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Buick Lucerne CX, 2008: Belew's Car Buzz

Buick Lucerne CX, 2008: Belew's Car Buzz 1I have a routine when I drive/review cars each week. One step is to ask my friend, Leo Blume, a car lover, what he thinks. We took a drive in the 2008 Buick Lucerne and stopped by his house. He showed me his 1963 Buick. And, boy did he have some things to say. He contributes this review:

“Though I hate to resort to such a hackneyed statement, the 2008 Buick Lucerne CXS isn’t my father’s Buick. I should know because I’m still driving my father’s hand-me-down Buick — a 1963 LeSabre.

“In my father’s estimation, Buick represented affordable luxury and quality just one step below a Cadillac. The ’63 was just one of several he owned starting in the 60s. I was curious to see how a modern Buick compared both to the older ones and to the current high quality cars from Europe and Japan. I discovered the Lucerne embodied the best aspects of the Buick tradition in an up-to-date package.

Buick Lucerne CX, 2008: Belew's Car Buzz 2

“Like Buicks of yore, the Lucerne is a big car with the usual pros and cons. It had great front and back legroom. Unlike most sedans these days, this car would be comfortable for all passengers on long trips.

“The long wheelbase contributed to a ride that was smooth — even on the concrete freeways of California with their notorious freeway bounce. But the long-turning radius made parking more of a challenge.

“Great acceleration was a given from the Buick’s 4.6L Northstar V8. This dual overhead cam engine puts out 292 horsepower @ 6300 rpm and is considerably more advanced than the old pushrod V8s. The car had power to spare whenever you asked for it — from a standing start to a lane-passing maneuver at highway speed. In light of the big engine, EPA mileage is a reasonable 15 city and 23 highway mpg.

“The 4-speed automatic shifts smoothly though you’d expect GM to pony up a 5-speed automatic in a high-end car like this.

“Handling was not a strong suit of older Buicks, but the Lucerne’s cornering was fairly competent, managing moderate curves without excessive body roll. Road stickiness was helped here, no doubt, by the big 18-inch Bridgestone 245/50 Turanzas, which put a lot of sticky rubber on the road. I wasn’t able to see the car through any dramatic maneuvers, but braking also seemed reasonable.

“I was not surprised to find that the Lucerne is very quiet. This was a trademark of the big Buicks, and no car I have driven recently has been quieter. You really appreciate this quality on a long road trip where road noise begins to take a toll on your senses.

“The quiet interior offers a rare opportunity to enjoy the XM Radio that accompanied the usual CD/FM/AM fixtures, which deliver sound through a 9-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system.

“Although the stereo sound was solid overall, the bass was a little “boomy” until I adjusted its profile using the graphic equalizer displayed on the control monitor.

“All told, the interior looks, feels and smells good, with leather, woods and plastics well-coordinated in browns, tans and grays. The leather steering wheel feels comfortable to the touch. The car had a pleasant but not overwhelming new car smell that somehow evoked the memory of those new Buicks that would arrive at my house amidst great celebration in my childhood.

“The center dash was dominated by the Navigation/Stereo control display — big and functional, and more intuitive than a similar Honda system I tried recently. But canceling the trip navigation felt like an intelligence test.

“The seat quality proved excellent — none of the mushy over-stuffed sofa feel of older American cars, nor even the overly soft, not especially supportive seats most Toyotas come with. The leather seats were soft to the touch but pleasantly firm. The front seats also had good support – especially the lateral support I would expect on a German sports sedan. Finding it here was a pleasant surprise.

“This Lucerne came equipped with the optional heated AND cooled seats. Cooled seats are a new one on me, but an innovation I would love to try on a hot summer day.

“I was pleased to find the seat position memory settings were conveniently visible and within easy reach rather than buried at the side of the seat as is often the case.

“At night, the interior lighting bathes the passenger compartment in a warm, soft glow that contrasts with the overly bright and too sparsely placed lighting in some other cars. And the individual controls were meticulously lit. Every single control I saw (my friend Bill counted 89 buttons) was illuminated for ease of nighttime use.

“One quibble is the gauge illumination and lettering. The blue vacuum florescent look was functional but makes neither a quality nor performance statement. The busy gauge markings with italics lettering is standard treatment for GM cars, but is neither stylish nor modern. Advice to Buick designers: Spend some time with a graphic-design studio or study the elegant utilitarianism of the German sports sedans for guidance.

“Exterior design is pleasant, though conservative. The car has enough traditional design cues you recognize it as a Buick. The Lucerne gets the classic Buick porthole treatment on the front fenders. This worked OK, although a more unapologetic, catchy treatment of the porthole can be found on the latest Maserati Quattroporte. Though Buicks tended to be conservative, this car steps out a bit with aggressive tires and wheels along with dual exhausts — all contributing to a sportier look.

“This car shines with safety technology. First, there’s the standard equipment gear you’d expect on a modern well-equipped car: ABS, Traction Control and a wealth of air bags front and back. And there’s also a tire pressure monitoring system that can advise you of dangerously low tire pressure. And there’s an optional Side Blind Zone Alert that warns you if you are changing lanes and there’s someone in your blind spot. The Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist sounds out if you’re about to back into something. An optional Lane Departure Warning system detects when you are exiting a lane. And in case of breakdown, the car’s equipped with the well-known (and well-advertised) OnStar system.

“The 2008 Buick Lucerne had a sticker price of just under $42K. That’s pricey, but cheaper than most of the Euro-inflated luxury sedans from across the Atlantic pond. Price would be a tougher comparison for the quality Japanese cars, though.”

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