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The Buick Lucerne is the brand's flagship sedan. Its clean lines are suggestive of fine European imports yet maintain Buick traditions. Inside, Lucerne is elegant, comfortable and easy. Underway, it's smooth and quiet; but with precise steering and a chassis that handles winding roads with aplomb. we find the Lucerne to be a plush, highly competent full-size sedan at a compelling price.
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.
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. Buick loyalists who are used to a cushy ride will not complain about the Lucerne. It might be stiffer than they are used to, 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 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.