2006 Buick Lucerne CXS: In the Autoblog Garage Day 5

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

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