The Lucerne CXS is certainly the most enjoyable of the new Buicks to drive, thanks to its powerful V8 engine and Magnetic Ride Control, an adaptive sports suspension developed for the Corvette. Yet we might opt for the Lucerne CXL V6, a very enjoyable car to drive, with agile handling and plenty of performance. The V6-powered Lucerne CXL is positioned to compete against the Toyota Avalon and Lexus ES 330, while the V8-powered CXS aspires to the Lexus GS and Infiniti M luxury sedans.
As it has done from time to time throughout its 103-year history, Buick is rethinking, renewing, revising and rationalizing its model lineup. The Buick Lucerne replaced the Park Avenue and LeSabre when launched as a 2006 model. The Lucerne benefits greatly from the structure and chassis hardware that it shares with the recently launched Cadillac DTS. In this, Lucerne is not breaking tradition but confirming it. The biggest Buicks have shared body structure with Cadillacs since the 1930s, if not before; and they have shared significant chassis pieces since 1965.
Buick Lucerne CX ($25,515); CXL V6 ($28,530); CXL V8 ($30,540); CXS ($34,545)
Chrome trim is kept to a minimum. The only stylistic link to Buicks of old is the row of small portholes on each of the front fenders. They are also the only clue to what's under the hood: the V6-powered Lucerne gets three portholes on each side while V8-powered models get four on each side. Flashback to the Fifties, when more powerful Buicks had more holes. But they didn't serve any real function then, and still do not today. Still, we like them.
Two new exterior colors, Light Quartz Metallic and Gold Mist Metallic, are available for '07.
The Buick Lucerne is built on the same mechanical platform as the Cadillac DTS, which was also all-new for 2006. Now in its second year of production, deemed the sweet spot for some buyers, the Lucerne benefits from the newest techniques for building a quiet luxury car.
These include hydroformed frame rails for a stiffer body and use of laminated steel with plenty of sound deadening material placed in strategic locations. Buick engineers shaped the outside of the door mirrors to lessen wind noise. Laboratory test results show that the Lucerne is quieter than a Lexus ES 330. This was also evident in a back-to-back driving comparison.
The center stack is located high up for easy access, and contains large knobs for operating the climate control and audio system.
Standard on all '07 Buicks is OnStar with Turn-by-Turn service, which allows customers to talk to a live advisor, who in turn downloads complete step-by-step directions to the vehicle through the OnStar system. Audio directions are then automatically played through the vehicle's stereo as they are needed, triggered by the OnStar system's GPS capabilities. Drivers can be directed to their destinations without having to take their hands from the wheel or eyes from the road.
And a touch-screen navigation system that can display a map is also available.
Buyers who want seating for six can order a traditional front bench seat. Most people instead opt for bucket seats, which provide a good level of comfort and come with an armrest in the center console.
Rear-seat passengers are well taken care of with good headroom and excellent leg room. The long wheelbase also allows for a wider-opening rear door with almost no intrusion from the wheel well, making it easy to get in and out of the car.
The steering is precise and responsive, and the suspension is well controlled, even at high speeds along not always smooth roads. After driving Buick Lucerne models over the course of several hours, winding among the vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley just north of Santa Barbara, California, we found the Lucerne handles with aplomb, exhibiting no wallowing or causing any untoward moments. A rigid chassis is the key to balancing sharp handling with a smooth ride, and Lucerne really delivers.
The CXS comes with Magnetic Ride Control, which we found improved the handling a bit, though the differences were not dramatic. Magnetic Ride Control is an adaptive damping system designed to enhance overall ride performance. With Magnetic Ride Control, the shock absorbers are filled with a synthetic fluid in which magnetically charged particles are suspended. By applying electric current to the particles, a computer continuously adjusts the fluid's viscosity according to varying road surfaces and driving styles. The system, which first appeared on the sporty Cadillac XLR, and then the Corvette, delivers a quicker response than earlier adaptive-damping setups that continuously adjusted the shock absorbers' main valves.
Indeed, when we tried a CXL V6, we were pleasantly surprised at just how well it performed. With the lighter V6, the Lucerne seemed more agile on twisty roads. The front end felt a bit lighter. The V6 models also suffer less from torque steer, a slight tugging felt through the steering wheel when turning and accelerating at the same time. As an additional benefit the V6 Lucerne is rated as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV). The V6 is EPA-rated 19/28 mpg city/highway, while the V8 is rated 17/26 mpg.
So which model? If you don't demand instant power when accelerating away from traffic lights or merging onto freeways, the V6 is probably a better bet because it costs less and gets better fuel economy. We were pleased with its performance. However, GM's excellent StabiliTrak electronic stability control system is available with the V8 models, which improves driving control by reducing the chance of skidding. StabiliTrak is well worth having. And this car performs well with a modern double overhead-cam V8.
The Buick Lucerne is an attractive near-luxury car offering looks, features, quality and value. If you like a modern, comfortable ride with competent road manners, the Lucerne, with either a V6 or V8 engine, is well worth consideration. It comes with a longer warranty (4 years/50,000 miles) than Buick has offered in the past, and Buick has been doing quite nicely in recent J.D. Power and Associates surveys on product quality.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie files this report from Santa Barbara, California.