2007 Buick Lucerne Expert Review:Autoblog
The new 2006 Buick Lucerne is a very large car, which is a good thing considering it has mighty large shoes to fill. It not only replaces the LeSabre in Buick’s lineup but also pinch hits for the now defunct Park Avenue. This means that the Lucerne’s price cuts a wide swath, with the entry level CX beginning at $25,990 and our range topping CXS tester starting at $34,990.
From this it’s apparent that the Lucerne was designed to compete on many different levels. Where the LeSabre fought tooth and nail for the middle class family sedan dollar, the Park Avenue went after luxo-cruiser cash. The Lucerne must attract attention from both types of clientele if it’s to be considered a successful replacement. We were handed the keys to an executive class CXS and plan to find out over the next week whether the Lucerne can fill both of Buick’s vacant shoes.
As we said earlier, the Lucerne CXS starts at $34,990 and comes out of the box with the venerable Northstar V8 that produces 275 hp and 295 ft-lbs. of torque. Our tester was fitted with a few upscale options like premium paint (Sharkskin, $995); a Driver Confidence package with remote start, theft deterrent and parking assist ($595); heated and cooled front seats ($500); a 6-disc CD changer ($300) and heated washer fluid ($100). With those niceties checked off the price of our Lucerne went up to the not insignificant sum of $36,755.
The first thought we had was wondering how a sedan that starts around $26K could compete in the clouds with such FWD entry-level luxury cars as the Lexus ES330 and Toyota Avalon. Toyota’s power players are the two vehicles most often mentioned in the same breath as the Lucerne, and rightly so as all three compete for a curious group of consumers that values aesthetics over acceleration, plushness over performance and cushiness over captivating handling.
The Lucerne at once arrests its audience with exterior styling that is elegant in form and restrained in execution. Cladding of any form has been banished from this Buick’s skin, leaving a tightly wrapped layer of Sharkskin-colored sheetmetal around this large sedan’s body. It’s an austere shape that looks as if it could swap silhouettes with an Infiniti Q45. The rear end from dead on reminds us of the last generation Audi A8.
The Lucerne’s design would be well received regardless of which automaker’s badge it was wearing, but the fact it sprung from GM’s No. 2 pencils makes it more impressive. This is not to say that Buicks of the recent past have been ugly (save the Skylark), just forgettable. In our eyes the Lucerne, however, would easily garner more glances on the street than the new edge Avalon and swollen ES330.
Devoid of any visual frivolity the Lucerne’s design impresses with details like the smart looking halogen projection fog lamps embedded in the two lower intakes, the 18-inch 10-spoke aluminum wheels, the conservative use of chrome trim to frame the windows and, of course, those port holes.
The front fenders of the CXS are flanked with four port holes each, signifying the eight cylinders of the Northstar V8 beating underhood. Lucernes with a V6 get only three vents per side, which is sure to cause port hole-envy for those owners who notice.
The leanness of the Lucerne’s shape can ironically be credited to the car’s dimensions, which are XXL. In a quick comparison of the Lucerne’s dimensions with the Ford Five-Hundred, Acura RL, Lexus ES330 and Toyota Avalon, we see that the Lucerne boasts the longest length at 203.2 inches and biggest wheelbase at 115.6 inches. With a width of 73.8 inches, however, those dimensions combine to make the car look long, thin and low. It’s the shape you’d expect of something that traverses lengthy interstates with more ease than it tackles the twisties, something like a freight train for the highway.
Any and all flattery earned by the Lucerne’s exterior in this first part of our review is in reality deserved, and you should know they are not being typed by the hands of someone with a permanent seat on GM’s bandwagon. In fact, this scribe has been accused of being a “GM basher” more often than being someone who knows what he’s talking about. So it’s with a bit of humility that Day 1-2 of this review comes to a close.
We’re nowhere near done going over the Lucerne’s faults and fine points. We haven’t cracked a door yet to see what the vehicle’s inner sanctum has to offer, nor have we turned its key and mashed the gas. Can Buick’s super-size sedan maintain its momentum as we go forward? It’s been a long time since the Buick brand has fielded a player that could compete well in the big league of large cars, and the Lucerne needs to be an all-star here. Tune in the rest of this week to find out if it makes contact or misses completely with the masses.
[Click sticker above to enlarge]
It’s our hope that any page referring to GM’s interior design during the last twenty-five years be ripped out of the annals of automotive history. It’s time for the General to begin a new chapter on interiors. Gone are the gaps, cheap plastic and oversized cartoon buttons that have been the company's unfortunate trademark for so long. The Lucerne’s dash has been designed with the same restraint and minimalism as its exterior, with a focus more on quality of materials, ergonomics and fit and finish. And it seems GM has emptied out its old parts bin and refilled it with new pieces, as some of the Lucerne’s switchgear can also be found in the new 2007 Chevy Tahoe.
The Lucerne’s interior design is as large a leap forward for Buick as the exterior design, but we’re not ready yet to anoint GM the 'King of Cockpits.' Read on to see where the Lucerne’s cabin rewrites the book on GM interiors and where it refers back to previous passages.
At first the Lucerne’s dash was a welcome sight after the blitzkrieg of buttons we encountered in Land Rover’s Range Rover Sport. Again we see the austerity of the vehicle’s exterior design transferred to the dash, as flush surfaces appear shrink-wrapped around simple shapes.
The driver’s first job upon entering the Lucerne is to settle into the leather-appointed driver’s seat and order up one of three heat settings for the back, bum or both. The seats in our CXS also cool by blasting cold air through their custom perforated leather. Heated and cooled seats are a hefty $500 option, but our butts are fast becoming addicted to the guilty pleasure, and memory settings for two drivers assures that the Lucerne will never forget how you like your rear catered to.
The Luxury Package on our tester also includes 8-way power adjustments and 4-way power adjustable lumbar support for the front seats. Despite the extra control, it was difficult to find a comfortable seating position in the Lucerne. The somewhat firm seat cushions, combined with a lack of bolstering made us feel like we were sitting on the seats, not in them.
Look up, and driver's eyes are greeted by a simple dash design that’s straightforward and to the point. The audio and HVAC controls cohabit a squarish black expanse that stands out in a sea of beige plastic and wood appliqué. The controls are very European in design, featuring predominantly flush buttons that offer fingertips soft feedback when pushed. Three large dials to control the stereo’s volume, fan speed and vent control rotate easily and also feature dampened clicks to track their progress. These large dials are wrapped with soft, high friction rubber that feels expensive and makes a good first impression on the vehicle’s operator.
One will also find faux wood growing in the gauge cluster where the tach, speedo and coolant/fuel dials reside. At a quick glance, the gauges look like an old clock on your grandmother’s mantle, but this is still a Buick, after all. The large white-on-black speedo is visible through the frame of a new steering wheel that is pure vanilla in flavor and features new cruise control and remote audio switchgear also shared with the 2007 Chevy Tahoe. The door locks and power window pieces also come from the new GM parts bin and not only feel better than the old switchgear, but operate better, as well.
While we were initially impressed with the straightforward dash design of the Lucerne, that impression quickly retreated and was replaced with a sense of ennui. Buick’s aren’t supposed to get all up in your grille with their appointments, but we found ourselves bored while sitting in the driver’s seat of ths $37K automobile. Thankfully, our CXS came with XM satellite radio and someone remembered to pay the subscription fee this month. There’s also a discrete auxiliary input for the 9-speaker harmon/kardon sound system that enables use of an iPod or other such MP3 player. Even with the audio system available to occupy one's time, the interior of the Lucerne doesn’t impact the senses and excite, instead laying low and out of the way.
One item that is conspicuously absent from our tester and its option sheet is a navigation system. We think such a gadget should be made available in a vehicle that can be optioned up into the upper $30K range. The Tahoe can be had with one, though we fear the Lucerne will have to wait for a major dash redesign before one could be integrated.
Shoppers in this segment tend to care more than the average Joe about how much stuff can be stuffed in the trunk, and the Lucerne’s booty can swallow an above average 17 cu. ft. of cargo. That’s enough to out pack everything but the Ford Five-Hundred, which has a freakish capacity of 21.2 cu. ft. Unfortunately, the old school hinges compromise the Lucerne’s trunk space every time the lid is closed. Again, this kind of thing may fly on a $25K sedan, but it’s not something we expect to encounter on one that costs $37K.
The fit and finish of the Lucerne’s interior is well above what GM has offered in the recent past, though we’ll stop short of calling it a class leader until these new interiors have gone around the block a few times. The Lucerne’s interior feels like it’ll stand the test of time, though our tester was already showing some wear and tear after only 3,000-plus miles.
The best feature of the Lucerne’s interior is that it’s as far removed from the ones it replaces as possible. The design, the materials and the fit and finish have all come far enough along to compete in the segment, though a few niggles remain. The uncomfortable seats, lack of a nav system and durability question are all cause for a pause when considering the Lucerne, though we don’t think any will stand out as a deal-breaker on the lot.
[In our final review of the 2006 Buick Lucerne CSX we’ll take this big sedan in search of some highway miles and a bend or two.]
For Day 1-2 of our review of the 2006 Buick Lucerne CSX click here.
As always, we’ll end our review of the 2006 Buick Lucerne with a thorough account of its sporting prowess. Fortunately for us, our tester is the CXS, which is the only Lucerne model imbued with any sense of sportiness. It comes standard with the 4.6L Northstar V8, features fore and aft stabilizer bars, a fully independent suspension with Magnetic Ride Control dampers and larger 18-inch wheels. Will all that hardware be enough to justify describing the 4,013-lb. FWD Lucerne as sporty? Read on to find out.
The Lucerne certainly feels like a fresh design on the surface, but underneath the skin is largely hardware that has been around the block a few times. The Lucerne is based on GM’s venerable FWD G-body platform that debuted back on the 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora and 7th generation Buick Riviera. This chassis has underpinned such players as the Buick Park Avenue, Buick LeSabre and Pontiac Bonneville since then. Currently only the Lucerne and the Cadillac DTS employ the G-body platform.
The G-body and the Lucerne make a perfect pair, as the platform likes nothing more than riding into the sunset on straight highways and concealing road irregularities with its long 115.6-inch wheelbase. But this is supposed to be the Lucerne that ditches the walker for a winding country road. To that effect, all Lucerne’s feature the aforementioned front and rear stabilizer bars and an all-independent suspension with struts in front and semi-trailing arms in the rear, but the CXS gets upgraded semiactive Magnetic Ride Control dampers.
The viscosity of the fluid in these shocks can change in a heartbeat to either firm up or soften damping levels in accordance with the vehicle’s load and road conditions. Techno-babble aside, they do a decent job of controlling the pitch and roll of such a large sedan. The Lucerne CXS exhibits a high level of composure when the speedo’s needle begins to rise, but don’t expect the pew-like seats to save you in a turn.
Despite the fact the Lucerne can hustle down the highway and not frighten its occupants at every turn, we imagine its core audience will appreciate its sublime ride and eerily quiet interior more. Buick marketing folks have dubbed the brand’s noise isolating technology “QuietTuning”, and it not only reduces road and wind noise to a whisper but also turns the V8’s familiar rumble into the lazy purr of a large cat. Cruising around town between 35 and 65 mph is the Lucerne’s obvious element, although it’s comforting to know the car can dance when called upon.
Many vehicles would stand in line for a tango partner like the Northstar V8, as this high-tech powerplant has more than proven itself a worthy motivator. A supercharged 4.4L version of the Northstar was chosen for duty in the most power Cadillac ever, the STS-V, where it produces remarkable amounts of power, 469 hp and 439 ft-lbs of torque. The Lucerne’s 4.6L Northstar goes without a blower, but the extra displacement helps create a torque curve under which you could park the Lucerne itself. The engine’s 275 hp and 295 ft-lbs. of torque provide just enough oomph to chirp the front tires, but not so much that torque steer could take control of the Lucerne’s direction.
Having 295 ft-lbs. of torque on tap is a good thing ,considering the Lucerne only has a four-speed automatic on hand. This is perhaps the biggest kink in the Lucerne’s armor, as many vehicles in this class come with additional cogs to carry the load. The Toyota Avalon features a five-speed auto, while the Ford Five-Hundred adds another gear to make six. Fortunately, the Northstar’s torque can make up for mashing the gas when RPMs are low, but occasionally an abrupt kickdown is also a likely scenario.
Ford and GM jointly collaborated on a new six-speed that will first appear in the 2007 Lincoln MKZ (formerly known as the Zephyr), the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. The 6F (Ford’s moniker, we believe) was designed specifically for FWD applications and can handle up to 300 hp and 280 ft-lbs. of torque. That’s a little less torque than the Northstar develops, though we wouldn’t mind stepping down the power a notch for the better power distribution of a more modern tranny.
All things equal, the Lucerne’s mechanicals are not its strongest selling point. The aged G-body platform while competent is still 10-year old technology. The Lucerne itself lacks the billet feel of some competitors that ride on more rigid modern platforms. This Buick’s four-speed auto is a stat that doesn’t measure up to offerings from other competitors, either.
Regardless, Buick has managed to develop a car that’s better all around than the two vehicles it’s meant to replace. Neither the LeSabre or Park Avenue could ever match the understated yet elegant design, superior fit and finish and higher performance level of the new Lucerne. Our initial excitement over the Lucerne was based primarily on the fact that we’ve never before liked a Buick sedan so much. Over the course of a week, however, our enthusiasm has waned somewhat, though not because we think any less of the Lucerne. Rather, we believe it’s a decent if not exceptional sedan that will finally put up a fight on Buick’s behalf in the marketplace. But that’s just it – Buick hasn’t really surpassed its competitors with the Lucerne, it's simply finally earned the right to occupy the same short list. For a struggling automaker with dwindling resources, however, that’s still something to get excited over.
Check out our other two reviews of the Buick Lucerne that we posted earlier in the week:
2006 Buick Lucerne CXS: In the Autoblog Garage Day 1-2
2006 Buick Lucerne CSX: In the Autoblog Garage Day 3-4
New Car Test Drive
Superb full-size luxury car.
The Buick Lucerne is the brand's flagship sedan. Its clean lines are suggestive of fine European imports yet maintain Buick traditions. Inside, Lucerne is elegant, comfortable and easy. Underway, it's smooth and quiet; but with precise steering and a chassis that handles winding roads with aplomb. we find the Lucerne to be a plush, highly competent full-size sedan at a compelling price.
The Lucerne CXS is certainly the most enjoyable of the new Buicks to drive, thanks to its powerful V8 engine and Magnetic Ride Control, an adaptive sports suspension developed for the Corvette. Yet we might opt for the Lucerne CXL V6, a very enjoyable car to drive, with agile handling and plenty of performance. The V6-powered Lucerne CXL is positioned to compete against the Toyota Avalon and Lexus ES 330, while the V8-powered CXS aspires to the Lexus GS and Infiniti M luxury sedans.
As it has done from time to time throughout its 103-year history, Buick is rethinking, renewing, revising and rationalizing its model lineup. The Buick Lucerne replaced the Park Avenue and LeSabre when launched as a 2006 model. The Lucerne benefits greatly from the structure and chassis hardware that it shares with the recently launched Cadillac DTS. In this, Lucerne is not breaking tradition but confirming it. The biggest Buicks have shared body structure with Cadillacs since the 1930s, if not before; and they have shared significant chassis pieces since 1965.
The 2007 Buick Lucerne is offered in three trim levels.
CX ($25,515) comes with a 3.8-liter V6, four-speed automatic transmission, cloth seats for five people, a power driver's seat, power windows, power door locks, manually operated heating and air conditioning, AM/FM/CD with six speakers and steering wheel audio controls, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and 16-inch aluminum wheels. Six-passenger seating is available by ordering the front bench seat ($295). A Comfort and Convenience package ($795) adds an electrochromic rearview mirror, Universal Home Remote, illuminated visors with vanity mirrors, intermittent front wipers with Rainsense, and body-colored outside mirrors with power adjustment and heat. The Driver Confidence Package ($795) includes rear park assist, remote vehicle start and theft alarm.
CXL is available with the V6 ($28,530) or a 4.6-liter V8 ($30,540). Either way, CXL upgrades with leather seats (for five or six passengers), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power passenger's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels. The suspension is tuned a little tighter and includes Airlift rear shocks for automatic level control. All items from the Comfort and Convenience package (see above) are also standard. The CXL V8 adds GM's Magnasteer magnetic assist steering, with a faster ratio; and firms up suspension damping a little further. To help maintain better control in adverse conditions GM's StabiliTrak electronic stability control system is available as an option on the CXL V8 ($495).
CXS ($34,545) comes standard with the V8, 18-inch wheels, StabiliTrak, Magnasteer, and Magnetic Ride Control for the best handling available in a Lucerne. CXS also has upgraded leather seats with eight-way power and memory for driver and front passenger. Audio is a nine-speaker, 280-watt Harman Kardon setup with standard XM Satellite Radio.
Options for the Lucerne include heated/cooled front seats; heated leather-wrapped steering wheel; factory-installed remote start; Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist; rain-sensing windshield wiper system; the first heated windshield washer fluid application in its class; six-disc in-dash CD changer with MP3 capability; and a satellite-based navigation system, now with touch-screen capability.
Safety features include six airbags: a dual-stage driver's front airbag and a dual-depth front passenger bag, front-seat side-impact airbags, and full-coverage side-impact curtain airbags. The front seatbelts come with pretensioners, so be sure to wear them. Traction control, anti-lock brakes, and a tire pressure monitor are standard on all models. OnStar comes standard and includes the first year of Safe and Sound service; OnStar operators will dispatch rescue crews if your airbag deploys and you don't respond to calls, a great feature for you and the rest of your family. The first-ever application of a dual-depth passenger airbag 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.
There is no mistaking the Lucerne for anything but 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 is the row of small portholes on each 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. Flashback to the Fifties, when more powerful Buicks had more holes. But they didn't serve any real function then, and still do not today. Still, we like them.
Two new exterior colors, Light Quartz Metallic and Gold Mist Metallic, are available for '07.
The Buick Lucerne is built on the same mechanical platform as the Cadillac DTS, which was also all-new for 2006. Now in its second year of production, deemed the sweet spot for some buyers, 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. This was also 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 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 is located high up for easy access, and contains large knobs for operating the climate control and audio system.
Standard on all '07 Buicks is OnStar with Turn-by-Turn service, which allows customers to talk to a live advisor, who in turn downloads complete step-by-step directions to the vehicle through the OnStar system. Audio directions are then automatically played through the vehicle's stereo as they are needed, triggered by the OnStar system's GPS capabilities. Drivers can be directed to their destinations without having to take their hands from the wheel or eyes from the road.
And a touch-screen navigation system that can display a map is also available.
Buyers who want seating for six can order a traditional front bench seat. Most people instead opt for bucket seats, which provide a good level of comfort and come with 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.
The Buick Lucerne is a smooth but spirited car. The ride quality is excellent, thanks to its 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 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.
The steering is precise and responsive, and the suspension is well controlled, even at high speeds along not always smooth roads. After driving Buick Lucerne models over the course of several hours, winding among the vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley just north of Santa Barbara, California, we found the Lucerne handles with aplomb, exhibiting no wallowing or causing any untoward moments. A rigid chassis is the key to balancing sharp handling with a smooth ride, and Lucerne really delivers.
The CXS comes with Magnetic Ride Control, which we found improved the handling a bit, though the differences were not dramatic. Magnetic Ride Control is an adaptive damping system designed to enhance overall ride performance. With Magnetic Ride Control, the shock absorbers are filled with a synthetic fluid in which magnetically charged particles are suspended. By applying electric current to the particles, a computer continuously adjusts the fluid's viscosity according to varying road surfaces and driving styles. The system, which first appeared on the sporty Cadillac XLR, and then the Corvette, delivers a quicker response than earlier adaptive-damping setups that continuously adjusted the shock absorbers' main valves.
Indeed, when we tried a CXL V6, we were pleasantly surprised at just how well it performed. With the lighter V6, the Lucerne seemed more agile on twisty roads. 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. As an additional benefit the V6 Lucerne is rated as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV). The V6 is EPA-rated 19/28 mpg city/highway, while the V8 is rated 17/26 mpg.
So which model? If you don't demand instant power when accelerating away from traffic lights or merging onto freeways, the V6 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. And this car performs well with a modern double overhead-cam V8.
The 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 comes with a longer warranty (4 years/50,000 miles) than Buick has offered in the past, and Buick has been doing quite nicely in recent J.D. Power and Associates surveys on product quality.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie files this report from Santa Barbara, California.
Buick Lucerne CX ($25,515); CXL V6 ($28,530); CXL V8 ($30,540); CXS ($34,545).
Options As Tested
Buick Lucerne CXL V8 ($30,540).
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