelt usage, seat positioning, etc. The Lucerne also gets front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, stability control, traction control, brake assist, and a tire pressure monitor. If that’s not enough to keep you alive and kicking, the Lucerne also comes with OnStar telematics with Advanced Automatic Crash Notification and a free one-year subscription to GM’s Directions and Connections service.
Other goodies available as standard or optional equipment include remote engine starting and front seats that are heated and cooled, both of which are much appreciated in colder and hotter climates. Further combating the elements are a heated washer fluid system and rain-sensing wipers. Notable features such as a DVD navigation system, ultrasonic rear park assist, and a 280-watt Harmon-Kardon audio system with a six-disc in-dash CD changer and available XM satellite radio are also offered. The stereo even offers an auxiliary input jack for an MP3 player. Yeah, like Granny’s gonna rock Barry Manilow on her iPod while driving to Coco’s for the early-bird special.
Believe it or not, the 2006 Buick Lucerne shares a platform with the Cadillac DTS, a platform that has, in various stages of development over the past decade, been used under a variety of GM “premium full-size” models such as the Cadillac Seville, Oldsmobile Aurora, and Pontiac Bonneville. The Lucerne’s design carries Buick hallmarks such as an oval waterfall grille and portholes on the front fenders, combined with sleek front and rear glass, and a back end that resembles recent VW products. Buick says panel fits are tighter on the Lucerne, inside and out. Tighter gaps, along with laminated side glass, extensive wind sealing, and a “double-isolated” powertrain mounting system, are a part of Buick’s extensive “QuietTuning” effort on this car. Added measures include composite nylon baffles in the roof pillars, rocker panels, and cross-car structures; composite wheel liners; multi-layer steel laminate for the dashboard and cowling stampings, and a QuietTuned engine cover. Buick even coated the engine pistons with a Grayfal polymer for quieter operation.
Built in Detroit’s Hamtramck neighborhood, and equipped with a standard four-year/50,000-mile warranty, the 2006 Buick Lucerne is a decent car, one that will please people who like to buy American. And when equipped with a V8 powertrain, it’s a Cadillac at heart, playing perfectly the role Buick always had in the General Motors brand hierarchy. But is it a fresh approach to entry luxury? Is it exceptional? Is it a ringer? Is it beyond precision?