Although GM’s turnaround has been the work of all four of its brands, Buick is the one that seems to look the most different than its previous self. With the loss of Oldsmobile and Pontiac over the past 10 years, Buick is now the mid-level brand of the family, which is an extremely difficult position to be in during this time, as Cadillac struggles to move upmarket and its closest competitor, Mercury, is finally put to bed by Ford.
The prime reason Buick was kept over the others was because of its influence in China. The Chinese consider Buick to be the representative status symbol on four wheels (much like Lexus in the USA). If GM kills them in America, the idea is that the Chinese will defect to Lexus or other Japanese brands; since Buick is their highest selling brand in this country, GM cannot afford to lose them. So, the brand best known for producing Grandpa Mortimer’s favorite car gets to stay in the Americas. This, however, has turned out to be beneficial, as Buick’s image (thanks to some savvy marketing and even better new cars) has shape-shifted into something different. Of course, some improvement is still needed, particularly on the incoming hot Regal and the current Lucerne.
In fact, the upcoming Regal GS could be, with some improvements, a pretty effective competitor for the Subaru Legacy 2.5GT. It looks pretty nice on paper, but there are a number of flaws. Firstly, the car has been confirmed to be FWD, something that I consider reprehensible for a performance sedan of its size. General Motors owns the rights to the Haldex AWD system used in the Insignia OPC in Europe—the chassis is pretty much the same, so it would be a great plan to bring it over here. The other issue is the turbo engine’s lack of outright power—220hp is nice, but not really enough for the price. But, the doctor’s prescription is simple: bump the output to around 270bhp, and maybe jump the price a small amount to make up for the changes. GM will become the only other game in town for an AWD midsize performance car, and with the Regal’s well-regarded chassis and a close-ratio six speed manual, this car could be a big hit.
The Lucerne, however, is a jack of few trades and a master of none. Despite hitting the market in 2006, it’s really a lot older than that, as its sister cars had been on the same platform for much longer. Despite its engine update recently, it’s the same car as its predecessors. It’s a good land barge, but it’s not a good car. Buick has not offered much word on a replacement for it, but those who have followed Buick’s proliferation into China have noticed the emergence of an old name: Park Avenue. It’s based on the Holden Statesman platform, GM’s big RWD platform for Australia. It’s a beautiful brute in China, and it would look positively mean as a classic American bruiser. David Dunbar Buick would be proud to see his name on this car as it flies down Interstate 80 in the left lane.
Overall, Buick looks poised to continue on a profitable, sustainable path to relevance again. Stay the course, boys. Make America proud.