In my mind, Volkswagens used to be the “Euro Buick.” Positioned one note above the mass market rabble, VW’s Passat shared parts with Audi’s A4, while the Touareg and Phaeton were luxury cars with a mass market logo on the hood. Then Volkswagen decided this was the wrong strategy for them, so they repositioned VW as the German alternative to Toyota and Chevrolet. This left a gaping hole in the market for shoppers looking to step into a European near-luxury vehicle that flew under the radar. And then Buick stepped in.Buick’s Opel-based product offensive has transformed the brand from Barcalounger wheels for the octogenarian, to a window into the soul of GM’s German brand. This transformation isn’t an easy one as Buick’s problem wasn’t just blue-haired buyers and slinky-soft springs. Buick is the penultimate middle child. Jammed between Chevrolet and Cadillac, brand B’s mission is to give Chevy buyers something to aspire to and Cadillac buyers something to graduate from.
Buick has announced that it’s bringing a high(er)-performance GS version of its Opel Insignia-based Buick Regal to the Detroit Auto Show, and later, to the US market. And for once we’re left wishing we were getting a rebadge. After all, for the first several years of US sales, Insignias will be imported from Germany, meaning GM could easily have brought the thoroughly mad Insignia VXR/OPC as a quick-and-dirty (if not cheap) rebadge. After all, the point of the Regal (and especially the GS) is that “we’re trying to rebuild the performance credentials that Buick once held,” as GM reps put it. The European OPC/VXR version gets a 325 HP version of the turbocharged V6 found in the SRX and Saab TurboX, while the GS gets only a 255 hp version of the 2.0 Turbo found in the Solstice GXP. That engine can reportedly be tuned to an easy 310 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, making the “base” Regal CXL with the 220 hp 2.0T engine a much smarter buy. Unless the idea of tuning a Buick is simply more cognitive dissonance than you can handle. Otherwise, the only thing the GS really brings to the table is AWD and a bodykit with more front-end venting than the United States Senate. Still, if you’re young enough to not get a discount at Denny’s and you have to own a Buick, the Regal is the way to go… especially once an enterprising tuner starts offering Opel badging and grilles in the US market.
Are more losses showing up on your post-bankruptcy financial statement? Are uptight Europeans and Republicans making your overseas division rescue harder than it needs to be? Is the thought of another year defined by Consumer Reports mediocrity getting you down? Good news! GM’s court jester Bob Lutz hasn’t been shipped off to chair Opel just yet, and he’s been sprinkling the autoblogosphere with his patented enthusiast-baiting niche product hints.