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CNN reviews the Lucerne

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A positive review of the '06 Buick Lucerne has been made by cnn.com.

They called it, ". . . a near-perfect blend of brand, concept, and execution and offers a bit of hope for GM's future."

A GM winner: The Buick Lucerne

This well-thought-out machine offers a bit of hope for troubled automaker General Motors' future.

By Alex Taylor III, FSB contributor

April 7, 2006: 4:14 PM EDT

NEW YORK (FORTUNE Small Business Magazine) - It takes me only a few minutes to figure out whether I'm comfortable in a new car. Sure, familiarity helps, but so do good ergonomics, intuitive controls, fine materials, and accommodating seats.

The 2006 Buick Lucerne felt as comfortable as an old sweater from the moment I climbed into it, and my appreciation only grew after logging close to 300 miles on the odometer over the span of 36 hours. This is one well-thought-out machine.

Does liking a Buick make me an old fogey? I hope not -- both for my sake and for General Motors'. Buick has been taking a beating lately because of fears that it is dying along with its customers.

There's some truth to that. Buick buyers are among the grayest for any brand, with a median age of 65, and as they move to that great parking lot in the sky, their children and grandchildren are moving on to other nameplates. Short of cash, GM has accelerated Buick's decline by diverting scarce resources elsewhere, leaving the division with a hodgepodge of vehicles that are long in the tooth, badly cribbed from other models, or both.

With the 2005 LaCrosse, its first shot at reviving Buick, GM failed to add enough spice, but it has cooked up a winner with the Lucerne. The recipe is the same: Take an existing platform (in this case the Cadillac DTS) and give it a new look. The difference is the attitude.

The Lucerne has a rakish stance -- new for Buick -- and seems to be leaning slightly forward on its tires. Its metal skin is wrapped tightly around the frame, especially in the rear fenders, and it's devoid of ornamentation. The front end is forgettable -- the gaping Buick grille evokes no emotion of any kind, and the headlamps are nondescript -- but the rest of the car looks stylish and contemporary. Fake portholes, an amusing retro touch, identify it at once as a Buick.

Sliding behind the wheel, I immediately noticed that Buick has channeled Toyota's knack for making intuitive switches and controls. A special award goes to the audio system, which allows you to toggle effortlessly between AM, FM, and XM Satellite. It became quickly indispensible during my drive in a part of upstate New York that is starved of radio signals. One complaint: The headlamp/wiper stalk, which seemingly populates everything in the GM lineup, is a bit too familiar.

The Lucerne comes with a V-6 standard, but the V-8, Buick's first in a decade, is the way to go here. It's GM's proven Northstar engine, and it puts out 275 horsepower, enough to push the Lucerne to 60 miles an hour in 7.6 seconds. For a front-wheel-drive car, the Lucerne tracks through corners with a minimum of fuss and never feels unstable. This is a big sedan, yet it's responsive enough to be fun to drive. The base sticker price for the V-8 version: $35,256. The CXS test model I drove, with iridescent sharkskin paint, temperature-controlled seats, and other goodies, came to $38,480.

In its struggles for survival, GM has introduced several new models that were supposed to save the company but failed to live up to their billing. Almost no hype surrounded the industry launch of the Lucerne at the end of 2005 -- the car appears in dealerships this month -- but it delivers a near-perfect blend of brand, concept, and execution and offers a bit of hope for GM's future.

BUICK LUCERNE '06

CXS V-8: 275 horsepower

0-60 mph: 7.6 seconds

Base sticker price: $35,256

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Detail Comments:

The Buick Lucerne will not be everyone's idea of a great car. Even in its sportier CXS trim, with the 275-horsepower V-8 engine, the Lucerne is a luxury cruiser at heart. But it's an outstanding luxury cruiser.

Its steeply raked design somewhat hides the car's large size. Inside, there's ample legroom for everyone, front and back, and the trunk is appropriately voluminous.

-Peter Valdes-Dapena

The Lucerne's interior design is simple and attractive. Some of the materials are disappointing, though. The dashboard looks nice -- the "wood" trim looks like wood -- but it still feels like the shell of a Dell computer. At least the more frequent "touch points" along the doors and such are made from more pliant materials.

Gauges are easy on the eye and controls for things such as the radio and climate control are simple to use and feel nice, as well.

To their credit, this is something that General Motors really does know how to do right. Every other car company should study how GM makes user interfaces these days. Why do only GM cars, for example, allow me to have radio presets, whether AM, FM, or satellite radio, appear right next to one another at the same time?

Navigation will be available in the Lucerne a little later this year. For now, users can get turn-by-turn satellite navigation through On-Star. Many drivers may actually find this preferable to complicated in-car systems. With On-Star, just press the blue button, speak to an operator, and directions are downloaded to the car and updated as needed while you drive.

-Peter Valdes-Dapena

There is a code to Buick's decorative portals. Six-cylinder cars get three holes. V-8 equipped Lucernes get four holes. The Lucerne CXS is by no means a sports sedan, but it carries itself quite capably on the road. Its 275-horsepower is sufficient to keep the big car hustling along.

-Peter Valdes-Dapena

While it doesn't offer the performance of the Hemi-powered Chrysler 300C, for example, the Buick Lucerne does offer a more grown-up look and a more comfortable ride quality. Still, the ride feels better-controlled than the competing Toyota Avalon's.

The Lucerne's steering provides enough feedback to feel in control. Magnetic suspension adjusts automatically to cornering loads and firms up when the driving style demands it. It still allows the car to soak up bumps in straight-line cruising.

-Peter Valdes-Dapena

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Good review...almost a 180 of the laughable Edmund's one I read the other day.

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GM has introduced several new models that were supposed to save the company but failed to live up to their billing.

General Motors has never introduced a model that was billed as 'going to save the company'. That said, a number of recently introduced vehicles have exceeded expectations in both image & sales. Don't bother to mention those, tho.

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Very balanced. They rightfully mentioned the low grade plastics in some areas, but also commended it on its well-thought-out features as well. Solid review.

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