The 2005 Buick LaCrosse replaced two models: the Buick Century and the Buick Regal.

Buick LaCrosse, Buick Lucerne, Buick Rendezvous, Buick Rainier, and Buick Terraza

For 2005, both Century and Regal were replaced by a single nameplate: LaCrosse. CX and CXL versions, aimed at the traditional Buick buyer, had a soft ride and were powered by GM's venerable 3.8-liter V-6 with 200 horsepower.

CXS was aimed at import buyers with firmer suspension and a 240-bhp 3.6-liter twincam V-6 that had been introduced in the 2004 Cadillac CTS and SRX. The new engine was not only quicker than the 3.8-liter, but was also smoother. Styling was cleaner and showed the new direction of Buick design. The interior design also moved forward with better materials and assembly.

The LaCrosse was a significant improvement over the models it replaced. All versions were comfortable and the CXS offered good handling as well. However, LaCrosse failed to match the combined sales of its two predecessors.

Just as LaCrosse replaced two familiar nameplates, so did Lucerne in 2006. Taking over for both LaSabre (a Buick staple since 1959) and Park Avenue, the Lucerne shared a platform with the Cadillac DTS. Occupying a middle ground between the aggressive Chrysler 300 and the conservative Toyota Avalon, Lucerne redefined traditional Buick values for the twenty-first century.

Ride was soft in the Buick tradition, but some complained that the boulevard ride was gained at the price of boat-like handling. Silence was also a Buick tradition and Buick put a renewed effort into the quietness of its new models. The 3.8-liter V-6 with 197 bhp from the previous cars was joined by Cadillac's Northstar V-8 engine with 275 horsepower -- Buick's first ­passenger-car V-8 in more than a decade. Interiors were more luxurious with fit and materials to match any car in its class.

Light-truck demand grew at a phenomenal pace throughout the 1990s, one of the most important market trends of the decade. Another was GM's steady loss of market share, which withered to only some 25 percent by the start of the new millennium.

Attempting to turn things around, GM embraced "brand management," a philosophy that said good products were less important to sales than a good name with a good image. It was a new twist on the old "sell the sizzle, not the steak" idea, and it didn't work in the much more competitive late-'90s market. Worse for Buick, brand management was a distraction that left the division on the sidelines of the profitable light-truck action.

GM finally corrected the oversight with the 2002 Rendezvous, Buick's first truck in 70 years. Actually, this was one of a new breed of "crossover" vehicles that were raking in big money by combining truck-type styling and utility with carlike refinement and driving ease.

Rendezvous was related to Pontiac's similarly conceived Aztek, which bowed about a year before it, but was far more attractive, as most critics said. Both amounted to clever reskins of GM's basic 1997 front-drive minivan design, with different outer sheetmetal giving a quasi-SUV appearance, plus four conventional side doors.

As a Buick, Rendezvous one-upped Aztek with better standard trim and equipment, not to mention a four-inch longer wheelbase that made room for available three-row seating for up to seven, a must feature for this new kind of vehicle. Each offered models with front-wheel drive or GM's new "VersaTrak" all-wheel drive, but the only engine was the corporation's hoary 3.4-liter pushrod V-6, which sent 185 bhp through a four-speed automatic transmission.

Buick finally introduced its "crossover" vehicle, the Rendezvous, in 2002. Shown here is the 2005 Buick Rendezvous.

A much needed boost in power came in 2004 with the availability of a 245-bhp twincam 3.6-liter V-6. For 2006 a new base engine added ten horsepower. Despite the pedestrian underpinnings, Rendezvous emerged as a pleasant, well-equipped package that expanded Buick's market reach.

That reach was expanded further with a truck-based SUV in 2004 and a minivan in '05. The Rainier was Buick's version of GM's much-cloned midsize sport ute. Other variations were the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy, Oldsmobile Bravada, Isuzu Ascender, and Saab 9-7X. The Buick's standard engine was a 275-bhp inline six; a 290-bhp V-8 was optional. Rainier included luxuries expected of a Buick -- leather upholstery, power front seats, and automatic climate control. Buick also added extra insulation and laminated glass for a quieter ride.

Terraza was a General Motors minivan with an SUV-style nose added to create what GM called a "crossover sport van." The Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, and Saturn Relay shared the same design. Terraza was the most expensive and luxurious of the group.

Buick entered its second century with declining sales and market share. However, a renewed focus on comfort and silence was evident in the Lucerne. The crossover Enclave concept is expected as a 2007 production model and promises to be a stronger SUV entry than Rendezvous or Rainier. After a rocky start to a new century, Buick seems to be finding direction and building better vehicles.

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