Buick Lucerne Super – front fender ports back, a Buick to remember

By Ted Biederman and Jim Meachen

We know people who long for the good old days. Perhaps that’s because the old days always seem better than they actually were in the rearview mirror of life.

And those same people think they long for the good old days when cars were big, softy sprung, cozy and comfy, and powered by big V-8 engines.

For those who do we have something from Buick that will bring those good old days back to life, but in a modern suit of clothes and with modern technology.

This spring Buick introduced a Super trim line — invoking the special trim level of the late 1940s and 50s — to its 2008 full-sized Lucerne. It just might be what some of us who have passed through middle age are looking for in a sedan. For those who can (or can’t) remember the Super was the slightly less chromed version of the vaunted top-of-the-line Roadmaster.

In fact, all of our four passengers during a seven-day test drive of the new Lucerne Super offered praise for the hushed, luxurious leather-clad surroundings, the cushy armchair-like back seating positions, the somewhat mellow ride and the occasional burst of power needed to free the Buick from sticky traffic situations. Truly a far more luxurious car than our fondly remembered 1955 Super.
We would be remiss not to note that all but one of our passengers have passed their 60th year on mother Earth. The other has still not reached the “big 3-0,” but she said she enjoyed her 60-mile ride as much as the others.

“These are great seats,” she said with a modicum of enthusiasm.

Whether the Super is enough to spark sales in the faltering Buick lineup is doubtful. What the Super might do is bring a few people back to the Buick fold who abandoned it several years ago when the much beloved Park Avenue was terminated.

This might be the car that traditional Buick buyers have been waiting for. It’s a relatively large sedan that can very successfully stand in for a Cadillac DTS or a Lincoln Town Car.

What separates the Lucerne Super from the base CX and the up-level CXL, are a large Northstar V-8 engine, firmer suspension tuning, suede-trimmed seats and a wood steering wheel. Wood accents and plush leather adorn the interior.

Exterior styling is conservative yet inviting just like the upscale Buicks of yesteryear that our family doctor insisted on. He thought Buicks were luxurious without being ostentatious – a serious car for the professional who had to make dozens of house-calls without the chance of being called a gouger – if say he was seen driving a Cadillac. Doc would have loved the new style Buick waterfall grille another wonderful modern touch of yesteryear, and the fender ports that give still gives a touch of flair. Eighteen-inch chrome wheels also help set off the Super.

The 32-valve Northstar was the mainstay of Cadillac products in the ’90s and is still a potent force. In the Super it makes a solid 292 horsepower and propels the two-ton sedan from 0 to 60 in about 7 seconds.

But it’s the smooth surge of power in a very quiet cabin that takes the driver back to the days of traditional luxury.

Even though the Lucerne must do with a hold-over four-speed automatic rather than a modern six-speed, and it’s propelled by its front wheels, not the rear set as in days of yore, the Lucerne does a good job in its assigned role as luxury for the pre baby-boomers, some boomers and even a splash of post boomers.

Also rather refreshing whether you were born before World War II or after the Vietnam War is a straight forward instrument panel and easy-to-read gauge package. The Lucerne is the antithesis of modern European luxury.

We didn’t have a standard-issue Lucerne for comparison, but we like the slightly firmed up Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension, which we thought aided the handling and drivability of the car without losing the luxury ride. We found no problem putting the Super on some curving roads at increased speeds, up to a point, although that point being well beyond the speed limit.

But certainly this car is for cruising, an ideal place for spending hours hurtling down an interstate highway, and not for slicing through the twists and turns of less-traveled blacktops. It fulfills its mission nicely.

Unfortunately, it’s betrayed by its weight and lack of extra cogs in the transmission.

Performance surely suffers. And gas mileage is anemic at 15 miles per gallon city and 22 mpg on the highway. One bright spot, the Northstar runs fine on regular gas.

One other downside is a wide 44-foot turning radius. Most full-sized cars now days have a turning circle of 37-to-38 feet. The Buick is not particularly friendly when trying to hit the empty mall parking space the first time.

The hushed interior is a new and welcome advance for Buick’s so-called quiet tuning. It adds to the aura of luxury. The driving position is good, although we can’t figure why Buick didn’t include the now-very-common adjustable pedals at least as an option. The driver’s seat was comfortable on our 200-mile journey. Rear-seat leg room and head room is good.

The base six-cylinder CX model starts at $27,675 and runs through three additional trim levels to the Super, which goes out the door for $39,395 including destination charge. A slightly de-tuned Northstar V-8 (275 HP) can be had in the CXL Special Edition package for $33,835.

There are only a handful of options available. Most equipment available on the Lucerne is standard equipment in the Super.

A couple of new features not included on our test car, but available across the lineup, are a side blind zone alert system and a departure warning system. We’ve used both on other cars and have found the blind zone alert helpful. The departure warning system, which sounds an alarm when you inadvertently cross the center line, is not worth the cost in our estimation.

Both features, along with several other things, can be purchased in a $1,185 “ultra confidence package.” We would opt for the blind alert zone as a stand alone option for $395.

Our test car came with the $1,945 navigation system and 18-inch chrome wheels for $750.

We found that General Motors’ navigation works well and it’s easy to program. We also like the XM radio read-out provided in the nav screen.

What we didn’t understand was the tiny digital clock read-out in the upper corner of the screen. It was the only clock in our car and way too small for old eyes. We also think all big sedans aimed at the older generation should have available a digital speedometer readout.

Strangely absent from the options list were Xenon headlights and Bluetooth connectivity.

As a whole we think Buick has done a commendable job creating a modern sedan in the image of traditional American luxury. It should capture a few customers who have not yet abandoned the once vaunted brand, and it may bring a few former customers back into the fold. And because of its size and comfort it could actually bring in some younger buyers as well.


Base price, $39,395; as driven, $43,085

Engine: 4.6-liter V-8

Horsepower: 292 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 288 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm

Drive: front wheel

Transmission: 4-speed automatic

Seating: 2/3

Wheelbase: 115.6 inches

Length: 203.2 inches

Curb weight: 4,004 pounds

Turning circle: 44 feet

Luggage capacity: 17 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 18 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 22 highway, 15 city

0-60: 7.5 seconds (estimated)

Also consider: Cadillac DTS, Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300

The Good

• Quiet, comfortable and spacious cabin

• Confident-feeling V-8 engine

• Soothing ride

The Bad

• Several popular options such as Bluetooth not available

• Might be the only luxury car with a 4-speed automatic

The Ugly

• Dismal gas mileage