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Buick gains an edge with the new Lucerne

July 08, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

The reinvention of the Buick brand continues with the autumn launch of the 2006 Lucerne.

Following on the heels of the 2005 LaCrosse, this bigger and bolder model has been designed to take over from the LeSabre and the more upscale Park Avenue. Both cars developed a solid following over the past dozen or so years, primarily with the taxi and limo crowd in addition to many buyers of a pensionable demographic.

Although fleet purchasers should also gravitate to the Lucerne, it's a younger audience that should find this Buick at least worth a second look.

The body, which is based on last year's Vlite show-circuit concept car, comes across as a contemporary work of art, at least compared to look of the stuck-in-the-'80s LeSabre. There's just enough bright garnish to keep the traditionalists happy, but the overall design also contains more than trace amounts of European/Asian influences to create a buzz with the under-50 set.

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Much effort has also gone into creating a fresh environment inside, with more driver-friendly controls and gauges surrounded by tasteful - albeit none-too-real - wood trim. Check the appropriate box on the option sheet and the seats are the recipient of leather coverings.

Compared to the car it replaces, the Detroit-built Lucerne is more than four inches longer, has three more inches between the front and rear wheels and is a full inch taller, dimensions that clearly point to more interior room for up to six passengers (five if you opt for front bucket seats in place of the standard three-place bench).

Buick intends to play up its time-honored front-fender porthole trim in all Lucerne models as a subtle way of differentiating what's under the hood. Models equipped with the 195-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6, which include the base CX and CXL, are fitted with three faux portholes for each front fender, while Lucernes equipped with the 275-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8, which is optional on the CXL and standard on the top-line CXS, get four-hole trim pieces per side.

The 4.6 is the first V-8 to reside in a Buick in quite some time, just as other GM models are also receiving V-8 transplants (Grand Prix, Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo).

Completing the drivetrain on all models will be a four-speed automatic transmission. Depending on the seat selection, it's either column- or floor-shifted.

Along with the requisite luxury accouterments, Buick makes available a number of high-tech items for the Lucerne, such as a DVD-mapped navigation system, premium 245-watt, nine-speaker audio equipment, stability control, a factory-installed remote engine starter, climate-controlled front seats, rear park assist (backup sensor), heated windshield-washer fluid, rain-sensing wipers and blades specifically designed to reduce wind noise while increasing contact with the glass.

Also available is Magnetic Ride Control, a system that varies the viscosity (thickness) of the fluid inside the shocks and struts to control the ride over different road surfaces. It can also cut down on body lean during cornering and reduce the tendency for the nose to dip (which upsets the car's balance) under hard braking.

A total of six air bags form the foundation of the Lucerne's interior safety content, including side-impact and side-curtain air bags. Four-wheel disc brakes and traction and stability control help the keep the Lucerne pointing in the right direction at all times.

With the Lucerne, GM has its sights set on lofty competitors such as the Toyota Avalon and Lexus ES 330. However, with contemporary looks, impressive content and accessible gung-ho power, this is one Buick that should attract plenty of attention, and for all the right reasons.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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