The Buick Lucerne is a highly competent sedan with smooth, clean lines and driving manners to match. Underway, it's smooth and quiet, but with precise steering and a chassis that handles winding roads with aplomb. Inside, it's elegant, comfortable and easy.
The Buick Lucerne 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. We found it a very enjoyable car to drive, with agile handling and plenty of performance.
A full-size, front-wheel-drive sedan, the Lucerne benefits from a larger, more powerful, and more efficient V6 for 2009. Horsepower is up 15 percent from 197 to 227; while fuel economy has improved from 16/25 mpg city/highway to 17/26. The Lucerne comes loaded with more standard features for 2009, including a Bluetooth hands-free phone interface. XM radio with NavTraffic is available.
The V8-powered Lucerne Super, first introduced as a 2008 model, delivers even more performance for 2009, plus Magnetic Ride Control, an adaptive sports suspension developed for the Corvette.
Advanced safety systems are 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 offered as well.
Buick has a long history of innovative engineering, handsomely conservative styling, and premium luxury at below-premium prices. Lucerne follows these Buick traditions.
There is no mistaking the Lucerne for anything but a Buick. The Lucerne has a handsome appearance with a good stance thanks to its long wheelbase and wide track. The classic, Buick waterfall grille blends in well with the large integrated headlamps. The side profile, with its steeply raked windshield, is reminiscent of several recently introduced European sedans such as the VW Passat and Audi A6. The rear of the Lucerne features a high trunk line with nicely integrated tail lamps.
Chrome trim is kept to a minimum. Beside the grille, 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 CX and CXL get three portholes on each side while the V8-powered Super gets 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.
The smaller main grille of the CX and CXL is finer in texture, and is now chrome on the CXL as well as the CX. 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.
Lucerne's cabin is cleanly designed with just enough touches of wood and chrome trim to make it luxurious without being opulent. The dashboard is fairly traditional in design with a smallish instrument pod containing three round gauges in front of the steering wheel.
The center stack is located high for easy access, and contains large knobs for operating the climate control and audio system.
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.
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. New OnStar eNav allows subscribers to find and save destinations on MapQuest.com, and have those destinations sent to their vehicle's OnStar system.
A touch-screen navigation system is also available, giving the Lucerne driver the best of both worlds. New OnStar Destination Download enables OnStar subscribers with screen-based navigation to quickly input their destination via the press of a button; while new XM NavTraffic (available in 80 major North American markets) delivers real-time information about accidents, traffic backups, and road construction directly to the navigation screen. With or without navigation, all 2009 Lucernes come with an enhanced XM display that delivers more channel and artist information.
Bluetooth comes standard on all models and enables true hands-free calling. It uses OnStar's voice recognition to dial phone numbers, conversations are played through the Lucerne's audio system.
The Buick Lucerne is a smooth but spirited car. The ride quality is excellent, thanks to its long wheelbase and stiff body structure. In back-to-back driving along a stretch of less-than-perfect road, we found the Lucerne's ride quality comparable to that of the benchmark Toyota Avalon. Lucerne rides a bit firmer than past Buicks, but it's still plenty smooth.
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 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 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. (Torque is the force you feel when accelerating from an intersection or up a hill.) The Lucerne Super V8 is EPA-rated at 15/22 mpg City/Highway.
The 2009 Lucerne CX and CXL models are motivated by a 3.9-liter V6 with continuously variable valve timing that delivers 227 horsepower at 5700 rpm, and 237 pound-feet of torque at 3200. It replaces last year's 3.8-liter fixed-timing V6, which was rated 197 horsepower and 227 pound-feet. Yet the new engine also achieves a slight improvement in fuel economy, with an EPA rating of 17/26 mpg city/highway ( Even with the increase in available horsepower, the new engine offers an estimated one-mile-per-gallon fuel economy improvement in both city and highway driving, vs. 16/25 for the 3.8. The new V6 is also FlexFuel capable, meaning it can run on 100 percent gasoline, up to 85 percent ethanol, or any variation of the two. On E85, it is EPA rated 13/20 mpg, city/highway.
With the lighter V6, we found the Lucerne felt more agile on twisty roads. The front end felt a bit lighter.
The V8 engine comes with GM's electronically controlled Hydra-Matic 4T80 four-speed automatic transaxle, where the V6 uses the lighter-duty 4T65 four-speed. Both 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 and John F. Katz from south-central Pennsylvania.