It was in the spring of 1975 that I made my first connection with Buick’s Opel. On the cusp of getting married, and absolutely desperate to replace my soon-to-be-bride’s Ford Maverick (baby blue w/white vinyl top) with something other than a baby blue Ford Maverick, we elected to buy an Opel Manta Rallye. Available in ‘Rallye Orange’ with matte black hood and stripes, it seemed to strike a nice middle ground between Tina’s Ford and my soon-to-be-sold BMW bike. And while we didn’t own the Opel for long, its goodness – and the memory of that goodness – still resonates while behind the wheel of Buick’s newest Regal.
Introduced in 2012, the Regal is – to Buick’s credit – little more than a cosmetically-massaged Opel Insignia. And Opel’s midsize Insignia represents the upscale manifestation of an entire lineup of competitive entries in the oh-so-competitive European market. Although Opel hasn’t had the resources recently (something about a bankruptcy back in Detroit…) to go toe-to-toe with VW, BMW and M-B, there remains in Opel’s bag-of-tricks any number of models that – we think – would resonate in the U.S. marketplace. So, with the credibility evidenced by the most recent iteration of Buick’s GS (manual trans, front-wheel drive, 259 horsepower and nicely updated interior), we’d suggest the following adds to Buick’s U.S. lineup – taken directly from Opel’s German lineup.
Opel Adam: We know, BMW’s Mini and Fiat’s 500 would seem to have fully saturated the urban market. The Mini’s footprint, however, continues to grow, while Fiat’s share of the B-Segment doesn’t seem to be growing at all. In short, we think there’s room for one more, and Opel’s Adam – especially within a Buick showroom – could be a credible contender. With minimal front-and-rear overhangs, a ‘floating roof’ architecture and maximum customization, the Adam offers an appeal similar to the Mini, but without some of the overt ‘cuteness’ that seems to have throttled today’s Mini.
Although, at present, Opel doesn’t offer any of the performance permutations available to the Mini or Fiat prospect, it’s not like GM Europe doesn’t have performance mods in their corporate arsenal; one of Opel’s first performance concepts was rocket-powered. Look it up!
Astra GTC: Recently, Volkswagen’s PR team passed around VW’s Scirocco hatch to select U.S. media. We weren’t (regrettably) among those selected, but on a trip to Germany this summer we had ample opportunity to visually sample Volkswagen’s performance-oriented 2+2. And VW’s stylistic take on the Golf/GTI platform is one we sorely wish was available to U.S. consumers, combining – as it does – the credibility of the GTI with a dose of stylistic excitement no 2-box hatch will typically muster.
As you could guess, Opel has a very similar recipe in its Astra GTC, whereby Opel’s design team takes their Golf-like Astra and clothes it in proper – and compelling – 2+2 bodywork. Give it the 259 turbocharged horses of the Regal GS, keep the price point close to $30K, and watch people flock into Buick showrooms that – previously – would not have been able to recall ‘Buick’. Admittedly, the Astra GTC would add little more than incremental sales volume, but could constitute a true halo for the Buick brand.
Opel Cascada: A 4-seater that is not quite midsize, the Cascada is more than simply stylish; it is, to this observer, almost sensuous. With no 2-doors on the Buick showroom, this would fill a yawning gap. And it would fill that gap in a manner that speaks to Buick’s long history – dating back to the Y-Job concept – of providing U.S. consumers with not only design, but design statements. Unlike so many droptops that look great when open and less so when closed, the Cascada’s cloth top works well in either position. Here, we think the well-equipped price point should be under $40K, topping out at $45,000. At that, it’d be a nice alternative to GM’s Camaro convertible, and work perfectly for those 50-year olds that no longer consider themselves 15.
Opel Insignia Country Tourer: This proposal may be more of a long shot, but there’s a Grand Canyon-sized gap between Buick’s newly introduced Encore, with a footprint of a Chevy Sonic, and the 3-row Enclave. Both are doing just fine in the marketplace, but Buick could use something in the Audi Q5/BMW X3 category. And while waiting for just that platform, the suits should bring in Opel’s Insignia Country Tourer. Based closely on the Insignia wagon, the Country Tourer (they never specify which country) is an XC/Outback/allroad take on the conventional wagon, with slightly raised ride height and a modicum of cladding. Our personal preference is a conventional wagon, but knowing how Americans like their higher hip points (even as our hips drop to our knees…), we think the Upper Crust might just take a $45K alternative to the Benz’s E-Class. And if GM were to adapt a 4-cylinder turbodiesel to the package…well, it’d be wunderbar.
Coincidentally, as this is written GM’s global product chief, Mark Reuss, expressed his interest in an affordable, fun-to-drive wagon. And while an Opel-based wagon of this size might not meet Reuss’ definition of affordable, it would be a credible start.
While no one (to this writer’s knowledge) has offered a substantive glimpse of what GM might have up its global sleeve relative to Opel, we think vehicles like the Regal (now available with all-wheel drive) represent for GM a winning hand. But winning hands typically require more than one card; Opel’s offerings easily add up to a full house. And in an era of the $60K 4-Series and $70K CTS, we think there’s a strong argument for well-designed and carefully assembled Euro platforms at between $30K and $45,000. Bis spater…