New Buick Regal, Avenir stretch expectations

April 18, 2018 by
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos 

Buick Regal sedan disappears for 2018, replaced by the TourX wagon.

    Buick has led a charmed life through the pitfalls of General Motors cutbacks and a highly competitive global auto industry. Some are puzzled by Buick’s continued success, or even existence. But it all makes sense, even if some of its newest vehicles are both surprising and intriguing.

   The biggest surprise is the Regal TourX, a curiously sized and shaped station wagon that seems surprisingly low and amazingly long.

   More subtle, perhaps, is the curiously named high-end version of the very successful Buick Enclave SUV, named the Avenir. It conjures up the idea that somebody, perhaps with a New Jersey accent, might have meant to name it “Avenue,” but missed, just a bit.

 

Popular Enclave SUV adds the Avenir as top-line model.

  By chance, I got the opportunity to spend a week test-driving both vehicles, which was a coincidence on its own. I got the two Buicks together, during one of those rare spells of Upper Midwest springtime — a rare couple of days of 50 degrees and sunshine on the North Shore of Lake Superior. As if to make sure I got valid tests of both vehicles, Mother Nature kicked in one of those 2018-special weeks, blasting Duluth with an 8-inch blizzard and accompanying it with some harsh winds off the big lake.

   No worries, because both vehicles have all-wheel drive, and are either “soft” SUVs or can impersonate them.

 

Plain but cautiously luxurious is the Avenir’s interior.

  I don’t mean soft in the weak sense, but more in the less-than-harsh suspension area, where both handle well enough but don’t conjure up the idea that you probably should go barreling through the woods on off-road adventures.

   The Enclave has been a favorite of mine since it was introduced, because it came out about the time that the huge General Motors group of SUVs — the Suburban, Tahoe, Escalade, and GMC Yukon and Ford Expedition and Navigator — had all seemed to be headed for extinction, and the Enclave seemed perfectly sized to step in as a three-row people hauler. The Enclave even sprung a smaller sibling, the Encore, as in what can you do for an Encore? Then came the Envision, as in, can you envision enough room in the marketplace to fit another SUV in between the Enclave and Encore?

Pleasing silhouette of redone Enclave offers upgrades to 3-row GM family of SUVs.

   Of course, we all know that the lowering of gas prices prompted American buyers to turn away from even slightly smaller SUVs and start clamoring again for the big guys. The Enclave comes with a 3.6-liter V6 with 302 horsepower and a lot of style in its just revised shape. The top of the line is called Avenir, and it has all the imagined luxury touches. There is no optional engine, and it comes connected to a 9-speed automatic transmission that works efficiently.

   The interior is nice, and in Avenir form has all the connectivity stuff.

   Now let’s switch to the Regal TourX. You can get the Regal in a nice-looking hatchback sedan, too, but if you really liked the basic Regal in all its forms, you might be disappointed to learn that there is no longer a garden-variety Regal.

Lower and longer, the TourX is a rebadged version of Germany’s Opel Insignia.

   Europeans always have retained a fondness for station wagons, while we in the Colonies have zig-zagged back and forth from wagons to minivans to SUVs, and continue to be all over the map. The European tie-in is significant, because if we go back to when GM discontinued Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn. Those were shocking to most of us. Pontiac was GM’s performance outlet, Oldsmobile its high-tech brand, and Saturn its futuristic model. All gone, while Buick was retained, along with Chevrolet and Cadillac. And Buick’s reputation was the favorite of an aging population.

   Ah, but GM had an eye on China’s looming market, where a car company needed to partner with a Chinese company in order to sell cars in that vast country. Buick had become solidly imbedded, and was quite successful in China. Check on the history and you’d learn that Buick wasn’t selling Roadmasters and LaCrosses, but instead was selling rebadged Opels, from GM’s German line.

   So the first thing GM did at that stage was to rejuvenate Buick by giving it an all-new Regal midsize sedan. It quickly became my favorite GM sedan. Turns out, it was a rebadged Opel Vectra sedan. It was even built in Germany for a year, until GM could retool a North American plant.

 

Large storage area behind second row ofs seats adds to TourX versatility.

 

Comfortable leather buckets adorn new TourX interior.

All of that brings us around to this long, low wagon called the Regal TourX. It is a rebadged German wagon, the Opel Insignia wagon. The only catch in the story is that GM recently sold Opel to Peugeot in Europe. But in the process, GM kept a part of the contract alive, so that Opel would continue to build a version of the Insignia as the new Buick Regal wagon.

   The TourX has a U.S. built 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, attached to an 8-speed Aisin transmission, built in Japan. We’re told that the new GM 9-speed, as in the Avenir, will be coming soon to a Regal TourX near you.

   As it is, I thought the whole package came together well. Perhaps the best reason was that there also is a turbocharger fitted to the engine, so it delivers 250 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. That’s enough, in the all-wheel-drive version like I drove, to make the low and slinky TourX feel strong and swift, although when you pull onto a freeway and notice a large semi barreling down on you at 70-mph-plus, you stand on the gas and realize it’s not as sporty or quick when you need it as you anticipated.

  

Graceful lines, moderate price should make TourX popular.

If TourX is too small, larger Avenir expands Enclave line.

Handling is good, but not what you might call sporty. It is stable and secure, but  it fits that Buick reputation of being pleasantly cushy and comfortable, without leaning toward stiff or, dare we say, sporty. There are numerous sportier sedans and wagons, from BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo, but for a base price that starts around $25,000 and can rise to $40,000 with all the available attributes, the new Buick does its namesake proud.

   I don’t like the idea of the Regal going away in its normal form, but I’m willing to wait and see how the TourX does in the showroom. As some cynic said, and wagon, even if it’s not sporty or swift, is better than another in the seemingly endless list of SUVs. And if you must have an SUV, you can always walk across the Buick showroom and check out the Enclave. Take it for a drive, down the Avenir.

    

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