PHOTO BY TIM PLOUFF

On the Road Review: Buick Regal TourX



Despite purging much of its European operations two years ago, General Motors still relies on former Opel Division to build this week’s Buick Regal TourX wagon. And like much of Buick’s lineup now — the top-selling Encore subcompact crossover is built in Korea, the midsize Envision comes from China — this Regal TourX is a world car. It is assembled in Germany by a French-owned automaker, using an eight-speed transmission from Japan, with an American-made 2.0-liter turbocharged engine.

Essentially an Opel Insignia wearing a Buick badge, reflecting a long tradition of model-sharing at GM, the TourX hopes to capitalize on the European market’s preference for roomy “estate” vehicles rather than high-end crossovers. However, there is a reason that Buick buyers haven’t had a station wagon model to ogle in showrooms for over two decades. First, the minivan crushed the venerable family wagon in the marketplace, and then AWD crossovers ran over them like yesterday’s roadkill.

Yet Buick and GM believe that a profitable niche exists, seeking the same buyers who gravitate toward Mercedes E-class wagons, Volvo V-models and Audi Avants. These owners like space, which the Buick has in spades, they like ride comfort, check again, and they prefer refinement and quiet with the extra cargo carrying capabilities afforded by a wagon body, check again for the Buick. Wearing a sveltely-shaped body that mimics several competitors — and effectively masks the elongated stance here (196 inches long) — the TourX hopes to burrow into this class and create some additional car sales volume.

PHOTO BY TIM PLOUFF

And while TourX sales have helped overall Regal sales so far this year, the Regal lineup (four-door sedan, five-door hatchback, and five-door TourX) still accounts for less than 12 percent of Buick’s American sales. This is in sharp contrast to Buick’s success in China, where the brand is GM’s top-seller as well as a leading marquee in that rapidly growing market.

Key to the TourX’s capabilities is its powertrain, which is a winner. Using a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 250 hp and 295 pound/feet of peak torque, the Regal is lively and responsive with none of the abrasive snarl formerly associated with these small displacement engines. Teamed with a new AWD system that can apportion power from one side to another as traction dictates, the TourX is endowed with the power and balance needed to fight the class stalwarts. EPA mileage ratings are 21/29 mpg with the standard automatic transmission. This powertrain will also be appearing in several Cadillac models.

Interior packaging is excellent with a spacious rear seat, a large, square cargo hold, plus a folding seatback that creates a level load deck — a design necessity all too often absent in most crossovers. An on-board Wi-Fi hotspot plus Apple/Android compatibility are standard, however, you must advance to more expensive trim levels to get advanced electronic driving aids like radar-aided cruise and emergency forward braking. TourX pricing starts at $29,995, moving to $32,670 for Preferred trim and $35,070 for Essence trim, where you will finally get to heated seating and a power liftgate. Also standard, an instrument panel chime comes on when exiting to look in the rear seat before leaving the vehicle, a reminder for drivers who might leave unattended children inside the vehicle.

Like several rivals, the TourX is most like a car in how you use it and how it drives. The Regal sits low, only 5.7 inches of ground clearance — the same as a Camry, so ingress and egress is not as convenient as the latest crossovers. This means that you also lack the visual security of a higher-riding design. And while the AWD system will be great for poor road conditions, the lower-sitting body will not be well-suited for rugged camp roads or other off-pavement excursions.

Buick is positioning the TourX as an activity vehicle for suburban buyers who prefer the comfort, handling and persona of a car — all aided by AWD. With various roof racks and other accessories, the TourX is a conventional alternative to the crossover.

The elephant in the room, however, is Subaru’s Outback, the dominant vehicle in the wagon class. The Buick is slightly larger, actually weighs less and has more power than the four-cylinder Outback (Subaru has a six-cylinder option) yet buyers will find more content in the Subaru as well as a chassis better prepared for the occasional off-pavement uses that the ads profess everyone is performing all of the time.

Yet when the Buick rolls up against the Volvo, Audi and Mercedes estate wagons that are more natural competitors, the Regal TourX beats them on price while matching them on styling, space and comfort. A French Buick in America? It’s working better than GM could have imagined.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.