2006 Buick Lucerne CSX: In the Autoblog Garage Day 3-4

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.

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