We’re told that Buick’s new mission is providing relief to the “underserved.” Buick representatives on hand at the introductory drive event for the new Regal TourX used the word repeatedly as they described their aim to sell vehicles in niches overlooked by other carmakers, as if the brand now operates as something of a nongovernmental relief organization. Who could have known that the Cascada is not just a convertible for warm-weather rental fleets, but a charitable undertaking?
Buick’s latest vehicle for social justice is thus this off-roady-looking all-wheel-drive station wagon that wishes it were a Subaru Outback. It’s not—the Regal TourX has just 5.8 inches of ground clearance, compared with the Subaru’s 8.7—so General Motors used plenty of tough-looking black cladding. And so you can’t miss it, this “blastic” also extends high above the wheel wells, looking as pretentious on the TourX as it does on the similarly dressed Audi A4 Allroad or Volvo V60 Cross Country.
Buick reps point to the Audi as a competitor, except that the compact A4 is almost 10 inches shorter and a whole class smaller than the mid-size, 196.3-inch Regal wagon. The Audi also is considerably more expensive, with a snob-appeal-inflated starting price in the mid-$40,000 range compared to just $29,995 for the Buick.
The single TourX model available at that psychologically satisfying, sub-$30,000 price has cloth seats and is available in any color you want as long as it’s white (silver and black are extra-cost options). Opting for the mid-range Preferred trim to get a power driver’s seat and an actual color palette sends the MSRP into the mid-$30,000s, and if you want a top-of-the-line Essence, with leather and available advanced safety equipment such as lane-keeping assist and automated emergency braking, the price is closer to $40,000. But a $29,995 ante does put Buick at precisely the point on the value map to try to attract mainstream buyers, which gets at the root of Buick’s “underserved” gambit.
Buick reps spun us a tale of woe, describing the plight of station-wagon owners whose manufacturers have abandoned the segment. For lack of a proper replacement, these poor folk have thus been forced to hold onto their old cars much longer than they wanted to. We’re imagining people descending on their Buick dealers who currently drive mid-’90s-vintage Honda Accord wagons with hopelessly rusted rear wheel arches and Toyota Camry wagons from the same era with rear suspensions that have collapsed, probably from the weight of that extra rear wiper. Perhaps trade-ins would include even a few Saab SportCombis or Chevrolet Malibu Maxxes as well.
We’re not sure we buy into this any more than we imagine a scenario in which Buick steals customers from Audi. Yet the larger point is still valid: The Regal TourX sits squarely between traditional European luxury wagons such as the Allroad and the aforementioned and more affordable Outback, which opens at just $26,810.
The TourX is powered by GM’s familiar turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, an engine that appears in a number of GM products, including the current Malibu. (The Malibu shares its architecture with the Europe-market Opel Insignia, which is the basis for the TourX and the new Regal Sportback.) Here the turbo four makes 250 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, fed through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted. On paper, this powertrain combination looks great, far outpacing Subaru’s anemic naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four and even comparing favorably to its available six-cylinder model, which also is a near-$40K proposition. And of course, both of the Outback’s engines are saddled with a continuously variable automatic transmission.
In the real world, however, the TourX feels sluggish, with a sleepy throttle calibration that requires pushing past mid-pedal stroke to wake up the turbocharger. Combine this with a transmission that shifts languidly, preferring to stay in a high gear and lug the engine, and it’s easy to see why this Aisin-sourced gearbox is already slated for replacement at an unspecified future date with a GM-developed nine-speed unit. Buick made the same move in the LaCrosse sedan this year.
The TourX and LaCrosse have other similarities, such as firm and responsive brake pedals and a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, which is standard on the wagon. Buick uses two electronically controlled clutches at the rear, an arrangement that allows a single rear wheel with traction to move the vehicle even if the other three wheels are spinning. This is particularly useful in icy conditions and is in keeping with the character of the TourX, in which all-wheel drive is intended more for conquering inclement weather than off-road trails. Our experience at the drive event in Sedona, Arizona, showed its soft suspension was capable of handling gravel roads at least as well as, say, a Toyota Camry.
We mention the Camry not because it has the same ground clearance as the TourX, and not because it’s the best-selling car in the United States, but because it represents what is perhaps the greatest challenge to Buick: Most mainstream brands offer everything that “near-luxury” or “premium” ones do.
The interior of the TourX is a nice enough place, roomy and quiet and mostly pleasant save for the cramped middle rear seat. The front seats seem like Saab leftovers, comfortable yet firm and ideal for the sorts of long highway slogs the TourX seems best suited for. Its dash is topped with a 7.0- or 8.0-inch touchscreen, with plastic designed to look like leather (or at least less-hard plastic) and trimmed with requisite fake wood and shiny bits. Yet the TourX cabin is not really any nicer than that of a high-zoot Camry, even in our test car, which was a fully loaded Essence trim. At over $40,000, this wagon still had its cargo area lined with the sort of inexpensive carpet that is more appropriate for a rental-car trunk, and its beige hue didn’t prevent it from being easily dirtied by the first load of suitcases we stowed.
Still, the wagon’s cargo hold is where the TourX best acquits itself. It is distributed differently than in an Outback, with 33 cubic feet behind the rear seats (3 cubic feet fewer than the Subaru) or 74 cubic feet with those seats folded (1 cubic foot more than the Outback). The folding seats—split 60/40 in the base and Preferred trims but 40/20/40 in the Essence—lay almost perfectly flat, making it easier to load large items. For the mountain bike or kayaking crowd that doesn’t need the Outback’s ground clearance, the low height of a roof-mounted rack is as much a selling point as the TourX’s available hands-free power liftgate. For those who want a bigger wagon rather than a crossover to transport their life’s desires or detritus, the TourX is a welcome option and a reminder that sometimes it’s okay for “sporty” to describe what you intend to do with a car, rather than the car itself.
The question that only next year’s sales numbers can answer is whether there is a market for this almost-luxury, almost-off-roader station wagon at an almost-affordable price. If our experience in Sedona were to solely inform our answer, we’d have to respond in the affirmative. That place is swarming with both mountain bikers and old people driving slowly; the Regal TourX seems designed to appeal to both. Buick, for its part, already is revising its sales estimates upward for the TourX.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
BASE PRICES: TourX, $29,995;
TourX Preferred, $33,595;
TourX Essence, $35,995
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 122 cu in, 1998 cc
Power: 250 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 111.4 in
Length: 196.3 in
Width: 73.3 in Height: 58.4 in
Passenger volume: 101 cu ft
Cargo volume: 33 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 3750 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 6.3 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 17.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.7 sec
Top speed: 130 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 24/21/29 mpg