The last four years were rough sailing for Buick’s flagship having traded its swank Park Avenue home for an understated Swiss bungalow. While its Enclave sibling received a halfhearted Presidential endorsement, Lucerne has been told gently that it has no place in Buick’s future. But you don’t need to be Jim Dollinger to see the silver lining in the Lucerne Super: it stands in sharp contrast to Buick’s confusing dalliances with European chassis and a variety of puny powertrains. Perhaps the 2009 Lucerne Super is more than a Buick. It’s the last stand for what was right with the brand.
The Super is no slouch in the sheetmetal department, considering the Lucerne’s basic goodness has aged well. A redesigned front with a lower, meaner chevron-shaped grille walks the fine line between obnoxious Americana and contemporary Euro-flair. The fast C-pillar with a tastefully understated tail looks good enough to find their way on the Chevy Malibu. And while “Super” specific badging, unique 18″ wheels and distinctive portholes round out the package, the Lucerne does what we expect from Buicks: play second fiddle to Cadillac. And does it with gusto.
But wait a moment: this flagship’s interior has an inferiority complex in this price point or next to a Chevy Malibu. The dashboard’s lower hemisphere is work-truck grade rubbish, further punished by its uncanny resemblance to same part in the Chevy Impala. The Lucerne Super gets a “dash” of faux-aluminum paint around the impressive Harmon Kardon-tuned stereo, but the real upgrades come from a dash top stitched with leather-like trimmings and blessed with Alcantara-ish accents on the seats and doors. Too bad the Super’s extra touches couldn’t dress up that tasteless console and thrift store roll-top door: it’s a sad state of affairs when a Hyundai (Genesis) absolutely tramples a Buick in the luxury and refinement department.
That’s not to say that all is lost, the Lucerne Super has excellent seating for five, gadgets aplenty and a rich wood-rimmed wheel that feels substantial to the touch. Did I mention gadgets? XM Nav traffic, OnStar turn-by-turn guidance, Bluetooth, MP3 adaptability, heated/cooled seats and a heated steering wheel are the textbook definition of pure luxury ingredients for the near-luxury market.
If the Lucerne Super sounds like a compromised but obscurely appealing package from a brand normally associated with pure vanilla nothingness, you’re ready to take the Super for a spin. Buick took the outgoing Lucerne CXS’ dynamic shortcomings and did their best to make a less corner-averse package. Considering the curious starting point of a 4000 lb platform driving the wrong set of wheels though, the challenge is obvious.
The Super starts things off right with 17 more Northstar-bred horses in play. The Lucerne Super’s beautifully vulgar V8 has a hair-raising tenor, pulling harder to redline than the outgoing CXS, even with the four-speed slush box losing mucho revs between shifts. Maybe it’s the loss of 7 lb·ft of torque, but the Last of the Great V8 Buicks feels less likely to torque steer in all but the hardest maneuvers. Fuel mileage and horsepower figures be damned, the Northstar V8 cannot be replaced by GM’s “high-content” 3.6L six pot. Sonically speaking, it’s simply that rewarding at full throttle.
But things get serious when the road takes a turn for the better. And the Lucerne Super handles it with surprising authority: revised springs, a thicker front anti-sway bar and communicative steering rack (with more on-center feel) mate with Delphi’s absolutely sublime Magnaride system for a composed and borderline entertaining corner carver at less than Baruthian speeds. Push harder and there’s an oxcart full of front plow, with little body roll thanks to Magnaride’s magnetic magic.
Braking on such a compliant suspension means there’s more heart attack inducing dive in a panic stop: a genuine concern given the Lucerne’s demographic. Buick’s lane departure and blind spot warning systems keep Octogenarians cool and calm, but their annoyance level makes both gadgets useless outside the realm of pure Interstate travel.
So the Lucerne Super isn’t a credible threat to foreign competitors, but the geeky and ferocious behavior only paints a rich tapestry about this muscular Buick’s persona. The ride is stellar and amazingly quiet at part throttle, easily unseating a comparable Lexus ES: Quiet Tuning über alles, baby.
But what fails the Lucerne Super is the base model: pushrod-V6 Lucernes with even worse interior bits make sure the $45,000 Super is a tough sell. And the Super still straddles the uncomfortable ground between land yacht and sports tourer, but that gray area is now more rewarding.
Too bad the rethought, reincarnated Super cannot overcome the inertia of GM’s incompetence: shameful considering this brand once stood for building “Premium American Motorcars.” Hopefully Buick survives world-car synergies long enough to make a proper Lucerne replacement. If not, here’s a tribute to better days even if they weren’t that great to start.