Home » The Buick Lucerne Marked The Point Where GM Started To Care Again: GM Hit Or Miss

The Buick Lucerne Marked The Point Where GM Started To Care Again: GM Hit Or Miss

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This is your granddad’s Buick, in the best way possible. It may be difficult for young people to imagine a time when Buicks were driven by well-respected professionals instead of coffin-dodgers and anyone with $50 to spend at rent-a-wreck, but believe me, it existed. In the early ’70s, Electras were magnificent, Rivieras were beautiful, and Skylarks were snazzy. Then, everything changed. The great cheapening of General Motors started, and much of what made Buick special was sapped. Many decades later, in 2006, a ray of hope appeared with something called the Lucerne. Welcome back to GM Hit or Miss, where we

Buick Lucerne 1

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Through the late-’90s and early 2000s, Buick had two large sedans — the LeSabre and the Park Avenue. The former was geared more towards your average large sedan buyer while the latter was geared towards the same sort of people, but with money. Unfortunately, almost everyone with money had migrated to something German or Japanese at that point or died, so consolidation was a good idea. For 2006, Buick would replace both the LeSabre and Park Avenue with one model line offering a choice of V6 or V8 power. With the platform of the Cadillac DTS and a name plucked directly from a town in Switzerland, the Buick Lucerne was born.

Buick Lucerne Interior

However, the Lucerne wasn’t just another cheaply-made way to separate retirees from their pensions. It was a marked step up in fit-and-finish above just about every other GM product of the time. Buick boasted about interior trim gaps measuring less than one millimeter, going down to half a millimeter in spots. The headlamp-to-fender gap also measured less than one millimeter, and special treatment was paid throughout the car to minimize noise, vibration and harshness. According to Motor Trend:

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 To quiet the Lucerne, considerable engineering effort was invested in eliminating noises at their source (by revising the accessory drive, induction box, side mirrors, etc. ), keeping noises out (laminated dash panels and side glass, wheelhouse liners) and hushing the sounds that get in (carpet deadeners, larger-volume A/C ventilation system).

Buick Lucerne Nvh Package

Yep, Buick was serious about this thing. Hop in the Lucerne and you’ll notice that all the marketing wasn’t lying. The door handles looked a bit dated and the climate controls were corporate to say the least, but everything was screwed together in an extremely pleasing manner. Soft-touch materials on the dashboard and door cards signaled Buick’s intent to credibly challenge the Lexus ES. Sure, the wood was still as fake as a bureaucrat’s smile, but the upholstered pillar trims blended well with the headliner, the sheen on the vinyl-wrapped dashboard was just right, and many black plastic parts had a pleasant satin finish. Hop in a well-kept Lucerne and you’ll find the point where GM really started to care again.

Buick Lucerne Cooled Seats

Oh, and did I mention the toys on tap? Customers could spec a 280-watt Harman/Kardon branded audio system, heated and cooled front seats, a heater for the windscreen washer fluid, four-way power lumbar, DVD navigation, and everything you’d reasonably expect from a premium sedan for 2006. You could even get an auto-dimming driver’s exterior mirror, a life-saver in nighttime driving.

Buick Lucerne 3

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Standard on most trims was a 3.8-liter V6, a 90-degree engine offering 197 eternal horsepower. Hitched to a four-speed automatic, the V6 Lucerne wouldn’t get you anywhere quickly, but it would always get you where you wanted to go. Should you have wished for a peppier Buick, you could’ve specced a 275-horsepower 4.6-liter quad-cam Northstar V8. Ticking the V8 box brought the number of fake portholes on each front fender up to four, dropped acceleration times considerably, and still came attached to a four-speed automatic. Look, this isn’t a front-wheel-drive muscle car, but instead a perfectly sensible cruiser. Slot the lever in drive, head out to the highway, set the cruise control, and enjoy the ride.

Buick Lucerne 2

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve driven a Buick Lucerne and can report that it’s quietly excellent. It goes down the road with comfort and ease, cossetting drivers over the worst frost heaves and potholes. It’s sprung and damped fairly softly, yet still features vastly better body control than any large front-wheel-drive Buick that came before it. I wouldn’t even call it nautical. Indeed, Car And Driver wrote in a road test of a V8 model:

The fact that a V-8 Lucerne is 26 percent cheaper than a Cadillac DTS abolishes any compelling reason — save image — to buy that strange-looking half-old/half-new, identically powered and similarly sized cousin. The Lucerne rides well, is comfortable, and has plenty of space and a dignified exhaust note. It’s perfectly acceptable as long as the commute doesn’t include attempts at re-creating Gran Turismo antics.

I mean come on, it’s a cut-price full-sized Cadillac that doesn’t force you into the Northstar V8 of ill repute. For the typical North American commute, that sounds absolutely divine. That being said, it’s not as if full-size shenanigans aren’t possible. As per Motor Trend, “Driving the Lucerne in an un-Buick-esque manner, we managed to slide it around our autocross course like a cop-show stunt driver, trail-braking to induce mild oversteer.” Cowabunga it is! Oh, and that magazine also called the interior “built for a librarian” thanks to extensive quieting measures, an excellent attribute for pockmarked highways and byways.

Buick Lucerne 4

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Arguably the best year of the Lucerne came in 2008, when the old 3.8-liter V6 came paired with a whole host of upgrades. We’re talking about mod-cons like an available heated steering wheel, optional lane departure warning, and an available blind spot alert system. Throw a CarPlay deck in one of these, and you basically have a modern car. Oh, and for those craving more power, a high-output Super model came available with a 292-horsepower version of the Northstar V8. For 2009, the venerable 3.8-liter V6 was swapped out for a 3.9-liter V6 making more power but occasionally developing the odd head gasket failure. A little facelift downloading the top-trim Super’s revised styling onto regular Lucernes came in 2010, and then that’s all she wrote.

Buick Lucerne 5

For 2010, the little LaCrosse moved up into the Lucerne’s size class, eventually ending the Lucerne’s run in 2011. However, the LaCrosse was based on the more mainstream Epsilon II platform that also underpinned the Chevrolet Malibu, received GM’s failure-prone 3.6-liter V6 as an up-level engine, and you couldn’t get the LaCrosse with a bench front seat.

I’d unquestionably call the Buick Lucerne a hit. It marked a turnaround point for the Buick brand, and, to an extent, GM as a whole. With a fantastic feature mix, fair value, and at least one proven powertrain under the hood, it blended old guard comfort with new GM finesse in a comforting way. These days, the Buick Lucerne makes for an awesome dirt-cheap daily driver. It’s not fast or exciting, but it’s comfortable, costs virtually nothing to keep on the road, simply works, and feels like a proper step up from an Impala or LeSabre. Plus, where else are you getting this mix of features and reliability for this little money? If you’re shopping for a winter beater, keep this Buick on your radar. You’ll love it.

(Photo credits: Buick)

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Ryan L
Ryan L
10 months ago

My grandpa always drove Buicks. Perhaps it’s nostalgia but I feel like the ride of a buick park avenue or lesabre was a unique experience. Plush but not too floaty. I rode in some big Cadillacs and Lincolns and aside from the Mark 8 I think they had a bit too much float. The buick with the 3800 was just enough oomph, the suspension was soft enough but you didn’t feel too dicey carry a bit too much speed into a sweeping highway turn.

I’ve aged into these cars at this point and frankly I think I might need one. FWIW the golden toyota camry around 2003 became the new buick IMO, maybe an avalon if your extra flush.

Lexus and the like were far too flashy for a midwest retired insurance guy demo.

Edit to add – in addition to the mark 8, those STS with the northstar in that time period had pretty decent plush to sport ratios.

Last edited 10 months ago by Ryan L
Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
10 months ago

A friend’s dad had one of the supers when I was in middle school. From the back seat, I was genuinely surprised by the overall quality, rode really well, actually was very quiet and the V8 sounded pretty good. Of course, it was still obviously GM cheap in some places, but was overall much better than expected. Not to dox myself or anything, but my parents had Mercs, and all the other school parents had Mercs/BMWs or Lexii, and it really wasn’t as far apart as you’d have thought. At least the interior door handles didn’t turn to goop like my best friend’s dad’s 7er. Was actually a halfway decent turd.

From the back seat.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
10 months ago

There are two of these in my neighborhood, both in very good condition. The only nearby new car dealership sells Buick/GMC, so a high percentage of Buicks around. Aside from being staggeringly hideous in my eyes, they seem to be very capable boats – the kind of car you buy for a song to do a road trip and end up keeping for the next decade.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
10 months ago

Did it, though? Everything about this car bores me to death. Build quality may have improved, but like…look at it. The plasticky (sorry, “soft-touch” interior looks like a downgrade from the Lexuses at the time, so it missed the mark there. You could park a plane on that black bezel around the stereo and such. The design is boring, boring, boring—a melted bar of soap with tacky Autozone stick-on portholes. Plus, the Northstar V8 was an infamous grenade.

I don’t think this could fool anyone outside of China, where they bafflingly stan Buick of all things to an unhealthy degree. Miss miss miss.

Last edited 10 months ago by Stef Schrader
WalmartTech
WalmartTech
10 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Stef you might call it boring; but to me it’s understated elegance. Every new car on sale today to me is pretty much punching you in the face and screeching “LOOK AT ME IM UNIQUE” in your ear when in reality everything is starting to look the same; because of crash testing and fuel economy numbers. And I will say that the Lucerne was a MASSIVE upgrade from the penalty box Chevrolet Aveo I was driving before!

M Wilkins
M Wilkins
10 months ago

I’d unquestionably call the Buick Lucerne a hit.

As good as the car may have been, it’s hard to call something that only lasted 5 years a hit.

Younork
Younork
10 months ago

At the used luxury car lot I used to work for in 2019 and 2020, we had one of these as our shop run-a-bout. Just a car we took in on trade and slapped a dealer tag on that we did not particularly care about the milage of. It was great, comfortable, easy to drive, decent sound system; but by far the best part was it had, still to this day, the best AC in a car I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. It would go from sitting in the sun, with the interior well over 110F, to 65F in about four minutes. It was incredible, I still notice them on the road and note just how many boxes that pedestrian Buick from the late 2000s ticked. Also very cool to read about the other cool features it had, like a heated windshield washer reservoir. An excellent edition to GM hit or miss, and in mind an absolute hit.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
10 months ago
Reply to  Younork

GM does HVAC very, very well.

Ryan L
Ryan L
10 months ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

They knew these cars were the default of the Arizona snowbirds. Nailing the AC was job 1.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
10 months ago
Reply to  Ryan L

Elderly Texans, too! We love our big GM couches down here.

Last edited 10 months ago by Stef Schrader
Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
7 days ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

They did own Frigidaire at one time.

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