Park Avenue, Electra 225, Roadmaster. If any of these model names resonate with you, keep reading. The 2009 Buick Lucerne is the successor to those flagships of Buick's past. Folks who like their luxury cars in the traditional American mold, with available V8 power, a soft ride and a roomy, quiet interior, should find the Lucerne as affable as "I Love Lucy" reruns.
Last year's addition of another old-school nameplate, the Super, broadened the appeal of this line with a powerful V8 engine, a firmer suspension and an even more luxurious cabin. But lesser Lucerne trim levels are disappointing, as handling just doesn't measure up to that of more modern competitors. The Buick's floaty, lazy responses make for a strange, out-of-step handling feel. And its large turning circle makes it cumbersome in tight parking lots and while executing U-turns on narrower roads.
Although power is adequate with the V6 and sprightly with the V8, the Lucerne's old-tech four-speed automatic transmission -- though smooth enough -- has widely spaced gear ratios that sap both performance and fuel mileage. New, shorter rear-axle gear ratios this year improve performance somewhat, but the transmissions found in the competition are still more responsive and efficient, with five or even six speeds.
The 2009 Buick Lucerne may please brand loyalists, but buyers in search of more refined performance and digestible pricing would be wise to cross-shop it against other large sedans like the Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable twins, Hyundai Azera and Genesis and the Toyota Avalon, all of which offer better driving dynamics, more feature content and a more refined overall feel. Low pricing on the Azera, Sable and Taurus makes these cars a much better value as well.
The 2009 Buick Lucerne is a large luxury sedan available in essentially three basic trim levels: CX, CXL and Super. The CX and CXL, however, have various versions within themselves.
The base CX will get you 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, full power accessories, cruise control, a power driver seat, OnStar telematics, Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel audio controls, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an MP3-capable CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. Select the 2CX Package version to add dual-zone automatic climate control, remote vehicle start, rain-sensing wipers with heated washer fluid and rear park assist.
The CXL is comprised of no fewer than five variants, ranging from CXL to CXL with the 5XL Package. (And no, the latter is not geared toward very big and tall men.) The CXL features leather upholstery, heated front seats, driver-seat memory, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated outside mirrors and a power passenger seat. Moving up through the CXL ranks will get you additions such as cooled front seats, perforated leather upholstery, a Harman Kardon audio system, lane-departure and blind-zone alert systems, remote vehicle start, rain-sensing wipers with heated washer fluid and rear park assist.
In addition to a V8 engine, the Super comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a chrome waterfall grille, a firmer Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a six-disc CD changer, a leather-wrapped instrument panel and a heated wood steering wheel.
Options, depending on trim level, include a sunroof, the CD changer, the lane-departure and blind-zone warning systems and a navigation system with real-time traffic updates. The CX and CXL can be equipped with a front bench seat that increases seating capacity to six people.
The Lucerne's cabin is handsome and cleanly styled, and boasts simple, friendly controls. The leather upholstery is soft and the available Harman Kardon stereo sounds great. Unfortunately, there are still a few low-grade plastic pieces thrown into the mix, and the fit and finish could use improvement.
The 2009 Buick Lucerne comes standard with seating for five, but a split front bench seat can be ordered on the lower-level CX and CXL for six-passenger capacity. Space is abundant in any position, though seat comfort is only average and the front-seat heaters can get too hot. In addition, the rear seat's head restraints aren't adjustable, and there is no head restraint in the center. The trunk holds up to 17 cubic feet of cargo and has a ski pass-through.
For all but California-emissions states, the Buick Lucerne CX and CXL are powered by a 3.9-liter V6 that makes 227 horsepower and 237 pound-feet of torque. In California-emissions states, the numbers drop slightly to 219 hp and 234 lb-ft. The Super packs a 4.6-liter V8 rated at 292 hp and 288 lb-ft. All engines send their power to the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy ratings stand at 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined for the V6 and 15/22/18 for the V8.
A plush, serene ride is clearly every Lucerne's top priority and its highest achievement -- even on the more sporting Super version. The cabin stays admirably quiet, too. Acceleration is merely adequate with the V6, while the Lucerne Super with its V8 provides brisk performance. But even when paired with the V8, the outdated four-speed automatic transmission sucks some of the spirit out of the husky engine.
Handling is mediocre on all Lucernes save the Super, which is somewhat firmer and more controlled thanks to its automatically adjustable suspension and 18-inch wheels. Steering is a weak spot on all Lucernes -- it's slow and wobbly on V6 models, yet overly quick on the Super, which has magnetic variable-assist technology. Finally, the brakes are disappointing as well. Pedal feel is fine, but panic-stop distances are among the longest of any full-size sedan in this price range.
Standard across the 2009 Buick Lucerne line are antilock disc brakes, traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Stability control and brake assist are standard on the upper CX and CXL subsets as well as the Super, and are available on the lower CXL subsets.
In government crash tests, the Lucerne earned a five-star rating (out of five) for protection of the driver and front passenger in frontal impacts. A four-star rating was given for side-impact protection of front and rear occupants. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Lucerne scored a "Good" rating (the highest of four) in frontal-offset testing and an "Acceptable" (second highest) in the side-impact test.
The big news for the 2009 Buick Lucerne is under the hood: A new 3.9-liter V6 replaces the old 3.8-liter engine in all trims except the V8-powered Super. The new motor offers more power along with FlexFuel capability (except in California-emissions states). Additions include Bluetooth connectivity, available XM traffic reporting and a smattering of new wheel designs. The latter includes the fitment of standard 17-inchers for the base trim, which replace the previous 16s. The CXS trim level has fallen by the wayside.