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?
Christian Wardlaw’s 2006 Buick Lucerne Driving Impressions:
I can see why Buick buyers will think the Lucerne CXS is a rocking good time, but I didn’t enjoy driving it much. This Northstar 4.6-liter V8 sounds great and offers decent grunt, but the four-speed automatic transmission leaves the car a bit flat-footed when accelerating from a standstill. And while the transmission does shift smoothly, it sometimes doesn’t downshift as quickly as I’d like – sometimes it doesn’t downshift at all. Also, I find the shift lever hard to pull into third gear for engine braking on hills or to better maintain my speed in traffic. The big Buick redeemed itself when the time came to stop. The Lucerne’s brake pedal feels terrific underfoot, allows for fine tuning of pressure on the pads, is responsive, and offers just the right amount of travel. I didn’t tax the binders much, so I cannot comment about fade, but during several panic stops the Lucerne’s four-wheel-disc setup provided rapid, sure-footed braking.
As for handling, I drove the Lucerne on a twisty mountain road with 20-mph “hairpins” dumbed down for American driving skills, and managed to hustle around them at double the speed limit. The Lucerne is nose heavy, but doesn’t feel it unless you really get the wheel cranked over. I was surprised by how well this big Buick hunkered down, gripped, and zoomed around a curve. In fact, I’ll bet most buyers will be pleasantly surprised by its “fun to drive” factor – especially if they’re Buick lifers. The magnetically assisted steering tugs and waggles just a bit in mid-speed sweepers as it bids to return to center, and offers little feel for the road, but is boosted at near perfect levels and is responsive given the Lucerne’s mission in life. The turning circle is huge – bordering on ridiculous. I kept misjudging when parking, though if I owned the car I suppose I’d get used to that. But U-turns in this baby require plenty of space.
One downside to letting the good times roll: the tires howl at the littlest provocation, perhaps signifying to the driver what the CXS’s magnetic ride control suspension is able to mask – going fast in the Lucerne is lots of work. I was surprised to find that the magnetic ride control suspension is a mixed bag on this Buick. I love the setup on the Cadillac DTS, I like it well enough on the Corvette, but here it’s half a dozen of one, six of the other. The Lucerne suffers head toss thanks to excessive lateral body motions, but jounce and rebound are extremely well controlled. The Lucerne’s ride is smooth on blacktop, but get it onto the grooved and sectioned concrete of L.A.’s freeways, and the Lucerne feels busy under your butt.
Ron Perry’s 2006 Buick Lucerne Driving Impressions:
Sometimes we form impressions about things before we have the first-hand experience to do so. For me, that was the case with the 2006 Buick Lucerne. After my drive I discovered some of the things I predetermined, like the handling, were spot on. However, the Buick Lucerne did change a couple of my preconceived notions.
I knew going into this drive that the handling wasn’t going to be stellar, and it wasn’t. The Lucerne floats and the steering is way too light. Engaging the shifter felt sloppy and it was catching on every shift into reverse. Getting the seat controls to work properly was difficult and I never really found a position that felt right. I was surprised, however, with the available power on tap. The V8 in our test car would get up and go when asked to but there was a lot of engine growl transferred into the cabin on hard acceleration.
Also on the positive side of the ledger, the brake pedal feel gave me the information I needed to make confident stops. Though floaty, the ride was smooth and quiet and the Lucerne had good low-end torque that made driving the in traffic enjoyable. The fuel economy computer never went below 18 mpg even while I was giving the V8 a good workout and rode around 21 mpg for most of my drive. Though the Buick Lucerne didn’t blow me away, I ended my drive with a much better impression than I went into it with.
Thom Blackett’s 2006 Buick Lucerne Driving Impressions
They say accepting your problem is the first step toward healing. So, here it is – my name is Thom, and I like driving the 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS. I’ve indulged myself twice over the past year, once at the initial press launch and then again while we had this example in the shop. Sure, I tell everyone that it’s just a press car, not my car, and I point to the manufacturer’s license plate, suggesting that the only reason I’m piloting a Buick is because it’s part of my job. Lies, all lies.
The thing is, I like driving the Lucerne, but only when it’s a CXS. With that badge comes a V8 engine stuffed under the hood and Magnasteer and Magnaride systems that add a pinch of sport to the overall experience. Without any of the above, you’ve got a V6-powered rental special with driving excitement equivalent to a 1983 Oldsmobile Delta 88. However, the Lucerne CXS’s 275-horsepower motor supplies plenty of oomph for a good-sized family sedan, and offers a subdued but pleasant exhaust note reminding you that all eight cylinders are working. And the four-speed automatic transmission, despite being outdated and simple, does an admirable job of linking the engine to the front wheels without an abundance of torque-steer. Magnasteer and Magnaride setups ensure that the Buick Lucerne performs as well in corners as it does in a straight line, providing an increasing amount of steering feedback and suspension firmness as speeds and road conditions necessitate. To be sure, there’s still a healthy serving of that floaty feel and slightly disconnected steering feel associated with Buicks, though each has been largely minimized.
For the first six of my days behind the steering wheel, the Buick Lucerne’s seating position was low to the floor, set back in the cabin, facing a tall dashboard, with a squat greenhouse, and high door panel sills. The car was claustrophobic, even with the lovely tan and taupe color combination of our test car. It seemed smaller inside than the exterior dimensions would lead you to expect. I couldn’t get the seat adjusted to my liking because the right mix of height and thigh support proved elusive, though that was not an issue when I tried out the front passenger’s seat, which afforded me a commanding view out. Making matters worse, this car had GM’s old ratcheting tilt steering column, no telescopic function, and armrests that were at different heights. The seat itself was comfortable, upholstered in quality leather. But the steering wheel was oddly shaped, and when set to my attempt at comfort, was nearly vertical, making it unpleasant to hold.
Then, on the very last day I had the Buick, after Blackett got out of the car, I was able to get the seat positioned exactly right, and my impression of comfort was transformed. Finally, I was properly placed behind the steering wheel, and many of the Lucerne’s vivid faults faded to gray. I actually started to like driving it. Later, Perry told me the driver’s seat’s wiring was fouled, working intermittently, and that he had suffered a similar problem.
Rear passengers are treated like kings. The tall rear bench seat offers fine support, good leg room, decent foot space, a nice center armrest with cupholders, air vents in the back of the console, and a good view out. And everyone gets treated to a QuietTuned ride, except for tire roar on rough pavement and some wind noise coming off the windshield header and pillars. There’s a nice V8 rumble under acceleration, and it’s always playing in the background, just perceptible enough to be pleasing and not so much that it irritates.
Ron Perry’s opinion of the 2006 Buick Lucerne’s Comfort:
I never did quite find a seating position that felt right behind the 2006 Buick Lucerne’s wheel. On my first drive I could not get the seat bottom to tilt up and backward, it would only tilt forward. On my second drive the seat tilt was working properly but I never found my comfort zone. The seats could also use a little more side bolstering and a wider range of adjustment. In the back seat, there was plenty of knee room but the headroom was limited. At 5 feet 11 inches, I found my hair rubbing the headliner. One thing Buick has done well is use soft touch surfaces where needed like the upper door panel and the center console, common spots to rest an elbow.
Thom Blackett’s opinion of the 2006 Buick Lucerne’s Comfort:
Despite being all-new for 2006, there’s at least one trait tying the Lucerne to all past Buicks, and that’s interior comfort. The front buckets are expansive and firm enough to be supportive, but there’s a serious shortage of side bolstering, so don’t expect to be locked into place during spirited cornering. Multiple power adjustments allow for a custom seat fit, and there’s ample head and leg room. Thanks to its proper hip point, rear passengers should have an easy time of sliding onto the flat bench seat, which is a bit softer than the front buckets and features a comfortable backrest recline position. Like the front, there’s plenty of space in back for larger individuals. Our 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS tester was outfitted with standard heated front seats that worked quickly and effectively, and were wrapped in soft leather that felt quite durable.
The crooked “Buick” badge was instantly noticeable, a chrome-dipped icon glinting in the sunlight explaining why Buick’s former flock of loyal buyers now lands in Lexus showrooms. Nevermind how tight the Lucerne’s panel gaps were, how well most of the parts and pieces fit together, the nice leather seats with twill trim, the woven mesh headliner – our particular 2006 Buick Lucerne made it out of the factory with some jewelry askew, and into the media evaluation fleet without anyone stepping back and saying: “Hey. Let’s fix that.”
Then there was the time I thrust one of my gangly legs into the passenger’s side of the car, and my shin smacked into and rubbed against the hard, hollow-sounding, heavily-grained plastic covering the entire expanse of the lower dash. I actually got a bruise from this experience. Hey Buick, if you’re gonna cheap out like that, don’t design the offending piece to jut into the cabin where people might be tempted to touch it, rap it with a knuckle, scrape a fingernail across it, or ram a shin into it and curse you for it. Hide the cheap parts, like Lexus does, and make the pieces that are obvious – like, say, the dashboard – out of premium materials that make people think they got more than they paid for instead of less.
And I haven’t even gotten started on the ragged headliner edges where it met the windshield and rear window, or the sagging plastic kick panel in the front passenger’s footwell – which I spotted from the back seat. Don’t forget that I had written off the Lucerne’s comfort until the power driver’s seat began working properly again. Finally, just how much will it cost to repair or replace those magnetically charged shock absorbers when the Lucerne CXS’s warranty runs out, and is that a bill you really want to pay?
Ron Perry’s opinion of the 2006 Buick Lucerne’s Quality:
Many small things about the Buick Lucerne’s quality, like the headliner having too much play in it and the cheap look of the material, were disappointing. I also felt the wood trim pieces looked more like plastic than wood, and the seat adjustment switches weren’t engaging properly and had to be played with to get them to work. I did feel the quality of the leather used for the interior was up to par and I liked the use of the perforated leather inserts, but didn’t understand the use of a twill cloth at the sides and lower fronts of the seats, which looked out of place and cheapened the interior. There was also the issue of the cheap hard plastic used across the center of the dash. Buick should have extended the use of the soft touch surfaces to cover this area.
Outside I would give the Buick a grade of “B” for overall quality. Seams had consistent gap tolerances and all trim pieces were firmly attached. The doors closed with a good thump and felt solid. The biggest fault was the crooked application of the rear “Buick” badge. Things like this should never make it past the factory’s quality assurance department.
Thom Blackett’s opinion of the 2006 Buick Lucerne’s Quality:
Chances are the tester we had in the office was one of the same cars I drove in Santa Barbara months before for the press launch, so I wasn’t surprised to see the same issues with build quality. Exterior gaps were uniform and the panels fit together well. The interior was much the same, with some slight gap variances around the instrument panel and A-pillar covers that were a bit loose at the top. But, for the most part, everything was tight and secure, a point proven by the rattle-free interior. My main complaint comes with the use of hard plastic on most of the dash. The large expanse facing the occupants, the area that is most visible and most often touched, lacks any padding or soft-touch material. Sure, it may be durable, but in a Buick running in the mid-$30,000 range, there should also be a premium feel to the parts used in the cabin.
Buick debuted the Lucerne at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show, and I was quite impressed. Except for the dull front end and a poorly timed return to portholes, the Lucerne is clean, contemporary, a car that will age gracefully. It looks like many other cars – I see lots of Volkswagen at the rear, hints of BMW in the greenhouse, a bit of Lexus on the inside – but this is not a bad thing. What, you want a rehash of a 1982 Century?
The interior looks good, and if you can find a proper driving position, works well. Some of GM’s control markings aren’t clear right off the bat, and I wasn’t a big fan of the big central power/volume knob for the radio and the small offset tuning knob. This ruined potential symmetry with the automatic climate controls. If not for the hard plastic lower dash plastic, the Lucerne’s cabin would pass for a luxury car, fake wood and all. But, alas, this is not the case.
Ron Perry’s opinion of the 2006 Buick Lucerne’s Design:
The Buick Lucerne is not a bad looking car in my opinion. It isn’t a design that deserves any awards but is pleasing to the eye and has enough character to stand out on a crowded freeway. Buick did a good job using just enough chrome accents on the Lucerne without overdoing it. A couple of things I really liked were the low trunk liftover height and the huge cargo space. Storage capacity is outstanding, as is the lightweight trunk lid that opens by itself and closes with a light pull. On the downside is the lack of an exterior release for the trunk. Buick did incorporate a small pass through from the trunk into the interior, which is a nice touch.
Inside the Lucerne, I found the interior layout and design to work well and the quality of the leather to be acceptable for a car in this class. Interior fit and finish was good and designers did a good job combining two types of leather on the seats and using the two different materials on the gearshift knob and steering wheel. I also really liked the radio setup with the large knob at the center of the radio. All of the buttons and switches for the radio and climate systems were easy to find and use with no confusion about operation, which is appreciated with all of today’s overboard technology.
Thom Blackett’s opinion of the 2006 Buick Lucerne’s Design:
Kudos to Buick designers for stretching a bit for a new look, from the VW Passat-like taillights, the reintroduction of side port holes, dual chrome exhaust tips, and a simple yet elegantly styled dash. Even the side profile, while not exactly earth-shattering, is marked by smooth, fluid shapes and a subtle, ascending beltline. And then there’s the front end that, aside from nice chrome accents on the grille and lower fascia inserts, lacks any real character. Those oversized headlights are expressionless, the hood is more or less flat, and the overall look just says “blah.” However, a forgettable face is better than one so hideous that it’s forever burned into your retinas (think Pontiac Aztek).
Pity General Motors, for as much as it makes huge strides in product quality and desirability with each model changeover, the result is usually several steps behind the competition, leaving its new cars to appeal to a dwindling population of Buy American consumers. This 2006 Lucerne is what Buick should have been building 10 years ago when it was making the last of the Skylarks and laying plans for the first of the Rendezvous. But instead, Lexus built a car like this, and now Buick buyers who might have chosen a Lucerne are likely holding out for the completely redesigned Lexus ES 350 with a powerful and economical V6 engine, higher quality build and materials, and almost guaranteed resale value. When gas costs three bucks a gallon and the Lucerne’s V8 gets 17.3 mpg, nobody cares if it’s the return of the eight-cylinder engine to Buick sedans. Instead, people wonder why you’re not planning a hybrid, or why your standard V6 manages to output less than 200 horses, or why that vaunted V8 is just a few ponies stronger than the Lexus V6, or why the biggest automaker in the world just can’t seem to get its act together.
Ron Perry’s Advice about the 2006 Buick Lucerne:
I personally wouldn’t run out and buy a Buick Lucerne after having driven one, but I do appreciate the car more than I did before my drive. For those buyers looking for a comfortable ride with plenty of room that gets good gas mileage on the highway, the Lucerne V6 might be a car to consider. At a starting price of around $35,000, like our CXS V8 test car, I might opt for something like the redesigned Lexus ES 350 instead. Yes, I would be passing on the ability to drive a V8, but the reliability and resale of the Lexus outweigh anything the Buick has to offer.
Thom Blackett’s Advice about the 2006 Buick Lucerne:
Were the 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS, with the V8, its Magnasteer steering, and Magnaride suspension, priced about $5,000-10,000 less, I’d be suggesting a test drive to anyone even hinting at buying a new sedan. For $30,000, there’s plenty of power and handling capability to overshadow whatever issues buyers may have with Buick’s vanilla brand image. Unfortunately, this ride climbs toward $40,000, a price point that avails shoppers to a whole host of desirable competitors with superior handling, more athletic powertrains, and memorable styling.
Price of Test Vehicle: $37,630 (including the $725 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 4.6-liter V8
Engine Horsepower: 275 at 5,600 rpm
Engine Torque: 290 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Curb weight, lbs.: 4,013
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 17/26 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 17.3 mpg
Length: 203.2 inches
Width: 73.8 inches
Wheelbase: 115.6 inches
Height: 58 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 42.5/41 inches
Head room (front/rear): 39.5/37.6 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 17 cu.-ft.
Competitors: Acura TL, Audi A6, Cadillac DTS, Chevrolet Impala SS, Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Five Hundred, Hyundai Azera, Kia Amanti, Lexus ES 330, Lincoln Zephyr, Mercury Montego, Nissan Maxima, Saab 9-5, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S80
Photos by Ron Perry and courtesy of Buick