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

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.

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  • CSX V-8: 275 horsepower
  • 0-60 mph: 7.6 seconds
  • Base sticker price: $35,256

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.

Another view on the Lucerne:

Gallery review

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