More stories related to Chicago Auto Show CHICAGO – Already, the ’06 Lucerne large sedan is off to a better start than two recently introduced Buicks.

Lucerne, which replaces the LeSabre, shares its name with a beautiful city in Switzerland – a far better association than the embarrassingly titled LaCrosse (just ask any French Canadian) sedan or the awfully named Terraza minivan.

Monikers aside, Lucerne is similar to the LaCrosse and Terraza in that all three recently introduced vehicles are based on existing rather than all-new platforms for a struggling division that badly needs a smash hit.

Buick General Manager John Larson believes the Lucerne is a key entry.

“The Lucerne marks a significant milestone for Buick,” says Larson, who replaced the departed CJ Fraleigh last month as Buick’s chief. “We’re in the process of rolling out one of the most aggressive product programs in Buick history, with Lucerne being the third new Buick launched in just over a year. We expect the Lucerne – along with LaCrosse and Terraza – to appeal to many new customers and account for approximately 75% of Buick sales.”

’06 Buick Lucerne

While the Lucerne uses LeSabre’s front-wheel-drive platform, the car has undergone several upgrades.

Lucerne is the first Buick car to offer V-8 power in a decade, and it’s the first Buick with Magnetic Ride Control and StabiliTrak electronic stability control systems. The sleek new exterior includes a cascading front grille – influenced by the Buick Velite concept car introduced at the 2004 New York auto show – that is flanked by chrome-wrapped headlamps. Chrome also encircles the windows, door handles and engine portholes. The LeSabre’s rounded tail has been replaced on Lucerne by a stunted rear end.

“Our design goal was to create a new look and vision for Buick design – one that evokes an elegant, contemporary statement for a premium sedan,” says Lucerne Design Director John Manoogian. “Proportion and stance were the building blocks that enabled the design process. Lucerne is instantly recognizable as a Buick, in a clean, taut package."

Available in both 5- and 6-passenger seating configurations, Lucerne’s interior includes wood and chrome finishes and the use of French seams and stitching.

Lucerne will offer six airbags as standard equipment: a dual-stage driver front airbag, an industry-first dual-depth front passenger airbag, side-impact thorax airbags and roof-rail curtain airbags.

There are two engines: The 195-hp 3.8L V-6 overhead-valve engine is standard with the base CX and midlevel CXL. The 275-hp 4.6L DOHC V-8 engine is optional with the CXL model and standard with the uplevel CXS. Both mills are mated to a 4-speed transmission.

Lucerne will be manufactured at GM’s Hamtramck, MI, assembly plant. Pricing will be released at a later date.

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com