General Motors has, from a product point of view, been on a tear since its federal bailout. But the attention seemingly hasn’t been distributed equally; Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac have made substantial gains in product development and evolution, but Buick, with a few exceptions, has been running business-as-usual. And for a brand like that, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Buick has long been known for its understated, sedate appeal. Even the Grand National GNX, which is widely regarded as a benchmark of Buick performance, was low-key and completely unostentatious about its capabilities. But in the last couple of decades, Buick has become downright boring, serving up cars for the geriatric set that have virtually guaranteed that no one under the age of 70 will get excited about.
Those exceptions — the new Regal GS, the Encore, even — have helped keep Buick’s head above water. But as Cadillac and Chevrolet both make substantial gains in product quality, Buick’s mainstay offerings — the LaCrosse, the non-turbo Regal, the Verano — have become less and less a middle-ground between the two brands as buyers look for something bolder and more statement-making.
However, it now seems that Buick is finally getting some of the attention it needs and deserves. At the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, Buick presented two models that will help shape the future of the brand’s image efforts: The Avenir sedan, and the Cascada convertible.
Let’s start with the Avenir, because it’s by the far more interesting of the two (not that Cascada is boring or dull — more on that later). Buick’s bread and butter are midsize and larger sedans, specifically the LaCrosse and Regal. But while GM nameplates like the Impala, CTS, and even the Malibu and XTS have made meaningful gains in product evolution, Buick has stagnated to maintain its bland, squarish styling cues. This makes the Avenir, in its elegant simplicity, all the more compelling.
The concept brings a whole new sense of grace to the Buick badge that is simply lacking currently. Its long hood and wheelbase hint back to the brand’s heritage of curb-eating land yachts, but the raked rear profile and soft lines give it a thoroughly modern flair that will make for a welcome addition to the GM lineup. We can only hope that these cues make it through to production.
“Simply put, Avenir is a beautiful piece of sculpture, delivered on a premium proportion that acknowledges the Buick design heritage in a very progressive way,” Michael Simcoe, the vice president of design for GM’s International Operations said in the press statement. “The vehicle remains unmistakably Buick with a modern take on the traditional Buick cues such as the sweep spear and boattail. The result is a piece of artistry that is precise in its character, beautifully proportioned. It really takes your breath away.”
Consider the Avenir the energy drink that the brand needs — a jolt of enthusiasm and spirit to bring it up to speed with its corporate counterparts. We can only hope that it doesn’t go the way of the Cadillac Elmiraj or Ciel.
The Cascada, though, is a different story. It’s based on an existing Opel model that GM sells in Europe, and through some quick badge-engineering, is making its American debut as a 2016 model (they even kept the Cascada name). So yes, the Cascada is actually happening, versus the uncertain fate of the Avenir. It’ll also be a major step for the lagging cruiser convertible market that has seen more exits than entrants to the segment, and the first convertible to wear a Buick badge in more than 25 years.
It offers a 2+2 seating arrangement and a soft-top that can open in as little as 17 seconds (at speeds as high as 31 miles per hour, if the driver felt so inclined). It’s powered by a turbocharged 1.6 liter fur-cylinder, which is good for 200 horsepower. That’s mated to a six-speed auto.
The Cascada is not a high-performance rockstar convertible. It’s a rather sensible, clean, and elegant contender in a suffering segment that is seeing one of its torch bearers — the Chrysler 200 convertible — slip beneath the waves. Buick, hoping to use the newly vacant space as an opportunity, believes that it can pick up some additional sales whilst simultaneously offering a new and needed face for the brand. Two stones.
Though the car itself rides on 20-inch rims, the future of the Buick brand lies largely on how well consumers respond to the more modern face of the Cascada. If it’s largely positive, than Buick has the direction of its future products cut out for it.