The van is the vinyl record of the automobile industry. Rare, purist and extremely cool when you find one, which means you are prepared for a comeback.
So, it's not surprising that the Buick Regal TourX I test has stopped people in New York traffic. It is still an anomaly in public streets; GM told me that only a few hundred have sent. The first question everyone asked was: "What is that?" It turns out that the emblem of Buick on the hood, originally created in 1908 and among the oldest of the automotive industry, does not resonate in the same way, as for example, the three-pointed star. And very few people remember when the original Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon first appeared on the streets in 1947.
Therefore, for contemporary purposes, the Buick car is completely new in America and in the northeast corridor where I live, where the most popular car, the Subaru Outback, is a common sight parked on the street. Other wagon offerings include the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, the Audi A4 Allroad, the Volvo V60 and the V90 Cross Country, and the Mercedes-Benz E63 wagon. It is a relatively short list.
In Europe, where trucks and vinyl never went out of style, the Regal is revalued as the Opel Insignia Country Tourer. Buick jointly developed this vehicle with Opel before GM sold its European brand. European reverence for the car is one of the reasons why American journalists like to cover the Geneva Motor Show. If you ask most automotive journalists about some of their favorite games, inevitably a truck will become the top ten.
But in the United States, the TourX is a paradox between the past and the future. Here the vans have vanished almost to the dark, thanks to the increase of the SUV. But darkness can work in favor of the brand. The first lines of Don DeLillo White Noise's classic novel about the impact of technology on civilization captured the truck's cultural identity in the 1980s. "The vans arrived at noon, a long, bright line that ran across the west campus." In a single row they slid around the orange I-beam sculpture and moved toward the bedrooms. fools put their children in the city, which turned into a bad joke, in other words, the van was the original minivan.
That image, three decades later, has changed. "Customers do not have a perception of what wagons were," says Doug Osterhoff, marketing manager of Buick Cars, when I asked him why they decided to build a car. "They did not live in wagons with wooden roofs, and they are great, in the now, the whole perception is different." In fact, Buick, long known as the car of an old timer, is looking at the Regal TourX to add a bit of arrogance.
But why are wagons comfortable? Why do automobile journalists suffer? On the one hand, a truck works more like a car, and Buick succeeded in building a car that is fun to drive. The turbo engine of the TourX lends itself to its authoritarian power. It produces 250 horsepower and 295 pounds of torque. "It has a driving dynamics similar to a car," says Osterhoff. "There are things about SUV that I do not like [customers]they prefer to be down, not up." It is ready for snowy climates and is equipped with standard four-wheel drive, a system used in other Buick vehicles such as Lacrosse.
Unlike the old-time trucks (he yells to a friend who drives a 1996 Chevrolet Caprice with a powerful Corvette engine), it does not look like a long and dangerous saloon, but in fact it has agile handling. "The hardest part is getting the right proportions," Bob Boniface, design director at Buick Exteriors, told me. "People can not articulate what makes them athletic."
The other positive factor for wagon customers is that they are more spacious than cars, one of the reasons why the crossover segment is booming. "The utility of the cubic storage space is more than the big crosses," says Osterhoff. "They feel more secure and have more control in their cars, they have a need for utility, people who own cars do not need a garage partner for their daily commute, they keep their things in the back of the car." (Unless you park on the street like all Outback drivers in New York City do).
Creating more space was part of the Buick design directive. It has the same wheelbase as its sedan counterpart, the Regal Sportback, but adds 3.4 inches in length, therefore, what that extra space means to get groceries. Buick bets on the elongated and elegant shape of the TourX. It is more than one foot longer than the Volvo V60 Cross Country, and is the longest of its kind.
GM's understanding of the European market through the Opel brand influenced design knowledge. "In Europe they are more pragmatic and focus on efficiency," says Boniface.
The Regal TourX calls itself luxury, but it's not a luxury pants trolley. Some of the interior materials feel plastic. So, while Mercedes-Benz offers the E63 Wagon variant of high-touch piano and multiple screens, Regal TourX is more knobs and buttons than the old-school style. Some of the accessories that a technologically minded passenger would like: wireless charging, rear parking assistance, adaptive cruise control and the sliding and cavernous sliding roof add up to the base price of $ 35,070. The car I tried has a cost of $ 41,765.
But I would be remiss if I did not stop to focus on Buick's obsession with tranquility as a key part of his appeal. Last year I visited the GM noise and vibration laboratory in Milford, Michigan. It is the automotive industry equivalent to Skywalker Sound. Buick uses parachuting material, among other ingenious tricks to make the cabin of his vehicle sound quiet. In other words, there is no space in a Buick for white noise.
While I've always wanted the wagons and turntables a lot, it's still a surprise when they return to the style as if they were new. Who knows, maybe one day dial-up modems and flip phones will come back too.
Photograph of Tamara Warren / The Verge