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Auto Test Drives

Smooth Lucerne Brings V8 Power Back to Buick Brand
By Andrew Gardner; photos by the author
Jun 10, 2006, 21:12 PST
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The 2005 Lucerne is Buick at its best. Smooth, calm, relaxing, and comfortable describe its look and feel. Lots of space is paired with a low sticker price. It's the first Buick to get magnetic-fluid-filled dampers, and the Lucerne marks the return of a V8 offering under the Buick badge after a 10 year hiatus. It's economy luxury on a grand scale.

The exterior design is a large smooth body with interesting details at key focal points. The chrome waterfall grille at the front, the portholes matching the number of cylinders on the sides, and the chrome finish on the door handles. The beltline pulls from the upper curve of the front wheel arch and sweeps back to the outboard upper corner of the tail light. A lightly chiseled line near each edge of the hood help give the front good form. The tail end is clean but fairly nondescript.

 

 

The interior swaddles the occupants with plush seats covered in soft leather. A smooth leather-wrapped steering wheel greets the drivers hands, and small wood accents laid among softly colored interior componentry warm passenger's eyes. Dual zone climate control maintains occupant comfort, and particle filters keep the allergies at bay. Easy to use, large-knobbed controls fill the center console. Simplicity yields non-clutter and a very relaxed interior atmosphere.

On the less complimentary side, there is not an abundance of innovative design, and the build quality is only pretty good. Heated front seats are available but cost extra - $500 on the CXS top-end model and $1000 on the mid-level (top V6/base V8) CXL.

 

 

The driving experience is as expected - smooth, graceful, and quiet. Suspension makes this as smooth as any luxury ride. Bumps, lumps and potholes don't stand too much of a chance of disturbing you, as long as you're traveling at the speed limit. The Lucerne is nearly immune to the freeway chop, as well. The CXS V8 model comes equipped with GM's magnetic ride control variable rate dampers, which adjust to the conditions as necessary - we just know the Lucern rides smooth.

Wind noise is not instrusive until 80 mph. Road noise is minimal. Powertrain noises are scarce under light and medium operation. Steering is smooth and light. It drives like a cozy dream.

 

 

But it performs lazily. The steering response is somewhat slow and numb - that's the way Buicks are. The transmission is slow to respond, and unfortunately can even be unsmooth at times - this is the first thing that should be improved on the Lucerne. Another gear or two are also expected at this level vehicle. It is understandable that cost savings would cause GM to not opt for a 6-speed on the Buick, but a 4-speed transmission is a true economy car feature in today's world - that's deplorable.

The powertrain is groany when pushed. The V8, a version of the Northstar, is underpowered for the 4000 pound CXS, and takes more furtive prodding of the throttle to get quick acceleration than should be necessary for a flagship. Because it's not a Cadillac, it can't be as quick, but this is too detuned. It is not laboriously slow; 275 horses and 290-lb-ft of torque will cause this car to rear back and get movin when the throttle plate is opened wide. Low end torque is sufficient and mid-range is good. At least a shorter rear gear would be helpful. But, for the consumer base, the taller rear gear, meaning engine speeds stay low and thus fuel consumption low, may be the proper choice. As a competitor to the Camry and the Honda, this is very well powered.

 

 

The V6 offers significantly less power. 197 horses (and 227 ft-lbs) tasked with moving about 3760 to 3860 pounds is an unfair performance demand. For everyday driving, however, the V6 moves the Lucerne easily through traffic and up past freeway speeds. Passing is possible, though on a two lane highway this powertrain is not confidence inspiring. And the lighter engine does not take enough weight off the front end to make a huge difference in handling, so turn-in is still burdened by delay in this model.

Safety offerings are good; the Lucerne, base model on up, offers traction control, which works with the ABS to keep wheel spin at a min. The Buick Lucerne also has GM's StabiliTrak stability system in its offerings; we found the system remarkably unobtrusive within the perfromance driving we undertook. We never actually engaged the stability systems, only traction control, due mostly to excessive front wheelspin in the rain, and the traction control behaved well, allowing some driver thought and reaction but clamping down on power and applying brakes as necessary to prevent drift.

Both front occupants get frontal impact airbags, and the outboard passengers all get side curtain airbags. The Lucerne also offers dual-depth front airbags, which use an occupant classification system to determine how much to inflate the airbags. This technology, which is co-patented by GM, debuted on the 2006 Cadillac DTS. This is a significant feature for the Lucerne, as its key competition is safety leader Toyota.

 

 

Buick also hopes to compete on Lexus turf, but the Lucerne is not quite a Lexus. QuiteTuning technology does focus well on a Lexus knack of keeping extra-cabin noises to a minimum, but it does not reach a Lexus level. Laminated steel used in the frame of the Lucerne, as well as tuned hood and engine cover insulation, composite wheel well liners and Grafal piolymer coated pistons all contribute greatly to a very quiet luxury driving experience.

When you're tired after a grueling day at work, it's nice to walk up to a shiny new car that you like but aren't nervous about driving because it's not too expensive, and you don't resent it because it doesn't burn a hole in your wallet, and it cradles you with affection as you slide inside and cruise home. It is a peaceful cruiser with more than a couple of luxuries and no arrogant pricetag. It is an all-American sedan, an example of the American dream; for some it can represent upward mobility with its luxury offering - the freedom of space and soft leather. It's a luxury liner for the common man. Cruise on, Lucerne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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