What's New for 2008
The Buick Lucerne becomes a safer, more upscale sedan for 2008. Stability control is now optional on V6 models, and all Lucernes now offer an optional lane departure warning system and a "Side Blind Zone Alert" system that warns the driver when other vehicles enter the Buick's blind spots. Later in the model year, the retro-inspired Lucerne Super model arrives to replace the high-end CXS trim. The Super features a more powerful V8, upgraded suspension and unique styling cues inside and out. The CXL model loses its optional V8 this year, but high-end CXS models gain a power tilt-telescoping steering column.
The 2008 Buick Lucerne has quite a standard to uphold. As Buick's flagship car, the Lucerne represents the American brand most synonymous with big sedans. It also carries the responsibility of retaining the loyal customer base that likes Buicks just the way they've always been: soft, roomy and comfy.
For those buyers, this full-size sedan lands pretty close to the target. The Lucerne is one of the largest cars on the road, featuring enough room for five adults (six with the optional front bench seat) and an interior with easy-to-use controls. It rides quietly and reacts to bumps with the gentle motions its older customers prefer. Finally, Buick stands above much of its import-brand competition by offering a V8 engine in addition to a V6.
For 2008, the Lucerne gains features that widen its appeal. Drawing inspiration from the original Buick Super line of the 1940s, the new Lucerne Super will settle in at the top of the model line when it arrives in the spring of 2008. The Super has a more powerful 292-horsepower V8, firmer suspension tuning, suede-trimmed seats, a wood steering wheel and various other cosmetic touches. New safety technology also spreads throughout the Lucerne line. Stability control is now available on V6 models, and all but base CX Lucernes can be ordered with lane-departure and blind-spot warning systems.
Even with these upgrades, however, the Lucerne continues to disappoint in key areas, many of them related to its behavior on the road. Its handling and braking are both subpar. Its large turning circle makes it cumbersome, and its abrupt steering response feels mismatched to its otherwise lazy reactions. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly enough, but its tall, widely spaced gear ratios hurt both performance and mileage -- not a good thing in a class where competitors' transmissions offer five or even six forward gears. Lucernes equipped with the base 197-horsepower V6 feel especially rudimentary alongside the powerful V6 family sedans available at this price point.
The Buick Lucerne is far more pleasant to drive with its Cadillac-sourced V8. Unfortunately, for 2008 that engine (in two levels of power) has become restricted to the high-end CXS and Super models. The former costs nearly $37,000, vaulting the Lucerne into luxury-class territory when it lacks common upscale features like xenon headlights, power-adjustable pedals and Bluetooth connectivity.
All things considered, the 2008 Buick Lucerne may please brand loyalists, but buyers in search of more refined performance and digestible pricing would be wise to cross shop it against other large sedans like the Chrysler 300, Hyundai Azera, Toyota Avalon and the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable twins -- all of which offer better driving dynamics, more feature content and a more refined overall feel. Low pricing on the Azera, Taurus and Sable makes these cars a much better value as well.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Buick Lucerne is a large sedan available in four trim levels: CX, CXL, CXS and Super. The CX comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, full power accessories, cruise control, power driver seat, OnStar telematics, an MP3-capable CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, satellite radio, steering-wheel audio controls and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The CXL adds 17-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated outside mirrors and a power passenger seat. The CXS comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, the Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension, driver-seat memory, heated front seats, a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel, a Harman Kardon audio system, a heated steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors and remote vehicle start. The Lucerne Super adds a more powerful version of the V8 engine; a firmer version of the adaptive suspension; unique wheels; chrome waterfall grille and other Super-specific exterior styling touches; leather-wrapped instrument panel and a heated wood steering wheel. Optional on all Lucernes are a CD changer, a sunroof, a lane departure warning system and a system that warns the driver when other vehicles enter the Buick's blind spots. Available on all but the base CX model are heated and cooled seats and a navigation system, while the CX and CXL can be equipped with a front bench seat that increases capacity to six people.
Powertrains and Performance
The Buick Lucerne CX and CXL are powered by a 3.8-liter V6 that provides 197 hp and 227 pound-feet of torque. Standard on the CXS is a 4.6-liter V8 rated at 275 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque; on the Super it's tuned to make 292 hp and 288 lb-ft. Both engines send their power to the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. Our test of a Lucerne with the 275-hp V8 yielded a 0-60-mph time of 7.7 seconds, which is slightly slower than some V6 competitors like the Avalon and Azera.
Standard across the 2008 Buick Lucerne line are antilock disc brakes, traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Stability control and brake assist are standard on the CXS and Super, and optional on other models. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the Lucerne earned a five-star rating (out of five) for protection of the driver and front passenger in frontal impacts. A four-star rating was given for side-impact protection of front and rear occupants. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Lucerne scored a "Good" rating (highest of four) in frontal-offset testing and an "Acceptable" (second highest) in the side-impact test.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Lucerne's cabin is handsome and cleanly styled, and boasts simple, friendly controls. The leather upholstery is soft, and the optional Harman Kardon stereo sounds great. Unfortunately, there are still a few low-grade plastic pieces thrown into the mix, and fit and finish needs improvement. The Lucerne comes standard with seats for five, but a split front bench seat can be ordered on the lower-level CX and CXL for six-passenger capacity. Room is abundant in any position, though seat comfort is only average, and the front heating devices can make the seats torturously hot. In addition, the rear seat's head restraints aren't adjustable, and there is none in the center. The trunk holds up to 17 cubic feet of cargo and features a ski pass-through.
Though the suspension gets progressively firmer with each trim level, a plush, serene ride is clearly every Lucerne's top priority -- and its highest achievement. The cabin stays admirably tranquil, too. Acceleration is never more than adequate with the V6, and just about any six-cylinder sedan you can name delivers better performance. Lucerne V8 models are more competitive, but the outdated four-speed automatic transmission takes some of the spirit out of the Northstar engine and real-world fuel economy often falls well below the 20-mpg mark. Handling is mediocre on the softly tuned Lucerne CX and CXL models, which exhibit considerable body roll during cornering. The high-line CXS and Super models are somewhat firmer and more controlled, due largely to their magnetic shocks and 18-inch wheels. Steering is problematic on any Lucerne: It's slow and wobbly on V6 models, yet overly quick on V8 models. Finally, the brakes are disappointing. Pedal feel is fine, but panic-stop distances are the longest of any full-size sedan in this price range.