2006 Chevrolet Lumina Royale
– Strong engine choices
– Spacious interior
– Good handling
– Below-average fuel economy
– Some interior fittings imperfect
– Ancient gearbox
The Chevrolet Lumina has been soldiering on for quite some time now, keeping alive with just facelifts and engine updates. Based on a rear-wheel-drive Opel chassis that dates back to 1993, this midsizer is beginning to feel its age. It would not be much of a contender in the Middle Eastern market were it not for the fact that it is the only affordable sedan in the market with a huge available V8. No Japanese manufacturer even comes close to such an offering.
The Lumina family continues for 2006 with the usual V6-powered LS, LTZ and S trim levels, while the V8-powered range, earlier the domain of the popular SS sedan and coupe, is expanded by adding the new top-of-the-range Royale to the mix. General Motors supplied us with the self-proclaimed flagship of the four-door Lumina range for evaluation.
The LS is a basic V6 midsize sedan, with just enough convenience features to keep the masses happy, such as power windows, electric mirrors, keyless entry, 6-way power driver’s seat and what not. The LTZ adds 8-way power front seats, an in-dash CD changer and standard ABS among other things. The S adds a body kit, sporty rims and some interior trim enhancements, but deletes the CD changer. The sporty SS adds V8 power to go with the body-kitted look, 17-inch alloys and it gets back the CD changer. The new Royale V8 comes with leather and an upgraded stereo as standard, as well as some sort of retuned rear suspension to improve comfort as well as handling. Leather is optional on the other models, while new reverse parking sensors are standard on the LTZ, SS and Royale. A sunroof is optional on all models.
The aging Lumina continues to look good on the outside, especially with the standard 17-inch rims on the Royale. The attractive low-slung design resists the current trend of ugly-tall cars, while still retaining ample space inside. While the SS brashly stands out in any crowd, the Royale attempts to combine understated entry-level luxury with hidden brute power.
Inside, the dashboard styling is pleasant, as are the door trimmings and seat design. Almost all the materials are of good quality, but as with previous models, we found the fit and finish to be a bit, well, unfinished. A couple of panels had gaps in between, while the included fire extinguisher under the front passenger seat is covered with a rag. We are willing to overlook these minor niggles as a side-effect of “value” pricing, as the price-to-equipment ratio is still unbeatable. All digital air-conditioning and CD stereo controls are laid out within reach. The leather seats in our Royale tester seems to have less side bolstering than in an SS to allow for “wider” audiences.
Headroom is adequate, while legroom and kneeroom are abundant both front and back, in the sedan and even in the two-door coupe. Multiple “SRS Airbag” logos are plastered all over the car to let you know that it has front and side airbags. The a/c is pretty good and cools quickly when maxed out. All-round visibility is good except towards the rear, but the reverse parking sensors on our Royale and good-sized mirrors partially solved that problem. The luggage trunk is very long and wide to allow for at least two large suitcases, but not deep enough to stack much more on top of them. A net is provided to nicely hold down small items.
Most midsize sedans in the Middle East market are front-wheel-drive with a range-topping V6 model. The Australian-built Lumina starts off with rear-wheel-drive and a base V6, while topping off the range with a Corvette V8–whoa! The 5.7-litre V8 models have had no competition whatsoever in the Middle East during all these years the Lumina has been around. The 340 hp SS sedan, with 475 Nm of peak torque at 4000 rpm, has become a rubber-burning legend in this region. The SS Coupe has even more juice at 350 hp. Now enthusiasts who have grown up can opt for the 330 hp Royale, tuned differently with 485 Nm at the same 4000 rpm. This propels the car with a solid satisfying kick from standstill. Oddly enough, we did not find the Royale to be as fast as expected, since an automatic six-cylinder BMW 330i managed to keep up with our V8 in a rolling drag race–we know it’s an unfair comparison with a lighter car, but still. Part of the problem is the outdated standard four-speed automatic gearbox. Although durable, it cannot utilize the V8’s power efficiently, even in sport mode. Shifts are smooth enough during normal driving, and there is always ample passing power, but this car could do so much better with a new five-speed automatic. Fuel economy suffers as a result, with the car’s own trip computer showing painful mileage numbers.
One undisputable plus about the Lumina Royale is the handling. We don’t know what was done to the suspension, but it noticeably handles as good as any sports sedan should. The Royale’s suspension was set up as a compromise between the softness of a V6 and the stiffness of an SS. Though still no AMG Benz, it holds it own around fast sweeping corners, with minimal body roll and little complaint from the tyres. In fact, we felt more confident in the Royale than we did in the General’s own Cadillac CTS. The sporty suspension and low-profile tyres are seemingly not at the expense of comfort, as the car is quite comfortable on most roads, with sharp jitters only felt over gravel surfaces or pebbles on the asphalt. The power steering is slightly firm, but does not transmit much feedback from the road surface.
The Lumina’s highway ride is quiet for the most part up till the usual 120 kph highway speed limit, but after that wind noise increases exponentially, while still maintaining excellent stability. Braking is good enough, but non-linear pedal feel hinders accurate application. There is good pedal resistance, but the brakes don’t do much initially until the pedal is pushed in much further. When floored, the car stops quickly enough.
The hot-weather-engineered Lumina represents good value to those looking for a powerful V6 family sedan or a practical V8 drag racer. With its inoffensive good looks and long list of available features, it would not be too bad of a buy if its below-average resale values and above-average fuel consumption do not bother you. If the last two points do bother you, you’ll be happier with a perennially boring four-cylinder Toyota.
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