2006 Buick Lucerne

Milford, Michigan Buick's campaign to remake itself as an American version of Lexus began last year with the LaCrosse, which was a valiant effort flawed by somnambulant styling. In developing its new Lucerne flagship, which effectively replaces both the aged Park Avenue and the LeSabre, Buick continued its case of Toyota envy by benchmarking the Avalon and the ES330. Slide into the Lucerne's driver's seat, squint at the creamy, finely stitched leather and the close tolerances of the interior trim pieces, and you might actually think you're in one of those cars. Run your hands over the plastics, though, and you'll realize that the materials are, alas, not quite as rich as the Avalon's.

Yet despite its considerable heft, the Lucerne is more entertaining to drive than the floaty Avalon, thanks to firmer damping and better body control, particularly in the CXS model, which offers magnetic ride control and has the same Northstar V-8 as the far more expensive but mechanically identical new Cadillac DTS. (GM's old 3.8-literV-6 is standard in the $26,990 CX and the $28,990 CXL.) GM aimed at Lexus with the Lucerne, but the bull's-eye turned out to be Cadillac.

Price: $38,775 (as tested, CXS)
Engine: 4.6L V-8, 275 hp, 295 lb-ft
Drive: Front-wheel

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