Roughly a decade ago, General Motors decided to aim Buick squarely at Acura in the near-premium space. This had the benefit of largely washing away Buick’s Bingo and backgammon image and banishing the joke that Buick was an acronym for “Butt-Ugly Imitation Chrome King,” but it also left Buick with a fairly anonymous lineup. The Regal sedan and Cascada cabriolet were neat, but they were really just re-packaged Opels. After GM shipped Opel off to go live with Peugeot, Buick was left with a lineup of largely mediocre crossovers. There’s the small and spiteful Encore, the more upscale Encore GX which is the only subcompact crossover capable of sending its occupants to the Shadow Realm, the whale-sized Enclave, and the midsize Buick Envision. Envision what, a world where Buick makes better cars?
Thankfully, at least someone at GM envisions just that. On Wednesday, Buick dropped the Wildcat concept, a styling exercise that’s so 2008 in all the best ways. See, back when Lehman Brothers was losing its shirt, Bloghaus was popping off a genre of remixes, with bedroom production and shameless sampling bubbling up from the underground. In a similar fashion, the new Wildcat concept takes a bit of this, a bit of that, merges them with a sharp line or two, and creates a reasonably interesting vision of the future. Mind you, it wouldn’t be the first Wildcat to do so.
While Wildcat used to denote a full-size Buick with plenty of power, it was first used on a series of concept cars. The first, Wildcat I, was a large, low-slung roadster with a grille that set the precedent for the 1955 Buick. While Wildcat I looked futuristic for 1953, Wildcat II was far more radical.
A weird mashup of jet-age sleekness and pre-war stodginess, Wildcat II (pictured above) looked like a cross between a Corvette and a hammerhead shark.
Wildcat III dialed things back a bit and ended up looking just right. Harley Earl melded his “longer, lower, wider” mantra with scooped-out arches and a wild wrap-around windscreen to create on hell of a four-seat roadster. So what did Buick’s stylists do with the new Wildcat concept? They went longer, lower and wider, of course.
The result is a four-seat coupe in classic form, but there’s no big V8 under the hood. This Wildcat is said to be all-electric. Truthfully, it could be functional or it could be a rolling model. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is the styling, as there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on. Let’s start with the silhouette, long hood, short greenhouse, and a kammtail. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure the design is cohesive, but the details are so exquisite that I’m not sure how much cohesion matters.
Up front, those slim headlights feature diffused lenses for an unusually soft look. It’s definitely not a touch we’ll see on a production car anytime soon, but it’s interesting. The proud leading edge of the front bumper and angular strakes on the edges of the grille remind me a lot of the McLaren 570S. The little wings off of the headlights certainly don’t help shake that notion. Mind you, any notes of McLaren might get lost in the massive billet front grille. It’s very MTV Cribs, but in a good way. The strong horizontal slats emphasize visual width, a great attribute in any coupe.
The rear end of the Wildcat almost seems influenced by the Volvo C30 — deep glass, vertical tail lights, massive haunches, rounded rear bumper. Hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. What Buick’s done differently is lay the rear glass down farther and pop a vertical vent below each tail light. However, that laid-back rear glass poses a problem. With such a sloping roofline, you’re going to bonk your head on the roof rail. Thankfully, Buick’s thought of this by using hinges in an unhinged manner. A section of the roof above each door opens upward for ease of entry and egress, an insanely complicated solution to a probably likely best solved with vertically-opening doors hinged mid-roof. Hey, something that isn’t derivative for once! While we’re at it, check out those crazy turbine-style wheels. They’re so much more complex than say, the turbine-style wheels on a Mercedes-Maybach S 580. Good stuff.
Speaking of good stuff, check out this interior. From the floating dashboard to the ornate metal detailing, there’s a lot of cool sculpting and material use going on here. Gander at those seats; they’re like modernized Eames chairs with headrests. Far out. Arguably the most striking interior component, the massive in-dash screen, seems entirely feasible for mass production given the enormous display in the Cadillac Lyriq. That being said, there’s a lot of stuff in here that I hope to never see in an American-market production car. Digital side-view mirrors are cool, but digital mirrors simply don’t work. Any digital mirror requires the driver to refocus their eyes, and is often more distracting than useful. Also, that metallic-rimmed steering wheel must get awfully hot in the sunlight. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of getting branded by my car.
While Buick whipped up the Wildcat as a design study, it does offer an inkling hope for the future of the brand. Even if nobody will likely be able to buy one, certain styling elements should work their way into production models as Buick works towards an all-electric portfolio by the end of the decade. According to a press release issued on Wednesday, the first electric Buick should come in 2024 bearing the iconic Electra branding. Buick’s been in the doldrums for a long, long time, but it seems like we might finally be seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.
Then again, we also thought this in 2016 when Buick rolled out the Avista. It was also a really interestingly-styled 2+2 coupe that never made it to production. Instead, we got stuff like the Encore GX. The more things change…
Lead photo credit: Buick