WELL-MANNERED AND WELL-TAILORED
The Regal nameplate returns to the Buick lineup for the 2011 model year. The original Regal made its debut in 1973 as a personal luxury coupe and bore the distinction of being the first mid-sized Buick to feature a stand-up hood ornament, opera windows, and plush velour seats. The newest iteration of Regal leaves those disco ball memories behind, appearing instead as a front wheel drive mid-sized sedan based on the latest Epsilon platform. Adapted from the Opel Insignia, the Regal is already on sale in China and will enter the North American market this quarter. Initial production for the U.S. market began in Germany and will move to Oshawa for the 2012 model year. Buick is taking a page from the Lexus playbook with two different mid-size sedans in its lineup. At 190 inches overall length, the new Regal is shorter than the La Crosse, has totally unique styling, and will be marketed as a sports sedan.
There are two different powertrains for the new Regal. The base CXL sedan offers a 2.4 litre Ecotec four-cylinder engine that develops 182 horsepower and 172 lb/ft of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed transmission with manual shift control and offers EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. The Turbo version, due later this year, will feature a 2.0 litre turbocharged four that develops 220 hp with 258 lb.ft of torque, and is fitted with a specially selected six-speed Aisin automatic transmission. The Aisin also features manual shift control, and a six-speed manual transmission will become available on the Turbo later this year, for those of you who are fond of grabbing the stick.
The exterior styling is clean and contemporary, with smooth flowing lines and a well-tailored look. 18-inch wheels are standard, with optional 19s for the turbo. Both wheels look like something from the Jaguar XF brochure: it wasn’t the only time I saw the XF in the Regal and it’s not an unflattering observation. I see a lot of Jaguar in the side cove line, rear roofline and rear door styling as well. Up front, Buick’s trademark waterfall grille takes center stage, but the overall effect remains clean, contemporary, and quite European.
The interior is nicely tailored as well — the standard leather seats are supportive and highly adjustable — the test vehicles had power lumbar, and felt very much like the seats in a Saab 9-3. Dash was well laid out and featured an integrated color navigation system ($1995). I found the display a bit small, but it was quite easy to use — I even managed to engage route guidance on the fly. The quality of interior materials seemed quite good, and much more akin to the Cadillac CTS than the Saturn Aura incarnations of the Epsilon we have driven in the past. Harmon-Kardon audio was a step up from traditional Delco sounds, the door panels flowed nicely into the dash, woodgrain trim was relatively tasteful, and the overall effect was upmarket and classy. Kudos for the stitching on the dash, the tactile feeling of the controls and even for the Ice Blue instrument lighting — it creates a feeling overall that GM designers have been shopping in nicer stores these days.
I was able to drive both the CXL and Turbo versions on some delicious two-lane winding roads, and my impression is that both are quite well mannered — smooth riding, easy handling with a nice on-center feel, and a well planted rear axle that knows where it belongs — again, road manners were much more Saab-like than Saturn. The 2.4 litre four was impressively smooth and quiet, and although acceleration was adequate, it won’t win any drag races (I had to go there, didn’t I). The Turbo’s drivetrain is much more rewarding, with smart off-the-line acceleration and a much fuller torque curve to make the most of those twisting rural roads. Neither is a dragster (there I go again) but rather a pair of nicely mannered sport sedans that could eat up a lot of pavement quickly. Our Turbo also had the Interactive Drive Control which controls settings for suspension, steering, braking and throttle — and definitely enhanced the sporting personality of the Turbo on our drive. I did have one humorous moment on the drive — stuck behind a ancient F150 gardener’s truck on a two lane stretch of twisty road, I peeked at the speedometer registering 39 mph, turned to the GM exec riding with me, and commented that this was the only part of the day in which I had truly felt like a traditional Buick driver.
Base price for the CXL is $26,995 including destination, the Turbo starts at $29,495, with a full boated Turbo around $33,000. For those looking at a well-tailored and well-mannered mid- size sedan, it definitely earns a spot on the short shopping list. Check this one out — maybe you would really rather have a Buick this year, after all.