So there I was, speeding down I-87 in upstate New York with one finger gently guiding the wheel on a 2018 Buick LaCrosse Avenir. The power and ease of handling had me fantasizing about being a spy, though typically when one thinks of James Bond, he is not driving a Buick. But honestly, why should this be?
Over the weekend I’d been testing the adaptive cruise control and 0-to-60 clock on a pair of Avenirs, the beautifully-trimmed luxury models from Buick’s prestige line. I’d taken the Lacrosse (full-size sedan) and the Enclave (CUV) over the twisty, lacustrine roads around the old stone chateaus of Lake George, and down the quaint little side-paths of horse country in the sleepy heart of Saratoga County. I’d even tried negotiating the Olympic bobsled chutes that are the highways of northern New Jersey. My nerves remained placid, spy-like. On the interstate, I had just passed the 80-mph mark when the skies opened up.
Within seconds I was negotiating the sorts of conditions one generally hopes to avoid on a highway: blinding rain, zigzag spray, forbiddingly enormous valleys that turned into 80-mph water-parks at Six Flags. I’m not exaggerating. For the next four hours the whole north Atlantic fell on top of me personally, or that’s how it felt from the driver’s seat.
But what a seat! I’d been luxuriating most recently in the leather-appointed back massage feature, a sort of personal robot-butler for keeping drivers over distance (and over 40) from discomfort and cramping up. As before, the Avenir had been successfully casting its unique spell, lulling me into a state of appreciative idleness as if I’d been observing encroaching foul weather with a cup of Darjeeling in a well-appointed drawing room.You, sir, I was just telling the robotic butler with a sigh, have the steady, knowing fist of a Swedish expert.
Shutting it down, I felt a twinge of annoyance that I had to actually drive.
The Avenirs, if you haven’t heard, arrived a few years ago with quite a bit of fanfare. All that high-end styling, all that crossover appeal giving the Ford Explorers and Lexus RXLs a bit of competition. Just this summer, the third member of Buick’s expanding sub-brand was unveiled: the Avenir Regal sedan. The Regal now joins the Lacrosse and the Enclave to form an impressively and consistently luxe driving experience. All models share the same handsome-sibling traits, proliferating connectivity features, smart-car safety tech, ebony piping, embroidered headrests, and everything wrapped up in the sweeping Buick lines that dyed-in-the-wool gearheads love to call dramatic. All three boast 3.6 liter V-6 engines with both front or all wheel drives, 310 horsepower and 268 pounds of torque in a comfortable nine-speed automatic. Designers have added a nice understated theme to the interiors, chestnut coloring accented with stitched leather in a diamond pattern and what looked to my eyes like dove gray but is probably called something else. So the crazy notion that an Avenir might show up in the next 007 picture no longer seems entirely unfounded.
And yet after being pounded with the elements, piloting the Avenir made me think of my own father far more than James Bond, and not only because the old man came out of Generation Buick. He was in addition a veteran of WW2 and spent his young manhood behind the wheels of Daimlers and Benz roadsters, gallivanting around glorious Europe like a member of the OSS, amid a postwar economy so depressed it meant he never had to overspend extravagantly for any of the finer things. He was a real-life Bond, at least to me, the sort of low-key, discreet-minded gentleman of the world who always seemed to know luxury by instinct. Ostentation, for the old man, was truly the most lurid of vices.
These days I find myself with a tiny father-shaped conscience on my shoulder warning me away from most modern-day luxury driving experiences. Plus, I live in Long Island, home to as many Maseratis, Ferraris, and Porsches as Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and every time I head out exploring or kicking tires I’ve been set back on my heels by all these terrifically splashy imports that feel about as quiet or discreet as marching bands made of Tiffany eggs. Escalades, please. Am I a rapper? I am not. I remember the old man’s value system, which obviously is now mine, and I try focusing on subtler details.
"Nowadays,” said Chris Hilts, Design Director at Buick Interiors, it can be a chore distinguishing premium cars one from another. “A luxury sedan is a luxury sedan. Content isn’t all that different, honestly, and so that means style becomes the big differentiator.”
The two of us were talking shop while playing a parlor game—Cars We Have Owned and Loved—from the lawn of a sprawling mansion in Saratoga Springs, reminiscing fondly about the previous generation and their weakness for the detail-obsessed luxury import. As well as their penchant for the second car being the most practical kind of Japanese. We traded memories of hush panels, dashboard fabrics, rear-seat reading lights. We felt like our fathers.
“The Germans,” Hilts explained, “were detail-oriented to a fault. Everything from spot welds to gas assist shocks, it was refined, polished, a beautiful work of art. The Japanese came along and tended to details just where the customer could see it, the steering wheels, the shifters. And they saved money in areas where customers wouldn’t look.” It is Hilts, along with his team, who selected every detail of the Avenir interiors with these two poles in mind, carefully shaping things like the scripted sill-plates and wood-accented steering wheel. Growing up, both of us knew that each brand had a highly specific quality associated with it, like a sense-memory, from the Escort to the Camry to the Mercedes SL.
What Buick was always known for, indeed loved for, was a winning blend of handsomeness and approachability, like a particularly charmed member of your extended family. What Hilts and the other designers have done with the Avenir line is to introduce a level of refinement to this reputation. It permits a generation raised between those two extremes—luxury imports and Toyota Camrys—to locate a middle path of their own unique experience.
Because who, honestly, enjoys the brashly ostentatious, in-your-face luxury driving experience on a typical commute, or packing up for the weekend, or better yet, braving the occasional seasonal thunderstorm? Not me. Being my old man’s kid, I’ve always needed a means of going subterranean with the finer things. I realized, after returning home, that I’d passed through four long hours of inclement weather as smoothly as if I was steering underwater in that submarine Lotus from The Spy Who Loved Me. I can happily report that The Avenir, whatever version, is a reliable co-pilot. It’s a car for the spy in all of us.