How’s this for unexpected news? After taking a dirt nap for several years, the Buick Century nameplate is back, and it sounds way better than the midsize W-body car that last bore the Century name. It’s a minivan and it’s most excellent.
In case you’re not familiar with the most recent Buick Century sold in America, allow me to refresh your memory. Sold between 1997 and 2005 as a cheaper counterpart to the Regal, the last Century was beloved by old people for its comfort and by people who eventually bought them off old people due to its sturdy nature. Today, you can find them either in pristine shape having only been driven to church on Sunday or, like the one below, piloted haphazardly on a donut spare with rust-addled sills that checked out sometime during the Obama administration. Despite decrepit appearances, those hooptie Centuries will run forever, or at least until the intake manifold gasket blows, leading to overheating and potentially terminal engine damage.
So why revive the nameplate now? Well, Electra is set to be the name for Buick’s electric lineup, Park Avenue was last used on a variant of the Holden Caprice as recently as ten years ago, and LeSabre doesn’t have much nostalgic value in China. Thankfully, the reborn Century isn’t a crossover, although its lineage can be linked to crossovers of sorts. The new model falls in Buick’s lineup of GL8 minivans, and earlier GL8s were based on GM’s GMT210 platform, conveniently shared with the infamous Crossover Sport Vans of the 2000s.
Granted, the Century and a Chevrolet Uplander seem to share as much in common as postcards do with coffee table books. Sure, they’re both vans, but the Century is extraordinarily fancy. Forget the VHS setup that came in a Venture Warner Bros. Edition, the Century brings an entire cinema to the rear seat with a massive available 32-inch rear seat entertainment screen that whirrs down into a partition should occupants actually wish to see the driver. Speaking of limo-spec stuff, a Rolls-Royce-esque illuminated headliner is also on offer, as is a 13-liter refrigerator for keeping Capri Sun chilled to perfection.
Those aforementioned really fancy bits are only available with the four-seat layout, but two of those four seats are extremely impressive. The rear two can lay out 160 degrees with 18 ways of power adjustment, five-zone heating including neck supports and footrests, and 18-point massage programs. Think of the whole package as a less-conspicuous alternative to a Maybach and you’re getting close to the heart of the Century.
Granted, you wouldn’t need to pop for the ultra-posh four-seat Grey Poupon version to enjoy luxurious rear seats. Even with three rows on deck, the middle row in the Avenir trim consists of heated, ventilated, and massaging captain’s chairs. Oh, the benefits of having the room to package complex yet lovely-sounding seats.
Plenty of luxury normally comes with plenty of power, but that’s not exactly the case with the Century. Motivation comes from GM’s familiar two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a 9T50 nine-speed automatic gearbox. It’s similar to the setup you’d find in a Cadillac XT4 or XT5, and should be perfectly adequate, if not exactly effortless. At 205.9 inches long and 78 inches wide, the Century is one big vehicle, and GM’s two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine already feels labored in a smaller Cadillac XT5.
As for outward appearances, the Century plays firmly by the new Buick styling playbook. There’s no traditional grille between the headlights as such, just a massive trapezoidal lower grille that extends roughly to the peak of the crease around each front wheel arch. It’s a little bit Lexus, but distinctive enough to not feel terribly derivative. Granted, the headlights do play a huge role in shaping the character of the front end. They’re massive L-bracket-shaped units that incorporate 90 LEDs each, which certainly doesn’t sound cheap. Also up front, Buick’s new emblem that looks like three nail clippers laid out side-by-side. Feel free to form your own conclusions on that logo, but I sincerely ask brands to stop with minimalism for the sake of minimalism.
In addition, there’s some unusual surfacing going on. The doors feature massive compound curves like a Mazda 3, using subtle surfacing rather than hard creases to break up the doors. In theory, a huge parallelogram-shaped area stays in shadow while light falls on the fenders and part of the lower door. I’d be curious to see how this works in the real world when lighting may not be as controlled and reflections are picked up in the paint rather than neutralized by a polarized filter. Oh, and the greenhouse is properly strange, with the lower edge swooping up as it goes back the sliding door then violently cutting back down at the pillar. While an interesting styling element and possibly a necessary compromise to make the rear windows roll down properly, I can’t help but wonder what effect it has on second-row outward visibility.
In addition to the perks of incredible opulence and a practical form factor, the GL8 Century is cheaper than you might expect. Pricing for the six-seat Avenir models starts at ¥529,900, or about $74,546 at the time of writing, while the four-seat Avenir version starts at ¥609,900, or about $85,800. Step up to the top-spec Flagship variant (yes, it’s actually called that), and you’re looking at a price tag of ¥689,900, or around $97,055. Any way you slice it, that’s a lot cheaper than a top-trim Cadillac Escalade. Sadly, this one isn’t coming to America. The GL8 Century will remain a China-only proposition, a bit of a shame considering how popular poshed-up Mercedes-Benz Sprinters are with the rich and famous.
All photos courtesy of Buick