Buick has scuttled two aging warriors the Park Avenue andLeSabre and replaced them with the Lucerne, a handsome and roomy full-size sedan.
Using the front-wheel-drive Cadillac DTS platform as its foundation, the Lucerne fills the gaps left by both previous models with two separate engines and varying levels of comfort and convenience accessories.
The LeSabre successor can be found in the Lucerne CX and CXL, both of which have standard 3.8-liter V-6 engines that deliver 197 horsepower and 227 pound-feet of torque.
The Lucerne CX has a base price of $26,265, and comes with cloth seats, manual air conditioner and a 6-speaker sound system. The six-cylinder CXL has a more comprehensive list of standard equipment and a starting price of $29,280.
The Lucerne CX and CXL with base engine are powerful enough, well appointed, quiet and comfortable in the back seat as well as the front. The back bench, which seats three, is a big step ahead of the LeSabre, which for reasons I could never quite understand, was surprisingly shallow and uncomfortable.
The Park Avenue successor can be found in the CXL V8 and the CXS, which both are equipped with the Northstar 4.6-liter V-8 engine. It delivers 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Base price of the V-8 CXL is $31,290 and the base price of the CXS is $35,295.
The car offered for my inspection was the top-of-the-line CXS, which, in addition to the V-8 engine, comes standard with General Motors Magnetic Ride Control; magnetic, variable assist power steering; and traction and stability control.
Theres a simple way to determine which powerplant is under the Lucernes hood. If you see three fake portholes on each front fender, the engine has six cylinders. If you see four, it contains the V-8.
A word about those trim pieces: Buick sees them as tying the new model to Buicks illustrious past. I see them as a tacky add-on that detracts from the Lucernes attractive lines. Im told many buyers like them, so Buick apparently understands its buyers a lot better than I do. No surprise there.
Its no secret that General Motors has targeted the Lexus (and Toyotas flagship, the Avalon) in its bid to bring the Buick up to world-class standards. Thats a pretty tall order, but the Lucerne is fast closing the gap.
Lets take a look at some key benchmarks.
Quality - Buick has for some time been getting top marks in the J.D. Power quality ratings, putting it on a par or ahead of some of the worlds most cherished brands.
Passenger comfort - The Lucerne is commendably quiet, if not quite as a whisper, it is as silent as the Lexus ES350. Its roomier than the Lexus and its seats are as comfortable and supportive.
Engines The Lucerne offers a powerful V-8, which the comparable Lexus ES350 and Toyota do not. However, the Lexus and Toyota V-6 engines are more powerful than the Buick V-6.
All of this is not to say that Buick does not have some goals to accomplish. Its four-speed automatic transmission is smooth, but a five- or six-speed shifter could enhance acceleration, fuel economy and Buicks reputation as an up-to-date modern car. In todays automotive world, a four-speed transmission puts Buick behind the curve. In addition, the steering wheel has no telescoping feature and the tilt is adjustable only four ways, none of them suitable to many drivers. It is necessary to adjust the seat height and the steering wheel to find a comfortable driving position.
Drivers will also find the instrument panel infuriating. Although the gauges are conveniently placed, they are hard to see in the daylight. Much of the time it is almost impossible to read the speedometer. Information supplied by the driver information center simply disappears. Buick really needs to revise gauge coloring and backlighting.
Finally, the interior is a commendable step forward in quality and refinement, but it is still not a match for the Lexus.
The return of the V-8 engine first in a Buick since the Roadmaster of 1995 gives the two-ton sedan the satisfying acceleration that American motorists have always loved. Its particularly appreciated in highway passing situations. Buyers of large sedans are not usually involved in stoplight races but, for the record, the two-ton Lucerne can make the sprint from 0 to 60 mph in about 7 seconds. The penalty is fuel mileage, which the EPA estimates at 17 mpg city/25 highway. In a week of mostly highway driving, I averaged about 20 mpg.
To enhance the feeling of luxury, Buick has done extensive work to isolate the passengers from the annoyances of the real world. The process is called QuietTuning, and it is baked into every Lucerne. It includes a double-isolated powertrain mounting system that reduces noise and harshness, laminated side glass in all passenger-door windows, hydroformed frame rails that give the Buick its stiff body structure, a laminated steel dashboard panel and composite nylon baffles in roof pillars, rocker panels and cross-car structures.
QuietTuning makes the cabin exceptionally user friendly, yet it doesnt totally muffle the pleasant, low-key rumble from that V-8 engine.
The sport-tuned, four-wheel independent suspension is enhanced by Magnetic Ride Control. With this system, the shock dampers are filled with a solution in which tiny magnetic iron particles are suspended. As Buick sensors monitor changes in road surface and vehicle direction, an electrical current changes the fluids consistency and provides a greater range of soft to firm damping than is possible with conventional shock absorbers. And, Magnetic Ride Control reacts five times faster than other active systems.
The result is less roll in turns, more precise handling, a smoother ride and reduced noise, vibration and harshness. In short, it goes a long way toward making a heavy, front-wheel-drive sedan, with its inherent understeer, behave like a rear-wheel-drive automobile.
Also assisting the driver is rack-and-pinion steering with General Motors patented Magnasteer, which uses a magnetic device to regulate the amount of steering assist required under different driving conditions.
Inside, the Buick Lucerne CXS has comfortable perforated leather bucket seats with power controls for front-seat passengers, a leather wrapped steering wheel, and tasteful, quality appointments. The rear bench has a backrest that can recline and is comfortable for adults of almost any size. In the center is a fold-down armrest with a small storage area. The problem is that a passenger seated in the center will find its hard surfaces uncomfortable to lean against.
The 17-cubic-foot trunk is large enough to swallow all the luggage needed for that family vacation.
Among safety features, the Lucerne comes standard with stability control, which automatically applies braking to one or more wheels when it senses the vehicle is about to go out of control, and traction control, which helps to keep the Buick moving in slippery weather.
Additional safety features include dual-stage front airbags, driver and front-passenger side impact airbags, side curtain airbags for passengers seated next to the doors, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes.
Also standard for one year is OnStar, Buicks telematics system that uses global positioning satellite and cellular technology to link the vehicle and driver to the OnStar Center. OnStar responds automatically and summons help in the case of accident that deploys the airbag. It can provide vehicle diagnostics, help to locate the car if it is stolen and even open a locked car with keys left inside. OnStar operators are also available to provide directions and other information to drivers.
The Buick Lucerne I drove was a CXS, with the base price of $34,265. The addition of a touch-screen navigation system ($1,795), 18-inch chrome-plated wheels ($650), heated and cooled seats for driver and front passenger ($500) heated washer fluid container ($100), driver confidence package (remote starter, rear parking assist and theft deterrent system for $595) and delivery charge ($725) brought the total to $38,630.
General Motors just announced a new warranty, which expands powertrain coverage to five years or 100,000 miles. This warranty is fully transferable if you sell the vehicle, and has no deductions. Also included is roadside assistance and courtesy transportation foe the same period. The rest of the car is covered for 4 years or 50,000 miles. Rust through protection is for 6 years with unlimited miles.
But heres the best part. Compare the Lucerne with a similarly equipped Cadillac DTS and youll find they are nearly identical in every respect, except one. The Buick is about $15,000 cheaper.
Suddenly the Buick is not only handsome, comfortable and competent. Its a real bargain.
Automatic dimming, driver's side electrochromatic mirror
Universal remote transmitter (for garage door)
Dual zone climate controls - driver and front passenger
CXL V8 also Includes... (partial list)
Northstar 275 horsepower V8 engine
CXS also Includes... (partial list)
18 inch wheels and tires
Front fog/driving lights
Premium leather upholstery
Heated front seats
Turn signal mirrors
Memory driver's seat
Harman/Kardon AM/FM in-dash single CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo and 9 speakers
Major Available Options (Partial List, depends on model. Some items are only available in a package with other options, see your Buick dealer for details)
Power glass sunroof
Comfort and Convenience Package Includes dual zone automatic climate control, trunk cargo net, electrochromic interior rearview mirror, universal home remote, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, RainSense wipers and power heated exterior mirrors with driver-side auto dimming
Remote vehicle starter
Ultrasonic rear park assist
XM satellite radio
Harman/Kardon audio system
6-disc CD changer
6-Way Power Passenger Seat
6-Passenger Seating, includes 40-20-40 split front bench seat
Heated steering wheel
Leather Heated and Cooled Front Seats
Chrome Plated Aluminum Wheels
White Gold Flash Tricoat paint
Crimson Pearl Tintcoat Paint
StabiliTrak stability control
For more information on the Lucerne, visit buick.com
Copyright 2013, SmartTrac Computer Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.