Payne: X-ceptional Buick TourX wagon

Posted by hpayne on February 1, 2018

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And now for something completely different.

Buick calls the five-door version of its Buick Regal a “crossover with car-like driver characteristics.” The Environmental Protection Agency calls it a station wagon, and millennials say it’s a hatchback. The badge says it’s a TourX. I call it gorgeous.

The long-awaited stunner finally brings Detroit onto the premium crossover-wagon catwalk alongside European beauties like the $45,475 Audi Allroad and $52,300 Volvo V90 Cross Country. Not surprisingly, the design comes courtesy of General Motors’ European Opel/Vauxhall sisters that have a knack for sexy wagons (across the pond, the TourX is badged the Insignia Country Tourer). Surprisingly, it debuts here as a Buick, the once-dowdy seniors brand that has transformed from ugly duckling to swan.

SwanX. Yeah, let’s call it that.

It’s not only the most bodacious-looking Buick in a long while, but the $29,995 wagon rivals its expensive European competition in looks while trouncing them in utility. In Americanizing the Insignia for us Yanks, nothing has been lost in translation. Indeed, the crossover effect improves on the Regal Sportback sedan (built alongside the X in Russelsheim, Germany) I reviewed earlier this year. Like mascara on Gal Gadot, the charcoal body-cladding enhances Regal’s naturally attractive features. Fascia makeup helps the eyes — er, headlights — stand out. Fender highlights tone TourX’s long flanks. And then there’s that hatch.

Ohhhh, the hatch. As I photographed the TourX, I kept returning to its profile. It’s like a 150-foot yacht sailing by that you can’t take your eyes off.

More: Station wagons are back – in crossover disguise

The Regal Sportback is pretty, but based on a front-wheel drive platform, its stunted front can’t compete against long-hooded rear-wheel drive models. TourX designers have pulled its rear deck waaaay back to here, so that — despite the same dash-to-axle proportions as Sportback — the wagon looks like it’s resting on its haunches.

For emphasis, a chrome roofline arcs over the narrow greenhouse and doesn’t stop until the taillights. It’s punctuated by chrome tailpipe tips embedded in the rear fascia.

The exquisite tailoring hides acres of interior room.

Kick your foot under the bumper, and the automatic hatch opens, revealing a cavernous, 73.5-cubic-foot cargo hold that beats the Audi, Volvo, and even a three-row Acura MDX ute (68 cubes). I know — I stuffed 25 athletic bags into the back of the Buick — six more than Allroad holds.

This is the wagon that didn’t exist when Mrs. Payne and I were shopping to replace our Ford Taurus wagon in 2008. Taurus was kaput, as were most mid-size wagons amidst a rush to utes. Sporty luxury-wagons were all that was left — and their price tags were too big, their confines too small for our family of four.

Reluctantly, we crossed over to crossovers and the first Chrysler Pacifica, a lovely (if reliability challenged) SUV. I can’t say I was ever tempted to carve a corner in the higher-riding Pacifica.

Call us wagon orphans.

Buick is targeting orphans who bought an Acura TSX sport wagon or Cadillac CTS wagon or Saab 9-5 wagon a decade ago and now find … hey, where’d everybody go? Buick to the rescue.

Buick’s savvy product-marketing has already rescued its nearly forgotten brand. Saved in GM’s bankruptcy by the Chinese market, Buick has radically transformed its portfolio here by thinking outside the box. Near-death experiences will do that for you.

The Enclave was one of the first three-row SUVs. It was followed by the pioneering Encore cute-ute. The Encore filled the “white space” in a market where emptynesters were downsizing from, well, Enclaves, yet didn’t want to go back to sedans. Especially Buick sedans with “has-been” stamped on their foreheads.

Buick thinks it’s found that white space with the TourX. While young families will still gravitate to Buick’s utes, X marks the spot for orphans, emptynesters and outdoors people who value handling and style.

I tested the TourX in that outdoor mecca, Sedona, Arizona. There’s not a lot of white space here. Surrounded by towering pillars of red rock, the Arizona town is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. My red TourX fit right in.

True off-roaders will opt for Jeep Wranglers in this rugged environment, but with its sophisticated all-wheel drive system, low roof (the better for wee Mrs. Payne to fetch things from) and cavernous cargo-hold, the TourX will appeal to many.

The same applies in Michigan winters. Other than riding high, all-wheel drive has been a primary attraction for SUVs in grisly weather. All-wheel drive comes standard on TourX, along with a host of other goodies like roof rails, 18-inch wheels and cruise control.

I pounded across Arizona Route 152 — looking up at red rock skyscrapers through the X’s full-length sunroof — turning the traction control off for all-wheel drifts through switchbacks. At 3,708 pounds, the TourX is less than 100 pounds heavier and less than an inch higher than the Regal Sportback. For all its crossover cladding, its handling says sedan. I tried taking it farther off-road, but this is no Subaru Outback or Volvo Cross Country — both of which have been jacked to more ute-like heights. Stick to dirt, not rocks.

Lighter than the Audi All Road by 100 pounds, the TourX is nicely motivated by GM’s workhorse, 2.0-liter turbo-4 mated to a smooth, 8-speed box. A healthy 295 pound-feet of torque — 20 more than the Audi — comes in early (the Buick only revs to 6,500 rpms) like you want for a cargo-hauler.

Determined to compete with its higher-priced peers, Buick’s engineers labored to make the TourX whisper-quiet. “We’re doing 100 miles per hour?” exclaimed a colleague as I mashed the throttle on Interstate 17. The quiet interior never betrayed the higher speed.

Buick’s cheaper sticker-price is evident only when you’re inside the cabin.

The layout is nice but uninspired. The monotone black dash of my loaded, $41,550 tester lacked the personality of the exterior. The spacious console has but one USB port. Visors lack extenders for the long side windows exposed to the sun. The TourX doesn’t have GM’s innovative heads-up display, despite similar features that are included on cheaper, mainstream models like Honda’s Accord. Even GM’s progressive connectivity was slow here with Android Auto slow to engage.

Having built an architectural masterpiece, Buick seems to want to see if the house sells before fully decorating all the rooms. But a showpiece it is. Like a Frank Lloyd Wright home with poorly lit hallways, its missteps can be fixed retroactively.

Buick has crafted a flowing sculpture with easy roof access and endless, quiet living space. Welcome home, orphans.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Buick Regal TourX

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger station wagon

Price: $29,995 ($41,550 as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 250 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph (NA)

Weight: 3,708 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway/24 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: Cure for the common crossover; room everywhere

Lows: Interior not as inspired as exterior; visor extenders, please

Overall:★★★★

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