Buick calls the new-for-2006 Lucerne sedan its "most premium and elegant model ... poised to bring a fresh approach to the entry-luxury segment."
Right away, you get the message: A nice Buick but not so nice as to cost you $40,000 or more.
The tested Lucerne CXL, the second-most expensive of four trim levels, pretty much lives up to that billing. Starting at $29,265, it's a comparatively affordable, nicely equipped, full-size sedan, but it lacks some of the amenities of pricier competitors.
For example, the rear brakes are solid discs, not the uplevel vented discs you get on the Lucerne's front end. The automatic transmission is a four-speed, at a time when other automakers are installing sweet-and-smooth six-speed gearboxes.
And yet, the Lucerne definitely is not a cheap car masquerading as a high-end vehicle. The tester included a remote-start feature, heated/cooled seats, a brake-assist system and a stability control system. The interior was attractive, spacious and comfortable.
Very little noise penetrated the interior cabin, even when the 4.6-liter, 275-horsepower V-8 was at full song. Yes, that's right, a V-8. There hasn't been one of those in a Buick car for a decade.
The V-8 in the CXL performed at the level one expects in a full-size passenger car capable of carrying up to six passengers and their luggage. Uphill performance lagged just a little at the top of the steepest inclines.
Handling was a tiny bit mushy. I was hoping for a little more firmness in the steering wheel and a little less body sway on gentle, high-speed Interstate corners. However, none of these factors detracted much from the driving experience.
The Lucerne looks good. It's all Buick. You can't mistake it for anything else, not with its prominent, waterfall-style grille and an oversized Buick logo in the center. Big, integrated headlamps sweep back into a nicely aerodynamic body. The 17-inch wheels on the tester actually looked bigger; you can get 18-inchers if you want.
Fit and finish on the tester were spot-on. Had I not seen the sticker on this car, I would have pegged the starting price at around $35,000. So, the less-than-$30,000 sticker seemed like a pretty good deal to me.
That seems to be Lucerne's niche: the buyer who wants a full-size sedan with some luxury but gags at the thought of paying an arm and a leg for a big passenger car, no matter how many goodies are stuffed inside.
Of course, Lucerne's niche is also its albatross among some car buyers, who are likely to cite areas where Buick cut corners to keep the price down -- the solid-disc rear brakes and four-speed automatic gearbox among them.
Well, OK, the Lucerne is no Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan ... not even close. But then again, I don't have to walk into the dealership with the $65,000 it takes to drive off with the least expensive 2006 S-Class model.
Other economic plusses: Buick recommends premium fuel for the Lucerne's V-8 power plant but does not require it. Every little bit helps, given the price of gasoline these days.
There's also the fact -- and I hate to bring this up at my quickly advancing age -- that the Lucerne is not a Park Avenue or a LeSabre, two golden oldies from Buick's glory days. In fact, the Lucerne is replacing those models -- part of Buick's attempt to reach out to a younger group of buyers.
For those who drove and loved the Park Avenue and LeSabre, the thought of looking at a Lucerne is probably painful. That would be needless pain, because the Lucerne has enough soul from those past models and enough state-of-the-art amenities to appeal to longtime loyal Buick buyers.
Would I buy it?
If I was a 30- or 40-something professional with a young family, I'd absolutely give the Lucerne a good, long look. Ditto if I was retired and wanted a relatively affordable big car to tool around town in and take on extended driving trips.
As it is, Lucerne faces extremely tough competition, situated in a segment that includes popular imports like the Toyota Avalon and hot-selling domestics like the Chrysler 300.
So, it boils down to personal preferences and making a choice among a field of nicely engineered full-size passenger cars. Or you can listen to Buick spokesman and superstar pro golfer Tiger Woods.
Personally, I'd listen to Tiger's advice on hitting the green and decide on the Lucerne after a careful test drive.
Buick Lucerne at a glance
Make/model: 2006 Buick Lucerne CXL
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door, front-drive, full-size sedan
Base price: $29,265
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8 with 275 horsepower at 5,600 revolutions per minute and 290 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm
EPA fuel economy: 17 miles per gallon city; 26 mpg highway
Transmission: Four-speed automatic with overdrive
Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion
Brakes: Power-assisted, four-wheel discs on front and rear, with anti-lock
Suspension: Independent, MacPherson strut-type on front; multi-link on rear (stabilizer bars front and rear)
Fuel tank: 18.5 gallons
Passenger volume: 108 cubic feet
Cargo volume: 17 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,869 pounds
Height: 58 inches
Length: 203.2 inches
Wheelbase: 115.6 inches
Width: 73.8 inches
Track: 63 inches on front; 62.5 inches on rear
Towing capacity: 1,000 pounds
Tires: P235/55R17 all-season radials
Final assembly point: Detroit
About the writer:
The Bee's Mark Glover can be reached at (916) 321-1184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.