The Buick Lucerne is a full-size, front-wheel-drive, four-door luxury sedan, and it comes in several models. The Lucerne CX is tuned as a traditional Buick, with the Premium Ride Suspension. The Lucerne CXL comes with a firmer Ride and Handling Suspension, and is positioned to compete with the Toyota Avalon and Lexus ES 350. It's a very enjoyable car to drive, with agile handling and plenty of performance. The CXL Special Edition is even quicker with its optional V8.
The Super is a new model with an old Buick name, dating back to 1940 and last seen in 1958. The V8-powered Super, which replaces last year's CXS, delivers even more horsepower and features Magnetic Ride Control, an adaptive sports suspension developed for the Corvette.
New for 2008 are two safety systems, Side Blind Zone Alert and Lane Departure Warning, available on all models. Side Blind Zone Alert uses radar to provide drivers with more information about vehicles in hard-to-see areas around the car. Lane Departure Warning uses a camera to warn drivers of inadvertent lane changes. StabiliTrak with Brake Assist is now available on CX and CXL. Also for 2008, XM Satellite Radio is standard equipment in all models, and some options and equipment packages have been revised.
Launched as a 2006 model to replace the LeSabre and Park Avenue, the Lucerne benefits from the structure and chassis hardware it shares with the 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 has a long history of innovative engineering, handsomely conservative styling, and premium luxury at below-premium prices. Lucerne follows these Buick traditions.
Buick Lucerne CX ($27,275); CXL ($29,920); CXL Special Edition V6 ($31,735); CXL Special Edition V8 ($33,435); Super ($38,980)
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. They didn't serve any real function then and do not today, but we still like them.
The Lucerne Super is distinguished by a larger grille that cuts deeper into the front bumper and features fewer, thicker vertical bars. These grille bars turn sharply inward at the top, giving more definition to the waterfall effect. Below the new grille, the look is more familiar, with twin lower air intakes accentuated by chrome slashes that seem to point to the outboard foglights, very much like last year's CXS.
The smaller main grille of the CX and CXL is finer in texture, and the twin lower air intakes on these models hide behind horizontal grillwork cut into the lower bumper.
The Buick Lucerne is built on the same platform as the Cadillac DTS and benefits from modern build techniques for 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. These quiet-tuning efforts were evident in our test drives.
The center stack is located high for easy access, and contains large knobs for operating the climate control and audio system.
OnStar with Turn-by-Turn service comes standard and allows customers to talk to a live advisor who 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.
A touch-screen navigation system is also available, giving the Lucerne driver the best of both worlds.
Bucket seats are standard, but buyers who want seating for six can order a traditional front bench seat. We found the bucket seats 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. Lucerne's long wheelbase 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 several different 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 that all handled 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 high-powered Super comes with Magnetic Ride Control, which we've found improved 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.
Powering the new Super is a unique version of the 4.6-liter Northstar V8, rated 292 horsepower at 6300 rpm, and 288 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. The Lucerne Super V8 is EPA-rated at 15/22 mpg City/Highway.
The CXL Special Edition offers a slightly less tuned version of the same engine, developing 275 horsepower at 6000 rpm, but 295 pound-feet of torque at 4400. Torque is the force you feel when accelerating from an intersection or up a hill. So even though it has less horsepower, the higher torque of the CXL Special Edition with the V8 might be more responsive in everyday driving. We've found the Lucerne performs well with this engine. The CXL Special Edition with the V8 is rated 15/23 mpg.
The V6 performed well in the CXL. 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. The V6 costs less and gets better fuel economy. The Lucerne CXL with its V6 is rated as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV). The V6 is EPA-rated at 16/25 mpg City/Highway.
Both V8 engines come with GM's electronically controlled Hydra-Matic 4T80 four-speed automatic transaxle, where the V6s use the lighter-duty 4T65 four-speed. All Lucerne engines feature electronic throttle control.
The new Side Blind Zone Alert system uses radar sensors on both sides of the vehicle (mounted behind the rear fascia) to scan a 150-degree field of view within a 3.5-meter range. Alternating radar beams sweep the adjacent traffic lanes to detect approaching cars. Vehicles entering one of seven zones identified by the system will illuminate an LED symbol in the outside rearview mirror. The system ignores stationary objects, such as fire hydrants or parked cars.
The Lane Departure Warning uses a camera, mounted near the inside rearview mirror, to identify traffic lane markings and provide audible alerts if the Lucerne should appear to be wandering from its appointed path.
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 reported from Santa Barbara, California, with editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.