- 4.6 L V8 High-Performance Northstar
- Sweet, Hollywood overdub exhaust note
- Taught, yet not offensive ride quality
- A-pillar limits visibility in corners
- Over-sensitive steering
- The old fogey Buick rep
Ruling: A satisfying mix of responsive handling and comfortable luxury cruising.
The postwar era found Americans enjoying prosperity like never before, and they gave rise to cars like the Buick Super – an affordable family sedan with an all-steel body adorned roof to radials in chrome, wide, sculpted fenders and a gargantuan chrome grille that extended well beyond the lower reaches of the front bumper. It cruised down the highway in style with power derived from a straight-8 and a Dynaflow automatic transmission. The Buick Super embodied 1950′s Americana in the form of an automobile – and helped Buick become one of the best selling brands in the 1950′s.
Perhaps the wild success of Buick in the 1950′s is why the nameplate today still has a glimmer of old fogey attached to it. Young buyers in the 1950′s were so loyal to the Buick brand that today – provided they’re still driving legally – they continue to remain loyal. Buick has tried hard to shake this stodgy image over years with cars like the Grand National and the GSX, but brand reputation is not an easy thing to change.
Recognizing this, Buick has recently introduced new models like the Lacrosse and Lucerne, which retain the traditional comfort, luxury and affordability that older buyers expect in a Buick while sprinkling more edginess into the design and more performance into the drivetrain – elements younger buyers require. And when we say younger, we don’t mean young. We mean Baby Boomers. We mean mid-life or just beyond. Buick realizes they’ll probably never attract the young segment, and why would they want to? Buick knows where the money is, which is why they’re bringing back the Super nameplate after a 50-year hiatus with the introduction of the 2008 Buick Lucerne Super.
We arrived in Santa Monica to a GM event specifically to test the new Pontiac G8 and Vibe, and were surprised to also be greeted with an opportunity to get one of the first public road tests of the 2008 Lucerne Super. The road course GM set up for the Super was a perfect mix of freeway and backroads canyons that started along the Pacific Coast Highway and ended up in the mountain town of Ojai.
Before setting out, Karen Nicklin, Engineering Program Manager for GM’s Performance Division, gave us a brief overview of the performance goals for the Super. For the past two years, her team worked on taking the inherent attributes of the Lucerne – comfort, affordable luxury and quiet highway presence – and enhancing them for a more responsive and engaging ride. Their goal is to attract younger buyers looking for more performance, yet still attract older brand loyalists who’ve come to expect a certain level of couch-like qualities in their beloved Buicks. We wouldn’t venture to call the Lucerne Super “sporty” by any means, but its ride definitely won’t induce sleep like a sans-Super Lucerne.
One main improvement with the Super that absolutely won’t induce sleep is the 4.6L Northstar V-8 HP (High Performance). Nicklin’s team took the Northstar found in the Lucerne, swapped in more aggressive camshafts, tweaked it a bit, and managed to squeeze an extra 17 horses out for a grand total of 292. The Northstar has plenty of power to move the Super down the road, but what really is most intriguing about this engine is the song it sings. The exhaust note on the Super is what Hollywood sound engineers would drool over, a perfect candidate for “Full Throttle V-8″ movie overdubs. Remember the mashed-pedal bellow of Jake and Elwood’s 440 Magnum-powered Bluesmobile? That’s the sound.
But GM’s efforts to keep the blood pumping through the veins of Buick drivers doesn’t stop there. Nicklin’s team also spent considerable time tightening up the ride quality of the Super. Premium steering components make the Super’s turn-in more crisp and responsive. At low speeds, the steering was sensitive; almost too sensitive. Dare we say, Super-sensitive? To keep the Super from yawing hither and tither on the backroads, the Super sports higher-rate front and rear coil springs, thicker anti-roll bars and Magnetic Ride Control technology – which is calibrated for more driver control and responsiveness.
All of the ride-quality enhancements added up to a car that still maintains its serene highway presence while also being mildly stimulating on the backroads. Body roll is greatly reduced, and combined with the more powerful Northstar V8 HP, if he isn’t careful, Gramps just might get himself into a little trouble with the Federales on the way to his next golf outing.
The only potential issue we experienced besides the overly sensitive steering was the poor driver visibility in corners. The driver-side A-pillar was sloped and wide, completely blocking our field of vision into turns. Not a big deal for young bucks, but don’t expect an old buck to crane his neck for safety’s sake.
The Lucerne Super has a well-outfitted cabin for its price range. To further prove the Lucerne Super is designed to be more performance-oriented, leather seats are lined with suede; a perfect material for keeping occupants in place while Daddy-O has a gas winging his Super to the hop (if that doesn’t make sense, you’re not old enough to fit the target demographic). We were also surprised to find Harmon/Kardon labels adorned upon the nine-speaker, 280-Watt stereo system with six-disc changer and MP3 capability. Navigation is extra, and was equipped with our tester. Although Navigation is never really easy to use, especially with an older audience, the Super’s navigation system has a large, intuitive touch screen with big buttons. The only other interior item that doesn’t come standard is the sunroof.
Interior space is cavernous. Although it lacks a front bench seat like Supers of yesteryear, the rear seat easily fits three passengers, with four smaller passengers – although not condoned by the law – easily accommodated. Lots of legroom, lots of headroom, lot of room. Period. Trunk is double “wiseguy” approved – two grown humans can easily fit in it.
Other nice touches which complete the Super’s luxurious feel include a leather dash with stitching and real walnut wood on the paneling, steering wheel and shifter. Maybe it’s because we don’t live in Duluth, but we still don’t get the whole heated steering wheel thing. But for those who do live in the frozen North or have poor circulation in their hands, the Super is equipped with a heated wheel. We do, however, appreciate the cooled seats – but maybe that’s because we don’t live in Duluth.
In homage to the original Super, the most noticeable enhancement on the Lucerne Super is the new front fascia and egregious faux-chrome grille; but egregious in a good way. It’s a perfect nod to its forebears, as are the front fender portholes, four on each side, to represent each cylinder in the Northstar V-8. Another enhancement over the base Lucerne is the new rear fascia and “dual, oval, chrome-tipped exhaust” – an exhaustive way of saying dual exhaust.
Our test car was outfitted in what GM calls “Mocha Mist”, which we found to be especially agreeable when combined with all the chrome accents of the Super. Other colors include Gold Mist Metallic, White Diamond Tricoat and Black Onyx (redundant?). The only option on the exterior are chromed 18″ rims. Don’t skimp, get the chrome rollers. They complete the package.
When we asked Nicklin who GM was going after with this enhanced Lucerne, she responded that there wasn’t any specific brand or model they were aiming for. Whether or not she was being totally forthcoming with us, it’s pretty clear where the Lucerne Super fits in. At $39,995 with everything but Navigation, sunroof and chrome rims – figure about $43,000 with all options – the Super is a perfect fit between an athletic American sedan like a Cadillac CTS and an equally American, yet completely unathletic highway cruiser like a Lincoln Town Car. At a shade under $40K, the Lucerne Super represents a solid value. Is it worth the extra $2,000 over the Lucerne CXS? That one isn’t for us to decide.
Who Should Buy It?
The Lucerne Super is for someone who seeks a large, American luxury car with balance. A vehicle which can balance serene highway ride, responsive backroads handling, and luxurious accouterments at a reasonable pricepoint. It’s a car that flexible enough to appeal to audiences ranging from their forties to their seventies.
GM is not only stepping up their game with impressive new products like the Chevy Malibu and the Pontiac G8, but they’re also doing a commendable job of taking what they already have in cars like the Lucerne, and identifying enhancements which can broaden its appeal to a wider target audience. However, the old movie quip “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t always ring true in autopia. As good of a job GM has done in putting together the Lucerne Super, they’ll have to do an even better job of marketing it to make sure the right people know it exists. Get buyers in the car, and they’ll be believers. In theory? Sounds easy. In reality? We’ll see.
>> See all of the Buick Lucerne photos in our photo gallery
>> Do you have an opinion of the Buick Lucerne? Submit your review of a 2008 Buick Lucerne at CarReview.com
>> Official website for Buick luxury cars, sedans, and crossover vehicles: Buick