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Exclusive: GM sprung testing Buick GL6 in Australia

So smooth: A camouflaged engineering mule for the soon-to-be-unveiled Buick GL6 has been spied in Victoria ahead of the MPV’s release in China.

China-bound Buick GL6 MPV spied getting suspension tuning from Holden engineers

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Buick logo11 Apr 2017

By JUSTIN HILLIARD

GENERAL Motors engineers have been spotted by GoAuto putting what appears to be the China-only Buick GL6 through its paces in Dandenong, Victoria, ahead of the mid-size people-mover’s expected public debut in concept form at the Shanghai motor show next week.

Despite heavy camouflage, a classic two-box design can be seen, which is consistent with a low-riding people-mover, complete with seating for seven over three rows.

Travelling along the Dandenong Bypass from Westall Road in Melbourne’s south-east, the left-hand-drive development mule was occupied by a driver and at least two others.

The most likely scenario is that the vehicle has been receiving Holden engineering input into suspension tuning, and was conducting an on-road evaluation by representatives of GM China.

GL6 mules have also been spotted testing in China, where the vehicle is likely to be launched inside the next 12 months as a smaller sibling to the successful Buick GL8 large people-mover.

Overseas spy shots are consistent with those taken locally, with both featuring a tell-tale angular glass section forward of the A-pillar and particular side mirror placement, as well as the same alloy wheel design.

The A-pillar design is also a hint that the GL6 is likely based on Opel’s Zafira, which has an identical arrangement.

A ‘GL6 Buick’ trademark has already been registered with the Chinese authorities in preparation for the new model’s imminent reveal.

GM Holden product communications manager Mark Flintoft told GoAuto he was unaware of any current testing by Holden engineers for overseas-only models.

“I do not know of anything that should be going around other than next-gen Commodores at the moment,” he said.

However, Mr Flintoft reaffirmed that Holden helps evaluate engineering vehicles for their suspension tune, powertrain calibration, chassis adjustment and emissions levels.

Last year, the top-selling people-mover in China was the Wuling Hong Guang – a home-brand product of the GM-SAIC Motor joint venture – which recorded 650,018 sales, proving more popular than the best-selling sedan, the fleet-centric Volkswagen Lavida (478,699).

China is clearly a huge market for people-movers, and is also Buick’s largest single market with a record 88,519 units sold there last month.

Its line-up of people-movers will expand beyond the current large-size GL8, which was upgraded in November last year.

Introduced in 2000, the GL8 is also a by-product of the GM-SAIC Motor joint venture, and is one of Buick’s best-selling models. Sales to the end of March are up 93 per cent over the same period last year, thanks to a strong relationship with the taxi industry.

A corporate favourite that owes much to a generous 5203mm in overall length and 3088mm wheelbase, the luxurious seven-seat GL8 has yet to gather momentum with family buyers in China’s increasingly popular multi-purpose vehicle segment.

Hence, the way has been paved for the GL6 to arrive as a smaller and more practical offering for Chinese customers – especially with the recent changes to the national One Child policy allowing for larger families.

Nevertheless, the new mid-size MPV – which will be built in China – stands to figure prominently in business markets like its big brother, despite its apparent focus on private consumers.

Like several other Buick models which borrow heavily from GM/Opel products, the GL6 is almost certain to share its underpinnings with the third-generation Zafira that was released in Europe in November 2011 before being facelifted in September last year.

As part of its recent upgrade, the Zafira received revised styling – including an Astra-inspired front-end design – as well as a longer list of safety technologies, and a redesigned cockpit with an updated infotainment system.

Badged in Australia as the Opel Zafira Tourer, it was briefly sold between December 2013 and August 2014, with 48 examples finding homes before the European brand left the market citing lower-than-expected sales.

Expected to largely mirror the new Zafira’s looks, the GL6 will likely receive signature Buick treatment for its grille and badging throughout.

Assuming the GL6 mimics the Zafira’s measurements – 4656mm long, 1884mm wide, 1685mm tall and sitting on a 2760mm wheelbase – it would be placed firmly in China’s mid-size MPV segment.

Reports out of China suggest that Buick will eschew the European model’s two new powerplants for one of its own – a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder matched with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

The main domestic rival for the latest Buick will be Volkswagen’s Touran L – the result of a joint venture between the German car-maker and SAIC, the same Chinese partner that is co-developing the GL6 and previously assisted with the GL8.

A reveal of the GL6 in concept form is slated for the Shanghai auto show which opens on April 19, with more details on the forthcoming MPV to be released at the event.

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