Buick Lucerne CXS Review

buick lucerne cxs review
Electra Waggoner Biggs was born a Texas cattle and oil man’s daughter, but left the Lone Star State for Bryn Mawr, Columbia and the Sorbonne. Upon her return she became a revered sculptress, best known for her work “Into the Sunset,” memorializing cowboy actor Will Rogers. In 1959, the President of Buick (and Electra’s husband’s brother-in-law) named a flagship sedan after the middle aged Texan. Today's Buick Lucerne is named after a quaint Swiss tourist trap, with only a failed peasant’s revolt to its name. And there you have it: Buick has tossed away decades of brash Americana for subdued Euro-style. That's beyond stupid.

Of course, Lucerne is a beautiful town, and the Lucerne CXS is a beautiful car. Truth be told, the comely Lucerne is a pastiche of the Audi group’s best sedans– a bit of Audi A8 here (rear three quarter) and a bit of Phaeton there (pillars, rear)– with a healthy dose of Buick’s polarizing Velite concept roadster (front). Fortunately, it works. There’s no question the Lucerne is its own machine; the Buick’s portholes are as authoritative a brand statement as Mister T's mohawk.

It’s all very dignified and elegant in a vaguely European way– until you open the door. Then you discover that the Lucerne is cursed with GM's latest interior initiative: strategically placed quality. For example, the Lucerne’s dash is fashioned from a polymer that’s less forgiving than a Taliban elder. And yet, only millimeters away, you encounter GM's finest door panels to date. They’re superb examples of industrial art: a Lexus-like mix of triple-stitched vinyl, padded plastic and convincing wood grain. But aside from the swank door trimmings, richly textured headliner and hip cobalt blue gauge faces, the Lucerne's interior is the Buick brand’s Bay of Pigs.

The optional Harman-Kardon boombox is the cabin’s saving grace. Play that funky music [white boy] and you unleash both top-notch imaging and skin-tight bass response. The noise is most welcome; the Roadmaster-esque seating rivals memory foam mattresses for sybaritic somnambulism. Mobsters looking for a place to stash rivals heading for the big sleep take note: the Lucerne’s trunk is a thing of beauty. It’s large and accommodating, replete with plastic modesty panels hiding the decklid's dogleg hinges.

Fire up the Lucerne CXS’ Northstar 4.6-liter V8 and the mixed messages continue. Dial-up a few revs and the hunky Lucerne rumbles like an old muscle-bound big-block Buick GSX. (Buick’s “Quiet Tuning” obviously doesn’t apply to Cadillac-sourced powertrains.) Drop the hammer and the de-clawed 275hp Northstar helps the Lucerne slide to sixty in a tick under seven seconds. Yes, but how many front-wheel drive V8-powered luxury cars can you name? And how many have you bought? There’s a reason for that…

At sensible speeds, the Lucerne hides its wrong-wheel drive roots commendably. Eight mild-mannered cylinders render torque steer a minor issue. But awaken the beast at the wrong time and the Lucerne counters with smoking rubber and a completely wayward helm. Fortunately, the iron filings floating in the Lucerne’s shocks deliver a reasonable imitation of dynamic fluidity; Magnetic Ride Control suspension keeps the two-ton luxobarge flat during cornering. Yes, really.

But to what end? The big Buick fails to impress one's "land yacht" Ying or "grand touring" Yang. For Type-A personalities, the Northstar's "take-a-number" throttle response, uncommunicative and overboosted steering and lazy four-cog slushbox infuriates. Even with Magna-charged dampers in full suppress mode, mundane Continental rubber, cushy springs and planar seats deny sporting satisfaction. Grab a lower gear for upcoming corners and the flimsy floor-shift quivers in anticipation.

For the Type-B folks, the Lucerne rides comfortably enough on most surfaces, but nails surface imperfections like an economy car chassis, lacking the brick-house swagger of Mercury’s mighty-mighty Marquis. No matter what your tastes, the Lucerne's coarse underpinnings prove GM half baked this auto-culinary treat.

The Lucerne certainly outclasses its clueless Park Avenue predecessor, but what does this sub-$40k whip do that a fresher-looking Camry can’t? De-ice its windscreen with heated washer fluid? Seriously, when a carmaker promotes its flagship model with a relatively minor gadget, you know it’s a “pay no attention to the car behind that curtain” affair. The fact that the portly Lucerne’s standard mill is a positively ancient pushrod V6 shows that even GM knows they’ve over-priced and under-delivered. While entry-level Lucernes face the prospect of rental car Hell, the CSX goes nowhere fast.

More than that, the Lucerne’s lack of soul proves that Buick is a dead marque dying. One could argue that Electra Waggoner Biggs’ sculpture and the car named after her were tacky– nothing more than American populism with a continental twist. But their unabashed spirit demanded your attention. If the Lucerne is as good as a Buick gets, it’s only a matter of time before the entire brand follows its Swiss namesake into historical irrelevance.

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  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Jul 01, 2009

    ponchoman49 : I applaud your comments, but some of them are actually detrimental to GM and Buick in particular. 1. That's your opinion, and people actually seem to like the new Camry. (for some reason) 2. I have yet to see anyone outside of GM PR events get excited about OnStar. 3. Tough sell when you consider this market's driving habits and the Toyota's super plush ride. 4. Tough sell to most folks these days. And the Northstar isn't exactly the pillar of long term durability. 5. Agreed, but I still like the 6-speed better when you mash the gas. 6. That's not gonna swipe any market share from the imports, sorry. 7. The Camry's JBL system isn't much far behind, seriously. 8. If you believe in JD Power's short term results, I think you should buy some GM stock juding by their Q3 report in 2005. It's a GREAT buy!!! 9. And it has longer overhangs that are (tragically) out of fashion these days. Just ask people with Panther Chassis cars. 10. The base line Lucerne is an abomination. It never did and never will appeal to Toyota buyers and spits in the face of the V8 CXS. Pure rental car.

  • Rick la komy Rick la komy on Nov 08, 2009

    Well I guess it's been a couple of years now since GM had to buy back our Lucerne CXS and I have to say I don't miss it and all of it's problems one bit. We ended up buying a Lincoln Towncar Signiture L series. I'll tell you, we both really like it. And it's bullet proof. Just get in and drive.

  • Islander800 That is the best 20-year-on update of the Honda Element that I've ever seen. Strip out the extraneous modern electronic crap that adds tens of thousands to the price and the completely unnecessary 400 pd/ft torque and horse power, and you have a 2022 Honda Element - right down to the neoprene interior "elements" of the Element - minus the very useful rear-hinged rear doors. The proportions and dimensions are identical.Call me biased, but I still drive my west coast 2004 Element, at 65K miles. Properly maintained, it will last another 20 years....Great job, Range Rover!
  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Corey. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.