The first incarnation of the Buick GL8 appeared in 2000 and quickly became the car of choice for many business users across China, the level of comfort was far beyond what anyone else was offering at the time and the prices were reasonable. Fast forward eleven years to 2011, is the GL8 still what it once was?
GM loaned us a relatively new (only 7500km on the clock) top specification 3.0L Buick GL8 for a few days last week, weâ€™ve wanted to test drive one for quite some time but they didnâ€™t have any available for media test drives, however GM Chinaâ€™s new PR Director Dayna Hart stepped up and passed the keys to her own GL8 over for a few days. This particular model has every option box ticked and prices in at 400,000rmb ($62,000USD). Apparently when GM executives visit China from elsewhere in the GM empire they continually express their regret that the GL8 is not available in their own country or territories, it is understandable really – what else in the GM portfolio comes close to the GL8?
The old GL8 stole hearts and minds in a way that no other American vehicle has been able to do in the Chinese business market, the Buick GL8 is America on wheels, it’s big, its imposing, it’s luxurious, it’s ready to roll with up to seven executives. Of course it has its rivals, Mercedes has the Sprinter, JAC has made low cost rivals, Chrysler made the Dodge Caravan in China, but the GL8 still remains king of the roads even though competition is massing in the corners. The GL8 first aired in 2000 but has been given a major makeover for 2011, the latest generation still uses that same platform for 2011 with some upgrades being made and of course being stretched to allow for the extra weight the GL8 has gained. Inside and outside the GL8 has been given an impressive makeover, the external design is a little like Marmite, you will either hate it or love it depending on your point of view but the interior has been lovingly crafted and is easily outshines anything else in the MPV market. The only gripe is that some of the dashboard and door plastics are a little on the hard side, but letâ€™s face the facts â€“ this is a van with seats, itâ€™s going to get abused over its working life so hard plastic are in, soft leather on hard contact places is out.
The new GL8 measures in at 5.2m long, 1.8m wide and 1.8m tall, it has a wheelbase of just over 3 meters â€“ I am not ashamed to say that despite the GL8 boasting reversing sensors and a reversing camera, I did burst out in to a major sweat when attempting to reverse the GL8 into a tight parking spot in a shopping mall last week, (although mostly due to the fact that it belongs to the Big Boss and Iâ€™d be in a lot of trouble if it came back with so much as a ding). The GL8 is seriously big, basically you leave your office at 5pm and get back into your office and drive it home, and seeing as Shanghai office space is ridiculously expensive in the downtown area the GL8 is probably bigger than my office too.
Under the hood GMâ€™s revised 3.0L V6 grumbles to let you know itâ€™s got 258bhp and is ready to roll, elsewhere in the range a 2.4L SIDI 4 cylinder engine is available, but with only 167bhp available and 225Nm of torque on tap one has to wonder about its effectiveness in pulling the 1840kg MPV. The V6 seems to be quite effective at taking the MPV to 100kph, but this is no drag racer, it will do 0-100kph in its own sweet time, when pushing the accelerator down a little to tap a little bit more power out the engine youâ€™re met with a very obvious reply of â€˜So you wanna go faster?â€™ eventually, the gearbox does change, but only under duress. Letâ€™s reiterate though, the GL8 is about comfort and not speed, that being said the GL8 cruises comfortably at 120kph and will happily go above and beyond the call of duty if required of it. When the engine is doing its thing at 120kph, you have to double check with the speedo that you are actually pushing faster than 100kph as the interior is eerily quiet, you could take phone calls whilst driving and nobody would have a clue where you are, it’s a soundproof safe room from which to make business calls.
It is a little pointless talking about how the GL8 drives to be honest, as the majority of people that buy them will hardly, if ever, take to the wheel themselves. The GL8 was born to be enjoyed from the passenger seat, whilst letting the hired hand drive the Buick from meeting to meeting, letâ€™s just cop out and say that the GL8â€™s steering is light to the touch and the high seating position gives you an excellent view of the road in front â€“ and seemingly ten kilometers ahead. The only minor issue I found was the centre console had too many buttons, although I imagine that once youâ€™ve been behind the wheel for a while you will be able to hit them without so much as looking. The GL8 comes equipped with OnStar for route finding abilities and also its own GPS navigation system which can be used independently of the OnStar system, interestingly the GPS comes in English as well as Chinese and has decent Pinyin input to find the places you want to visit this shows that GM has done its homework and knows that international executive will be buying the GL8 as well as local companies.
The rear of the GL8 is where the action is, sliding electric doors allow for easy access to the back side of the GL8. The second row of seats are just as comfortable as the first row with independent arm rests either side of the seat, the third row is surprisingly comfortable, usually third row seats are designed with dwarfs or children in mind but the GL8â€™s third row can accommodate two (or three at a push) adults with leaving enough trunk space for a suitcase or two. Â Although other MPVâ€™s have fold forward seats to allow for better access to the third row, the GL8â€™s are not movable and the only way to the rear is to crouch your way through the middle of the second row seats, not ideal, but it works. On the top specification models you can find a DVD player for entertainment purposes on the roof which slides down with a press, a TV remote are located in the rear right next to a regular plug socket so you can plug in whilst you travel, perfect for executives, and also my son who wanted to watch Sponge Bob Square Pants on the way to pick up groceries last Saturday morning.
So overall the GL8 is pretty much the perfect business use MPV, the only downside is the 3.0L V6â€™s miserable fuel consumption. The Chinese government says it should get an average of 10.9 in mixed urban and motorway driving. Driving the 100km from Shanghai to Suzhou the GL8 seemed to get around 18.5L to 100km according to my own calculations which was mostly highway driving and sticking to the 110kph speed limit. Feeling incensed at the possible damage I was doing to Polar ice caps and with pictures of drowning polar bears in my mind I was determined to utterly baby the accelerator and see how low I could go, the end result was something in the 14L per 100km range which is not bad for urban driving of a nearly 2000kg vehicle, but ultimately you will probably shoot up the Christmas card lists at Sinopec over the course of GL8 ownership.
My father in law is a retired product of the governmental machine, heâ€™s spent more than a few years riding in the back of the old GL8 as he was busy Servicing the People as a mid level Mandarin in local government, so I was obviously eager to find out what he thought of the new GL8. He isnâ€™t a man of many words but he did say that the luxury level had been increased a great deal and the view from the driving seat is vastly improved.
The only way GM could improve the GL8 would be to dump the 3.0L V6 and bring in the 2.0T SIDI engine that is used in the Cadillac SLS, that direct injection turbo unit has better power output on paper and lower fuel consumption than the V6 unit, perhaps it will make an appearance further down the line. Â To answer the eternal question, â€œWhy isnâ€™t this available in the USA?â€ we still have no idea, we pressed GMâ€™s PR dept on the issue but no clear answer is forthcoming, although GM did say they are monitoring the situation closely and will plan accordingly, so maybe one day.