There used to be a word for cars that were a bit nicer than a Buick. That word was “Cadillac.”
This year, though, Buick is launching a new sub-brand, Avenir, that represents a higher rung up the luxury ladder than regular ol’ Buicks.
It’s an interesting strategy, one that parent company General Motors has used elsewhere in its portfolio, the most successful example of which is the upmarket Denali trim that has grown into a popular and lucrative part of GMC’s truck and SUV strategy.
Before we discuss auto sales gameplay, though, let’s look into the first Avenir I’ve driven, the latest iteration of the Buick Enclave.
The Enclave has long been one of my favorites because it drives exactly like a mid-size crossover should, at least in my mind. My persnickety side gets annoyed with CUVs that try to be sporty or pretend to be performance oriented, popular as they may be in the marketplace.
I want a crossover that’s smooth and comfy riding for highway trips with my family, and I want a separate sports car sitting beside it in my garage. Those are two distinct roles that don’t have any business being mixed.
The Enclave understands that. From the beginning, it’s been one of the most pleasant vehicles for quiet, relaxing driving, and the all-new version for 2018 continues in that vein.
Style wise, it looks like it went on a strict diet. It has a sleeker roofline now, giving the vehicle a more trim, fit appearance overall. And that’s deceiving, because this new generation has around 10 percent more interior volume than before, including storage spaces hidden under the floor for extra road-trip bliss.
What I like even more is how it cranks up the serenity.
New this year, electronic noise cancellation combines with outstanding sound insulation and attention to detail — something Buick calls QuietTuning in its marketing speak — to make the Enclave astoundingly silent over the road. It comes close to matching the surreal feeling you get in pricey, full-size luxury cars from Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.
The base Enclave is priced under $40,000, while the fancy Avenir version starts at $53,500.
For that extra money, the Avenir offers more premium content such as wireless device charging, a built-in navigation system and a huge dual moonroof.
More importantly, the materials and design in the cabin go a step beyond anything I’ve seen from Buick before. It has a real mahogany wood steering wheel, beautifully stitched leather and carefully coordinated colors that make it feel like an oh-so-trendy fashion accessory.
A unique, eye-catching Avenir grille, gorgeous 20-inch wheels and exclusive badges dress up the exterior.
Back to Buick’s strategy, though.
As nice as this upscale Enclave is to drive, I’m skeptical about whether it’s going to end up a Denali-like sales hit. To me, one of the biggest selling points of driving a Buick — and the Enclave in particular — is its sumptuous driving experience without the higher price or snobbishness of a full-blown luxury brand like Cadillac, Lexus or Mercedes.
Buick does a great job of low-key luxury. I love that.
Add in all the showy bling, though, plus a considerably higher price — close to $60,000 for my heavily optioned Avenir tester — and there’s nothing low-key about it anymore. It’s suddenly all about flash, and a battle over flamboyance isn’t one I’d expect a Buick to win. Those buyers should politely be directed to the Cadillac lot.
For traditional Buick fans who want a bit more luxury, though, this new Avenir sub-brand could be a perfect fit.