What If Buick Built a Camaro?

The first surprise Detroit Auto Show debut is a twin-turbo, rear-drive coupe. And it comes from the least likely of sources.

For General Motors, the Cadillac CTS chassis is the gift that keeps giving. That’s never been clearer than this year’s North American International Auto Show, where the Buick Avista has been unveiled. The surprise concept offers intriguing possibilities: A luxury coupe with more than a hint of Jaguar in its sparkling mesh grille and swept, haunch-y styling, riding on that brilliant CTS platform that just spawned the best Chevy Camaro in history.

The rear-drive Avista is powered by GM’s new 400 horsepower, 3-liter twin-turbo V-6 and mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The interior features a sweeping ribbon of a touch screen, with smart details including 3D printing on metal armrests and arty perforations on white leather seats. Buick designers said the Avista’s clean, mod cabin will inform the company’s future showroom cars.

In Detroit’s once downtrodden (but now revitalizing) Eastern Market, Buick built what looked like an industrial nightclub from scratch, all scaffolds and metallic skin and I-beams. On stage, beneath a 360-degree projection display that recalled a supersized salad bowl, Holt Ware, Buick’s exterior design director, said the Avista could be a dynamic addition to the lineup—if GM decides to greenlight production.

“We asked ourselves what a $150,000 Buick would look like, but in a car that we would still make affordable,” Ware said of the Avista, whose liquid blue show paint required 10 base coats applied over 14 hours.

“If the guys in the paint shop like your car, you know you’re good,” Ware said of the Avista. “I kept calling it Petroleum Blue because it looks like crude oil.”

As a potential counterpoint to muscular GM coupes like the Camaro, the Avista would be more silky and luxurious, more family-and-friends oriented.

Still, Ware said with a wink, “This is probably the most selfish of the current Buicks.”

Buick also showed its all-new 2016 Cascada convertible, 2016 LaCrosse sedan and the United Auto Workers favorite car: The made-in-China Envision SUV, which comes to America this summer following its smash success in China, where Buick sold nearly 150,000 examples in 2015.

Onstage with the Avista, General Motors President Dan Ammann agreed that Buick continues to fly under the American radar, despite successes that include the Encore, the surprise No. 1 seller in the booming subcompact crossover class.

“Buick is definitely the quiet achiever at the moment,” Ammon said of the brand that’s second only to Chevrolet in global GM sales.  Buick moved 1.25 million cars last year, but well over 900,000 of those went to Chinese buyers. Buick will look to address that skewed situation with its first-ever Super Bowl ad in coming weeks, set to air before halftime.

One question hung in the frigid Motown air: Will GM actually build what looks like another strongly received Buick concept, or will the Avista end up on the cutting room floor like the Avensis, the lovely flagship sedan concept that ranked among the biggest hits at the 2015 Detroit show? Ware’s strategy to win over potential buyers—and his bosses—was clear.

“We have these dreams and we want to bring them to production,” Ware said. “The best way to do that is to make a car so beautiful that you can’t resist it.”