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Wheeeeeez! 2006 Buick Lucerne – Hurt by Details

AutoPacific staffers were all prepared to tout the new Buick Lucerne as one of the products that will revitalize Buick and help the brand regain its position as the thinking man’s Cadillac. In many ways, the Lucerne delivers, but it is held back by some fundamentals and too-obvious cost reductions.
On the positive side, the Lucerne looks good. While its styling does not turn heads, the car is pleasant to look at. The interior is very spacious and the trim is well-styled. Outward visibility is excellent to the front and sides but somewhat limited rearward due to Lucerne’s high rear deck.

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The trunk is gigantic. It looks capable of carrying a set of golf clubs for every occupant.
The ride of the Lucerne is well-controlled and supple at the same time. Cornering is flat when not pushed. As Jaguar describes it, they would probably admit the Buick rides with “aplomb”. Quietness is a forte of this big car – nice job on wind noise and road noise control.
Attractively Priced Big Buick for Mature Audience
The price is very attractive. While base pricing starts at about $26,000 for the base Lucerne (including freight), you can load one up to over $35,000. The $35,000 car includes a 4.6L Northstar V8 with 275HP. The car we had for evaluation was the mid-range V6 – a 3.8L V6 with 197 horsepower and a 4-speed automatic transmission – with a price point just shy of $30,000. All in all, this Lucerne is a pretty good value.

Instrument Panel Bows to Buick Styling Tradition and Loses Efficiency
The first failing in the Lucerne is in its instrument panel. On the surface, the instrument panel is well laid out but here the details begin to haunt the top of the line Buick. In cars with navigation systems (which this car did not have), the navigation screen is mounted below the center line of the I/P. You have to take your eyes off the road to refer to the screen. Not a particularly good location but one that the interior stylist of the Lucerne defended as “It meets General Motors product acceptance specifications”. Uh, not a good reason for a poor location that clearly was adopted because the styling department wanted to maintain the historically straight character line across the I/P. This is a cue that has been maintained for generations.

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Instrument Panel Graphics Lack Contrast – Not Good for the Mature Buyer
Buick better than anybody should understand the mature buyer, but the Lucerne fails them in several ways. Understanding that when eyesight begins fading high contrast is necessary, Buick mutes fonts on its instrument panel. Not good. In many ambient light conditions the red and blue temperature arrows for the air conditioning system are invisible. The fonts on the instruments are light grey on black backgrounds – not enough contrast. The icons on the headlamp display are white on a light grey background – totally invisible.
When most cars now have buttons for the trunk release on the door or on the instrument panel to the left of the steering column, the Lucerne hides the trunk release in the glove box. And, where is the fuel filler door release? I guess we’ll have to get out the owner’s manual for that one. (And the owner’s manual directs you to push the rear edge of the fuel filler door… voila, the door pops open!)
Wheeeeeeeeeez! Venerable 3.8L V6 is Now Thoroughly Outmoded
The old reliable Buick 3.8L V6 that has been a Buick mainstay for decades lets down the Lucerne. We have lauded GM in the past for evolving an ancient pushrod V6 into a competitive powerplant that clearly provides good power for low cost, but times have changed. The venerable 3.8 feels raspy and gasping for breath. We’d say that Lucerne should get the 3.6L 240 horsepower V6 found in the LaCrosse as standard equipment. It would be a much better fit in today’s competitive world.
Lucerne Probably Does Hit its Target Well
Still, the Lucerne probably hits its target pretty well. It is taking the place of the LeSabre in the Buick lineup and those folks have a median age of 72 years. They want an easy to live with big sedan that has a little bit of spunk that is affordable. With Lucerne these folks have it and they likely will not quibble about the powertrain issue we have discussed, but they will have problems with the graphics on the instrument panel.

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