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Buick is Back

The Buick Regal is a name most people remember but the 2011 Buick Regal is new in more than one way. Don’t be afraid of first year bugs this Buick is sold in Europe as the Opel and received the 2010 European Car of the Year award.

The Regal is classified as a midsize sedan but is smaller and more tautly sculpted than previous models. Buick began with their signature grinning grille, and a tautly muscular shape received many positive responses. Given the competition Buick is truly raising the bar in its class.

Specs



The Regal begins with a 2.4 liter inline 182 hp and features direct-injection and variable valve timing. The high-performance option is a turbo 2.0 liter with 220 hp and impressive 258 pound feet from just 2,000 rpm. These four bangers derive from GM’s Ecotec family, but are much smoother and more genteel than their predecessors.
GM estimates that the 2.4 liter engine will achieve 30 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg on the Turbo. Both engines shift through six speed automatic transmissions with manual-override capability, but these are two different units-one a Hydra-matic the other an Aisin-and the gear ratios vary quite a bit to take advantage of the turbo motor’s wide torques spread. A six-speed manual transmission is promised sometime in the future for use with the turbo.

With a wheelbase of 107.8 inches, an overall length of 190.3 inches, a height of 58.4 inches and an overall width of 73.1 inches, the Regal is smaller in every dimension than the Buick LaCrosse. It also provides four fewer inches of rear legroom than the LaCrosse, at 37.3 inches, although chief engineer Jim Federico points out that that's three more inches than rear passengers will find in an Acura TSX.

Designed to meet new federal crash-test standards for 2012, the Regal's body shell claims to offer a 25 percent improvement in torsional bending resistance compared with the outgoing model. According to Federico, the amount of high-strength steel in the structure is considerable, and was limited mainly by weld incompatibilities between it and conventional steels. At around 3600 pounds, the Regal isn't exactly svelte, but a projected five –star rating both major federal crash-test categories suggests that it is strong.

The Regal's suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front with aluminum lower control arms and an aluminum four-link setup in the rear, both ends equipped with direct-acting, tubular antiroll bars. An electronic adaptive-damping shock system called the Interactive Drive Control System (IDCS)—which features three push-button selectable programs: normal, tour and sport—is available for the turbo model.

The ride firmness—as well as the amount of body-motion control imparted by the shock—changes depending on which IDCS program the driver chooses. Selecting Sport Mode also alters the degree of steering assistance and the response of the Buick's Stabilitrak handling system, reducing the level of electronic intervention and raising the threshold before it steps in. These values can be adjusted independently through the car's info screen.

Steering mechanisms differ between the base and turbo models. The standard car gets a conventional hydraulic steering assist, while the turbo enjoys a variable-level system that backs off as the speed increases to provide a firmer steering feel.

The Drive

You can see how hard GM is trying the instant you get behind the wheel. The layout is tidy, and could be from any one of several European manufacturers. Flowing organic shapes and soft-touch moldings surround you, and the instruments are big, unambiguous dials with a clear information panel between them.

The seats—though nicely upholstered and softer than what you'd find in an Audi—prove comfortable, if not completely supportive, for spirited driving. And it's great to find the same degree of power adjustability on the passenger's seat as on the driver's.

Beginning our 200-mile test loop at moderate speeds, the Regal impressed us with its quietness, poise and steering accuracy. We'd later discover that moderate speeds are the car's sweet spot, and that some of Buick's usual priorities with ride quality and seat-bolster softness disqualify the Regal from consideration as a serious sport sedan; certainly with the base engine and the stock suspension. There's nothing wrong, per se, with the vehicle's suspension geometries or solidity, but the loosely valved rear shocks are prone to pitching on rebound, and it's a tad soft in roll.

We expected more from the Turbo model. Its optional adaptive damping package was better, for sure, displaying more tautly controlled ride motions and less pitch and roll. But the car doesn't quite lend the same corner-entry reassurance you'd find in a Volkswagen Passat or Acura TSX (some of which might come down to the all-season tires on both models, though each wears different brands).

Although it's not far off, steering isn't entirely in tune with the driver during brisk driving; the car initiates turn-in with a bit more roll than swerve. But Buick's engineers haven't quite signed off on the steering or chassis calibrations, so it could all tighten up before the car appears in showrooms. Also, the degree to which the Regal falls short of the sport sedan mantle is slight, and may not matter to its likely U.S. customers.

To be sure, there's a lot it does well. The engines—the turbo in particular—are surprisingly good, and even the 2.4-liter unit pulls willingly without sounding distressed. The transmissions shift almost seamlessly. The structure's solidity is undeniable, and quiet from both the drive-train and chassis sides of the equation. Seat comfort is good, and rear-seat room is adequate for anyone under 6 feet tall.

Quality has clearly improved in the new Regal. The interior is a nice place to be, replete with controls that are pleasing to look at and touch. From the outside, the car is stylish and crisp, with an athletic stance and wheel sizes (18-inch wheels are standard;19s are optional). For the way most people drive, Buick's ride and handling strikes an ideal compromise.

The Bottom Line

Built in Russelsheim, Germany, the first Regals (all in top-spec CXL trim) will arrive in U.S. showrooms this summer. North American assembly in Canada's Oshawa plant will commence in the first quarter of 2011. The normally aspirated CXL is priced at $26,995 (including a $750 destination charge), while the turbo model stickers at $29,495. Although both the turbo and non-turbo CXL prices undercut the Acura TSX and Volvo S60 that Buick cites as likely competition, Volkswagen's Passat ($27,945) offers a 200-hp turbo as standard equipment. But for buyers who prefer an American brand on their German cars, the Regal lives up to its name.

 

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