It’s a tale as old as time. No, really, it is.
“When Better Automobiles are built, Buick Will Build Them.” So went the division’s slogan of years ago that implied their cars embodied both quality construction and advanced engineering, as well as the pledge that it would continue to do so in the future. At that time, the Buick hallmark was also synonymous with a design slanted toward the older individual and this was the way they wanted it, for these were the only persons who could afford the car. Well, years marched by and before many people cared to admit it, the soaring sixties were upon us; America’s young, exploding market was demanding and getting hot performers and Buick still had its “old” image.
This isn’t a brief history of Buick over the last 20 years, or Buick in the early ’80s; this is the opening paragraph to Hot Rod Magazine’s first test of the 1965 Buick Skylark GS. If history repeats itself, then Buick’s Grandpa Car moniker is a skipping record that GM put on sometime around 1948 and only comes back to check on every 15 years or so. The ’60s brought the Gran Sport cars, culminating in the 1970 GS Stage One, the torquiest car to ever come out of Detroit, setting a record that lasted until the 2003 Dodge Viper took its crown.
Two decades later, Buick shattered the “good for the era” muscle car sentiments of the 5.0-liter Mustang and IROC-Z Camaro by redefining the Musclecar with its turbocharged V6, Corvette-killing 1987 GNX, a tire-scorching car so evil it was dubbed Darth Vader’s ride. The 1990s brought a new GSX, albeit as a dealer-installed performance package on supercharged Regal GS sedans. You got around 270 horsepower from Buick’s bulletproof 3800 mill, but it came through the front wheels, and at the end of the day, you were still driving a late ’90s column-shift jellybean-bodied Buick Regal. Today, Buick has a strong little sport sedan in the current Regal GS, but with ze Germans dominating the field and Cadillac having a hard enough time breaking into the segment, the Buick is little more than an afterthought.
But that may change soon. Before the Detroit Auto Show kicked off, Buick held itself a little party in the Motor City and surprised the faithful with the Avista, a gorgeous, muscular grand tourer based on the good genes of the Cadillac ATS-V and Chevy Camaro. Suddenly, somehow, the company’s old tag line is beginning to pop into our heads: Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?
In all honesty, Buick’s recent ad campaign works with the Avista too: “Is that a Buick?!” It is; boy are we thankful it is. The company says “A sleek, sweeping proportion is the foundation for this vision of a contemporary grand tourer, with a 400-horsepower twin-turbocharged V-6 driving the rear wheels and a driver-focused cockpit offering a comfortable, connected center of control.” Rear-wheel drive has been missing from the Buick lineup since around the time the GNX went extinct. In our opinion, GM’s capable Alpha platform doesn’t get near enough use (it’s exclusive to the Camaro, ATS, and CTS). Putting it to work for Buick would go a long way in legitimizing the brand in the eyes of performance car fans.
We loved the Avenir concept that was introduced at last year’s Detroit Auto Show, and were pleased to see it influence the styling language of the next-generation LaCrosse — though whether the production sedan will do anything to raise your pulse remains to be seen. The Avista takes a number of styling cues first seen on last year’s concept and takes them in a convincing performance direction. The Avista doesn’t just look like something out of the GM Design Center with a Buick badge slapped on it either; inside and out it’s recognizably a Buick, albeit a highly-evolved one.
And inside, the Avista is working to win back the “Gentleman’s Hot Rod” moniker and re-establish the brand as a true stepping stone to Cadillac. The company says that “Buick designers enhanced the passengers’ sensory experiences with next-generation QuietTuning and air-quality control, including advanced noise cancellation technology, ionic air purifiers and aromatherapy.” Precious as some of that may sound in a performance car, that’s Mercedes-Maybach S-Class level tech. Paired with the twin-turbo V6, a production Avista may bring an internal GM rivalry not seen since the old Corvette-GNX days. We say bring it on.
The Avista’s future is by no means assured — for proof, check out the “CONCEPT” script Buick left on the rear decklid. Despite being a cash cow for GM in China, many Americans are still wondering how Buick could’ve survived a decade that took Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, and Saab instead. Every company needs a good halo car, and as much as we liked the Regal GS, it’s just too unremarkable to do the job. But building a high-performance luxury sport sedan — a poor-man’s BMW M4, Mercedes C63, or Cadillac ATS-V — that should be more than enough to drive some traffic into Buick showrooms. Buick may not be back yet, but with the Avista, at least we know it’s almost ready to be.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.