Buick is synonymous with elegance and luxury, and it always has been since the very beginning over 100 years ago. A long-time leader of reliability and customer satisfaction among the General Motors family of products, Buick’s current line-up is small but expanding, while seeking a younger audience. The brand is wildly successful in China.
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It all started in 1902 when David Dunbar Buick decided to create his own car company. In the first year, the Buick Manufacturing Company developed its “valve-in-head” twin-cylinder engine design. In 1903, under financial struggles, it was renamed Buick Motor Car Company and relocated in Flint, Michigan. William Durant, founder of General Motors, stepped in to help after being smitten with Buick’s potential. The first-ever Buick was the 1904 Model B.
The Model D was unveiled at the New York Auto Show in 1905, followed by the Model F a year later. In 1907, the Model D received the company’s first 4-cylinder engine.
When Durant established General Motors in 1908, it initially included Buick and Oldsmobile. In 1910, a racing team was formed, and the Buick “Bug” racer set a speed record of 115 miles an hour with Louis Chevrolet behind the wheel—the man who created the car company of the same name.
Buick established itself as a prestigious brand during the following years, and produced a succession of successful models. In 1923, the brand introduced four-wheel brakes, a first among mainstream carmakers. One of the brand’s most renowned model names, the Roadmaster, was created in 1936. The original car was designed by GM’s Harley Earl. The Limited model appeared that same year.
The Buick Special was also launched in 1936, a name that figured in the brand’s line-up until 1973. In 1938, Buick introduced the Y Job, what is considered to be the world’s first concept car, a showcase for styling and engineering trends. Turn signals were added as standard equipment a year later, while the Century and Super were launched in 1940, at a time when Buick offered a vast line-up of 30 different vehicle styles. Wagon versions of Buicks were now called Estate, a name that lasted up until the ‘90s.
The Dynaflow transmission was introduced in 1948, and power steering made its way into Buicks in 1951. That same year, two new concept cars were presented: the Le Sabre and the XP-300. From 1953, power brakes appeared as well as a new family of V8 engines dubbed the Nailhead. The Skylark was also launched in ’53 as a convertible, marking the brand’s 50th anniversary, while a succession of more concepts appeared over the following years: the Wildcat I, II and III. Several new models saw the light of day in 1959: the LeSabre, the Invicta and the Electra.
The Wilcat name was adopted on a family of cars in 1962, replacing the Invicta, while the Riviera debuted in 1963 featuring dramatic styling, right before the musclecar craze. The Gran Sport or GS designation was added to a variety of models as a high-performance package, and the famed GSX with a big-block V8 was available from 1970 to 1974.
The Regal name appeared for the first time in 1973 as an uplevel trim of the Skylark, while the Park Avenue moniker was introduced in 1975, designating the top trim of the Electra. The Skyhawk subcompact was offered from 1975 and grew to compact size from 1982 to 1989.
The Regal became famous in the ‘80s when Buick launched a high-performance version called the Grand National. It featured a turbocharged 3.8-litre V6 that developed 245 horsepower, eventually attaining 276 horses in the collectable 1987 GNX.
A two-seat coupe and convertible called the Reatta was offered from 1988 to 1991, and early versions featured a novel touch-screen computer interface for audio and climate controls. The 1990s marked a brief comeback of the Roadmaster, and the retirement of the Skylark.
From the year 2000 on, there were many changes in Buick’s product line-up; Century, Regal, LeSabre and Park Avenue were retired, replaced by the mid-size LaCrosse (Allure in Canada) and full-size Lucerne. Trucks also appeared for a few years, such as the Rendezvous crossover, the Rainier SUV and the Terraza minivan.
Today, Buick’s North-American line of cars and trucks consists of the compact Verano, the mid-size Regal and performance-oriented Regal GS, the LaCrosse, the Lucerne and the mid-size Enclave crossover. The Chinese market also gets the compact Excelle family, the GL8 minivan and the full-size Park Avenue.
Buick's award-winning Enclave launched for 2008 and quickly began collecting awards, including one from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) which saw the all-new Buick crossover beat out comparable entries from Mercedes and BMW as Canada's "Best new Crossover".
I'll admit, my expectations were not high when I was handed the keys to the 2013 Buick Encore. I'd experienced the Chevrolet Trax and be none too impressed, so I assumed the Encore would follow suit. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by the entire package, but not overly impressed either.
Some seven years after the moniker was last ditched, Buick brought back the Regal nameplate to inject some sporty and youthful flare into their product lineup with the goal of attracting a younger shopper to the brand.
The young, 3-year-old Buick Verano already looks like a mature sedan. Of course, like every other Buick, it is smooth, quiet, and upscale. The turbocharged engine and stiff body structure together make for a European-like driving experience. A low entry price is icing on the cake.
Like most full-size sedans, the 2014 Buick LaCrosse proves very comfortable and roomy. It also drives silently, and with class. The availability of all-wheel drive makes it appealing to Canadians during winter.
Built by GM's South Korean affiliate, the 2014 Buick Encore is a cute and well-designed entry-level luxury CUV. It also proves fuel efficient, nimble, and easy to manoeuvre in the city. Of course, as a Buick product, the cabin is amazingly quiet and comfortable.