2008 Buick Lucerne Review

The Buick Lucerne full-size sedan's biggest change for the 2008 model year is the addition of a Super trim level, which turns the Lucerne story upside down. When it made its debut in 2006, the Lucerne was a Cadillac DTS at a 38 percent discount. Today's base Lucerne CX likewise costs about 35 percent less than the cheapest DTS. At that price it has the Caddy's roomy accommodations and relatively quiet cabin along with a 3.8-liter V-6 engine and interior quality that's on the high side, if not to the level of a Cadillac. You can also get a better-equipped Lucerne CXL for $29,920, or upgrade to the CXL Special Edition if you want the Cadillac's base 275-horsepower, 4.6-liter Northstar V-8, for $33,435. Now, though, the Lucerne Super gives Buick buyers the DTS' higher-output engine: a 292-hp version of the Northstar V-8. I just tested this version, and though I usually leave value determinations to the varied perspectives of individual car shoppers, I'm tempted to rename it the Lucerne Super-Overpriced.

I can't see why anyone would pay $38,980 for a Super, especially when it comes with some tradeoffs, not the least of which are gas mileage and ride quality.

Lucerne Engines

3.8-liter V-6 275-hp 4.6-liter V-8 292-hp 4.6-liter V-8
Trim levels CX, CXL CXL Special Edition Super
Starting price $27,275 $33,435 $38,980
Horsepower (@ rpm) 197 @ 5,200 275 @ 6,000 292 @ 6,300
Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm) 227 @ 3,800 295 @ 4,400 288 @ 4,500
EPA-estimated fuel economy
(city/highway, mpg) 16/25 15/23 15/22
Gas type (recommended/
required) regular premium/regular premium/regular
Source: Manufacturer

As the table reflects, the Super gives you 17 more horsepower, which is significant but not overwhelming. The tradeoff is that you lose 7 pounds-feet of torque, which isn't too much either, but it's not unreasonable to expect the figure to climb along with the horsepower when you pay for a more powerful engine. It's off-putting that it decreases — and that the peak creeps a bit farther up the engine-speed range. What all this means in terms of driving is that the extra gusto comes at high engine speeds — when you really give it the gas up to highway speed, or when passing. If anything, there's less kick off the line and when accelerating gently. Typically this characteristic results in better gas mileage, but that's not the case here.

The Super loses another 1 mpg in highway driving over the already disappointing CXL V-8's 15/23 mpg. Perhaps it's the four-speed automatic transmission in a field dominated by five- and six-speeds; whatever the case, the Lucerne's fuel economy is relatively poor across the board. What bugs me further is that its front-wheel drive should be an inherent advantage in terms of fuel economy. FWD took over the automotive market in part because it reduces weight and improves mileage. Where a growing number of large cars have reverted to rear-wheel drive, the Lucerne offers the all-season viability of FWD. To get assured traction in RWD cars, it's best to opt for all-wheel drive, when offered, which adds cost and weight. All the same, a Chrysler 300C with all-wheel drive matches the Lucerne Super's mileage for roughly the same price. The new 2009 Lincoln MKS is rated even better: 16/23 mpg with AWD and 17/24 mpg with FWD.

I should mention that the Chrysler 300C delivers this mileage with a 340-hp V-8. Engine output comparisons aren't always meaningful between models of different weights, shapes and sizes, but it's fair to criticize the Super's Northstar strictly for its relatively lean output among V-8 engines. Heck, the MKS' torque output is only 18 pounds-feet lower, and that's from a V-6.

The Super accelerates well enough, but it won't set any records. Though the transmission has just four gears, it has the basics down, shifting smoothly and exhibiting no kickdown lag. The high-rev power helps overcome the gear shortage, but it really depends on how fast you're going when you floor it. I find clutchless manual shifting a bit silly, so I didn't miss it, but if you're someone who likes it, this is another contemporary feature the Lucerne doesn't offer.

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