Safety

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Lucerne rates Good, the best possible score, in the frontal-offset test and Acceptable in the side impact. Acceptable is, well, acceptable, but some competitors with side-impact airbags rate Good. Scores in the rear-impact test are lower across the market, but some models score Good, Acceptable and Marginal. The Lucerne, along with the Toyota Avalon, scores Poor.

Standard safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system and six airbags. The front seats have side-impact torso bags, and curtain airbags deploy downward from the roofline along the side windows for front and rear occupant protection in a side impact. In addition to a dual-stage frontal airbag for the driver, the Lucerne employs a dual-depth frontal airbag for the front passenger, which deploys at one of two shapes — not just intensities — based on the passenger's weight and position. OnStar is standard.

Two new options are Side Blind Zone Alert and Lane Departure Warning, both of which were on my test car. The increasingly common blind-spot-detection feature is as useful here as in other cars, which is to say, not as useful as you might think. An indicator incorporated into the side mirrors glows when a car is in either side's blind spot. Though the idea is a good one, if you set your mirrors properly, the indicator comes on when the car is already visible in the mirror. If you adjust them improperly, reflecting the sides of the car, the feature can help by indicating when a nearby car is not reflected in the mirror. If you signal to cross into an occupied lane, the feature sounds an alert, which is of some value ... if you do as you're supposed to and signal lane changes. Overall, the feature can't hurt if you treat it as a supplement rather than an alternative to checking your mirrors and blind spots. It's a $395 stand-alone option.

Likewise, the Lane Departure Warning system can be had a la carte for $295. It uses a camera in front of the rearview mirror to watch the lane markings on the street, and if you start to stray into another lane or off the shoulder, a beep sounds. Using your turn signal keeps it from beeping when the lane change is intentional. These systems aren't perfect, because they don't always detect the lines, especially if they're faded or the road is wet or dusty. My Lucerne Super's system was less sensitive than others I've tested, but I did appreciate it anyway, as the steering is a bit vague and it was a little too easy to drift. As with the blind-spot feature, this one isn't failsafe, but it certainly can't hurt. Arguably, either one of them has to work only once to pay for itself.
Lucerne Super in the Market

The Lucerne is a nice enough car whose value is greatest in its most affordable version. Come the 2009 model year, an upgrade to a 3.9-liter V-6 will add power, E85 ethanol fuel capability and an estimated 1 mpg gas mileage improvement. It's when you get to the top of the line that the value isn't as clear. I think the Lucerne Super equals too much pay for too little play. It reminds me of a version of the Jaguar XJ sedan called the XJ Super, whose $10,000 premium over the XJR we couldn't figure out. Hmmmm. Maybe we should beware any car tagged "Super...."

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