One of the surprise hits of the 2016 North American International Auto Show was the Buick Avista coupe. Unlike, however, the impressive Lexus LC 500 and Infiniti Q60 coupes that also made their debuts at Detroit, there are no plans to put the shapely Avista into production — at least no plans General Motors is willing to share at this moment. Officially, it’s a concept.
The Avista could be just the sort of vehicle to create fresh interest in GM’s oldest brand. Make no mistake, Buick is actually doing rather well. Notching 1.23 million global sales last year, Buick is GM’s second-largest brand. Okay, a lot of those sales were in China, where the marque is held in high esteem from the time nearly a century ago when no less than Pu Yi, its last emperor, rode around in one.
Here in the U.S., Buick’s had a reputation of being Grandpa’s brand, with the average age of an American Buick customer hovering at about double the 30-something demographic it nets in China. Buick’s growing lineup of crossover SUVs — the large Enclave, the subcompact Encore and the upcoming, Chinese-built midsize Envision — will shave years, if not decades, off of that statistic. But Avista, if executed well, can be the showroom candy that brings some passion to the brand.
There have been false starts in recent years: a pair of glitzy gullwinged Riviera show cars, and the 2+2 Velite roadster, which GM Global Product Development Executive VP Mark Reuss personally championed for production in 2005.
Mo Beta Alpha
The Avista show car, however, is grounded in reality. It sits on 2016 Camaro production-car bones. GM has this great new rear-drive Alpha platform that underpins the Cadillac CTS, Cadillac ATS and now the Camaro — same 110.7-in wheelbase, same wide track, same excellent Alpha suspension, steering bits, and Magnetic Ride Control shocks. Under the hood lies the 400-horsepower, 400-lb.-ft 3.0-liter DOHC twin-turbo V6 and 8-speed automatic from the 2017 Cadillac CT6 flagship and Buick Avenir concept. While that’s not quite the 464-horsepower 3.6-liter DOHC V6 of the rip-snorting Cadillac ATS-V, GM suggested that the 400-horse twin-turbo V6 would be capable of launching the Avista from rest to 60 mph in just over four seconds. As the Buick-trified Camaro motored onto the stage at its NAIAS unveiling, it had all of the mojo of a Regal Grand National or GNX and then some.
More than just a Camaro rebodied at Nordstroms, the Avista marries the low, wide stance of Chevy’s muscle car with the flowing design language of modern Buicks. Strong shoulders and a handsome dash-to-axle ratio are set off by winged LED lighting elements and perhaps the best-looking iteration of Buick’s shield grille yet.
Inside, the swoopy forms of the Avista’s dash, console and seats are mostly vaporware at this point, but significant is the electric shifter, similar in principle to the one in the upcoming 2017 LaCrosse and most BMWs. There is no PRNDL pattern; the driver taps the shifter back for drive and forward and to the left for Reverse.
Fountain of Youth
The Avista excites as much as the newest production Buick, the Cascada, underwhelms. And its fresh approach pretty much makes amends for the badge-engineered Opel Astra convertible wearing a Buick moustache. The Cascada is a place-keeper, not a bad car but a convertible of convenience that allows product planners to check off the box marked “sporty Buick in showroom.” Until something better comes along, that is.
That something better would be the Avista. Buick is promising seven new or revised models by 2018. Sure, coupes (or convertibles) don’t sell in big numbers, but they do get buyers dreaming big. We’re hoping that the head-turning Avista coupe is one of them.
Photo Credit: ©2016 AutoWeb / Ron Sessions