While select members (how ‘select’ can it be?) of the nation’s automotive media attended the official ‘first drive’ of the all-new Buick Encore in early December, the suits at Ford’s Dearborn headquarters were once again attempting to resuscitate the moribund Lincoln brand. Fading memory – along with an inborn reluctance to google – won’t recall exactly when Ford’s luxury division ceased to be relevant, but I’d guess it was about the same time the Dallas Cowboys ceased to be relevant. And as Ford’s talented execs work once again to find within Lincoln an automotive pulse, they could do worse than check out the progress made by Buick.
That progress, whereby Buick has gone from a car line targeting little more than your Great Aunt (and perhaps your great aunt) to one offering expressive over-the-road transport (Regal); an upscale, expansive family hauler (Enclave); and Peyton Manning (Verano). And the GM division offers all of this in one convenient, accessible showroom, where the Buick fare is typically sold alongside GMC’s well-regarded truck and SUV lineup.
The resuscitation of Buick hasn’t been easy. For years what GM marketers described as Buick’s near-luxury experience looked as shriveled as the late Alfred Sloan. The lineup was marked by bloated bodywork and benign chassis, while GM focused limited resources on far more profitable truck and SUV offerings. In what we continue to regard as an absolutely stunning irony, both Olds and Pontiac (remember them?) were far more adventurous in attempting to revive their lackluster brands than Buick. As irrefutable proof of same, how long did it take Buick to offer anything as interesting as the last Olds Aurora or Pontiac’s G8?
Today, the Buick showroom offers a lot that’s interesting. Even the LaCrosse does well, although we think its association with The Good Wife is – at this point – its most notable feature. In China, however, they love it, and it’s that ongoing affection for what the Chinese perceive as traditional, upscale American Iron that both saved the division and provided it with a newfound sense of direction. Notably, that direction is an amalgamation of Western (Opel) and Eastern (GM Daewoo) influences, a recipe more successfully mixed than at least one observer – this one – would have deemed possible.
That success is amply demonstrated at the Encore intro, where a subcompact crossover that looked decidedly awkward on an auto show stand actually rolls down the byways of Atlanta with a credible display of authority. Although not based outright on Chevy’s Sonic platform, there are apparently more than a few similarities in layout and spec, including the Sonic/Cruze 1.4 liter turbocharged four. And while we wish there were a few more ponies propelling the Encore’s 3,000 or so pounds, the Encore did virtually everything we asked of it, even when carrying almost 600 pounds of media and GM.
For the newly-minted urbanite, we think Buick might just be onto something, as it throws the Encore into the marketplace well ahead of players like Honda (with a Fit-based crossover) or Fiat’s 500L. That Buick might actually be considered innovative should have the suits at GM – even the dead ones – smiling, while giving some sense of hope to the execs at Lincoln. Of course, that’s Ford’s Lincoln – and not Speilberg’s…