Buick: To Precision… and Beyond!
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a less-than-flattering Buick Lucerne review would score me a road test reprise on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Thanks to an internet-savvy Buick flackmeister determined to show me the light, the deal went down. Of course, RF pointed out that a junket courtesy of a diss-missed manufacturer was not without its dangers: brow-beating, brainwashing, alcohol poisoning and/or failed brakes. So I brought my Mom.
The five Buick Lucernes parked outside our hotel were a thing of beauty. Waxed to perfection, the factory orange peel provided reasonable reassurance that our press cars weren’t specially prepped ringers. As the Lucerne's Product manager gave us the usual product demo, I fixated on the Magnaride exhibit. Like sand in an hourglass, two saimesed syringes filled with Magnaride's iron-goo morph from maple-syrup smooth to unyielding concrete, depending on proximity to an external magnet. Damn, that's cool.
ADD episode over, I retreated to the gorgeous looking Lucerne's decadent interior. Product-guru Drew Kraisinger requested and gained permission to climb aboard. Mom retreated into the backseat to overhear a little Quiet Tuned susurration.
Touring the Canadian island confirmed one thing: the Lucerne CXS' ride and handling balance feels great on smooth roads at Matlock speeds. Catch island fever, though and you'll soon discover that the big Buick ain't no Hawaii Five-0 cop car. Even a mildly-aggressive downhill curve at 55mph sends the brittle tires howling in disapproval. Bumpy roads force the 18" rims into a chassis-crashing frenzy, leaving the front subframe dazed and confused.
I bitched and moaned while Product Guru Drew listened patiently, sending Mom down memory lane. She recalled my youthful ability to bombard car salesmen with facts and figures delivered in a manner befitting an American shock and awe campaign. Yes, and Mom knows Buicks. In fact, I figure she earned this junket by purchasing a two-toned, limited-grade, gas-sipping Buick Century during the brand’s (and Detroit’s) previous dark age (the early 1980s).
Now that Mom inhabits the Lucerne’s intended demographic (i.e. someone old enough to remember Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in), Buick's press rep actively elicited her opinions. When pressed, Mom praised the Buick’s styling, comfort, quiet ride and (yes) the MP3 hookup, cooled seats and OnStar-backed cellular phone service. When asked whether she’d been won over by the big Buick’s charms, Mom displayed her mastery of situational ethics. “I would definitely consider purchasing this car,” she proclaimed, definitely considering our host’s generosity.
Once again, I opened my mind to the company’s decision to add high horsepower to a wrong-wheel drive chassis. If Japan sells fwd hp by the boatload, maybe there's a place for the V8-motivated Lucerne CXS. Then again, maybe not. The CSX’ Magnaride suspension and 18" wheels promise more than the hard tires and flaccid chassis can deliver. The suspension needs a Corvette-style user interface (i.e. a switch for touring or sport dampening). Add a front chassis brace (or three), give an option for sport tires, and Buick might have a contender in the "near-luxury" segment.
After a lobster lunch at a suitably charming beachfront bed and breakfast, Buick's PR-wingman joined mother and son for part two: a jaunt in the cheaper Lucerne CXL. Cholesterol be damned; the less-rich Lucerne became my favorite Buick in a matter of minutes. Conservative 55-series rubber (17" hoops) and a softer suspension (no Magnaride) creamed road imperfections, reducing chassis flex to a mere wiggle. The CXL’s exterior was also more appealing, flaunting chrome in all the right places. Gone are the afterthought tailpipe extensions and adhesive-backed decklid bling; replaced by a brilliant chrome grille. The end result was solid Buick spizzarkle in the Roadmaster tradition, for a lot less dough.
The CXL's (optional) Northstar V8 puts the power down with a rowdy soundtrack– immediately downplayed by our gracious host. Which set me off again. If you can't Quiet Tune those 32-valves, why not promote Buick as an American Muscle Car icon? Don't try to out-Lexus an ES350. I mean, every Lucerne in attendance had a wiggly shift knob, loose shifter and dashboards sporting rock hard plastics. Mom won't remember, but even her old Century knew better; its flat-out amazing what $9000 got you in a GM interior back then.
In fact, let’s face it: Buick will never be an American Lexus, no matter how much spin is spun or press junket petty-cash hides in the console. After chatting with the Buick folk about life, liberty and the pursuit of precision, one thing became clear: GM’s minions know they’re up against it. They spoke hopefully about their next new dawn: the upcoming Enclave sport crossover utility thingie. They even invited TTAC to its official media introduction. And then, upon our return, GM formally banned TTAC from its Dallas press fleet. Suffice it to say, Mom wasn’t surprised. Neither was I.
[Buick paid the Mehta's airfare, hotel, transfers, the test cars and food.]
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