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2006 Buick Lucerne CXS: In the Autoblog Garage Day 1-2

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.

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