The cars we loved.
Buick appears to be on the move, thanks to models from Opel. GM’s German subsidy has had a long history of supplying Buick with small cars since the 1960’s. Opel helped Buick stay afloat during the oil crisis of the 70’s with a line of small Kadett based cars. Today Opel’s contributions are a bit more mainstream. Of Buicks current hits, two can claim Opel roots (Regal/Insignia and
Verano/Astra sedan). The popularity of these models has breathe new life into Buick and has it seeing old glory in the form of reviving storied nameplates from the past. Talk of a new Grand National and GNX sedans based on 2015 Insignia variants are likely a possibility. On the smaller end of the scale is the luxurious Verano. Its popularity is opening up the prospect of it’s two door hatch offshoot arriving at your local Buick dealer. Known as the Astra GTC, it seems to be the hot hatch to beat in Europe – especially in OPC trim.
The Astra has been sold in the US before as a Saturn. They were basic versions of the 2004-2009 European Astra H. Although they had sharp handling and a reflexes, the 140 hp 1.8L Ecotec was not winning too many drag races. The five or three door models never approached the level of posh available in Europe and as a Saturn it was never expected to. GM’s announcement of Saturn’s demise did not help either. The Astra continued in Europe and with the new GTC model introduced in 2009 has evolved into a top contender in the heated European hot hatch arena.
Engines range from 100 hp diesel units all the way up to the OPC’s (Opel Performance Center) 280 hp direct-injected turbo four. It’s likely that the return of the Astra to North America will be in the form of a Buick sold in mid to upper trim levels. For us that might mean the GTC or some variation of it with a similar engine range as the Vernano (180 to 250 hp). The high performance OPC with its powerful engine may be just the car GM North America needs to fill the gap between Cruise/Sonic and Camaro/ATS performance. Opel already uses GM technology shared with other Buicks. The GTC uses a similar front suspension as the American Buick LaCrosse. The HiPerStrut system helps reduce the effects of torque steer, a problem with some powerful front wheel drive cars.
Currently the Astra OPC competes directly with VW’s Scirocco R, another popular sport hatch with refined road manners. The Astra easily is one of the best riding of the small performance cars in Europe and has a lush interior that features Nappa leather and dual climate control zones. In other words everything you’d expect in a Buick. The GTC (and maybe OPC model) would be a perfect match for Buick, with its new emphasis on performance oriented upscale near-luxury. The German built Astra with its 6-speed manual transmission could be a performance leader for Buick until the rumored Grand National and GNX pair arrive in 2015.
Buick might want to choose a name wisely, although it could resurrect nameplates like Apollo, Wildcat or Skyhawk. All but one of them conjures up good memories. The Skyhawk might be the best spiritual match, as it was the last two door hatch from Buick in 1987. Despite the Saturn flip-flop, the Astra name may be a great place to start, as so few people remembered the Saturn anyway. It may be just a matter of time before Buick announces the new addition to its family. An Astra GTC was spotted testing in Michigan in 2011, fueling an on again off again rumor cycle. Either way two door hatchback version of the Astra is worth waiting for. The Golf GTi is looking tired by comparison and not everyone wants a five door hatch (hear that Mazda and Ford?)