2011 Buick Regal: First Drive

The 2011 Regal proves that the new Buick is more than just a pretty face

2011 Buick Regal: First Drive
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Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick? That was the advertising tag line Buick used in the mid ’80s and ’90s and unless you were collecting Social Security, the answer was a resounding, “No.” Buick had the oldest average age of any U.S. manufacturer, and their cars reflected that demographic . . . and younger buyers wanted no part of it.

FAST FACTS

1. At launch, the Regal will be available exclusively with a 2.4L 4-cylinder with 182-hp and 172 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Fuel economy is an impressive 20/30-mpg (city/hwy).

3. Pricing starts at just $26,245.

4. The Regal was built to compete with cars like the Acura TSX, Audi A4 2.0T and Lexus IS250.

5. Soon Buick will release a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder model with 220-hp and 258 ft-lbs of torque.

Despite the advanced average age for the brand, Buick was producing some of the highest rated cars based on customer satisfaction, and quality. In fact, their numbers were right up there with the best of them, like Lexus. But it became a joke that unless you were a blue haired lady, Buick wasn’t for you.

Then Tiger Woods became a spokesman for the brand, and his tie-in with the Buick Open golf tournament started younger buyers (at least those in their 60’s) to begin to consider the product offerings from Buick, especially their SUV models, and some of the newer sedans, like the Buick LaCrosse.

Buick sales began to improve slowly, but they really took off overseas, especially in China. While the old-fogey image in the U.S. was hard to overcome, no such baggage was present in China. Those folks judged the cars on their own merit. And soon wealthy Chinese were driving past Mercedes and BMW showrooms to buy Buicks. Even now, Buick sells more cars in China than in the U.S., but that is likely to change with the huge success of the LaCrosse, and now the newest Buick offering: the 2011 Regal. And the average age of Buick owners has gone from 72 to 61, and it’s getting lower each month.

The Regal is based on the European Opel Insignia, which has been a sales success in Europe for about a year, and it’s based on the same basic platform as the Buick LaCrosse, only the Regal is 8-inches shorter but maintains the same width. While the mission of the LaCrosse is luxury car ride quality, the Regal, with its strut front and rear multi-link suspension is tuned for a sportier feel with more taught handling characteristics. Buick has the Acura TSX, Audi A4, Volvo S60, and Volkswagen Passat in its crosshairs.

BASE 4-CYLINDER LEAVES US WANTING FOR TURBO MODEL

The Regal is powered by a direct injection, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 182 horsepower and 172 ft-lbs of torque. Buick says that zero to 60 times are in the mid-eight second range. Those numbers sound good, but on the road, acceleration seems a bit leisurely in moving the 3,600 lb. Regal from a stop, or when accelerating out of a turn. The reward, however, comes at the gas pump where you can expect to save money with mileage figures at 20-mpg city and 30-mpg highway.

A 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder optional motor will soon be available, which will put a little more excitement in the Regal with 220-hp and 258 ft-lbs of torque. And even with more grunt from the turbo, gas mileage shouldn’t suffer very much. Both engines are mated to a 6-speed manumatic transmission, which shifts smoothly and quietly, and allows the driver to get the most out of the 2.4-liter engine when shifting manually.

TIGHT EUROPEAN CHASSIS COMBINED WITH SOFT-RIDING LONG WHEELBASE

The body structure feels rigid and solid, which aids in a quiet ride and supports the precise suspension tuning. Body roll in tight corners is limited and nicely controlled, and yet on rough road surfaces, the Regal still provides an excellent and well damped ride quality, aided by the generous 107.8-inch wheelbase. The steering is light, precise and offers good feedback.

Aiding in the more dynamic driving experience will be the addition of an Interactive Drive Control System (IDCS), a real-time damping system will also be offered on models equipped with the 2.0L turbo powertrain. That will allow the transmission to automatically adapt to the owners driving style.

WELL DESIGNED AND EQUIPPED, INSIDE AND OUT

General Motors has done a great job in updating and upgrading the interiors of all their vehicles, and the Regal is no exception. Despite it’s European design heritage, the interior will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in the LaCrosse. The dash is nicely laid out, with easy to use and intuitive controls. The center stack, beneath the navigation system of the test car looks busy, but the controls are large, and once acclimated, easy to use. There is plenty of leg and shoulder room for four passengers, although the sloping roofline will cramp rear seat passengers over 6 feet tall.

Exterior styling is sleek, elegant, and handsome, with the familiar Buick “waterfall” front grill flanked by sculpted headlights and fog lights integrated into the lower fascia. The coupe-like silhouette with detailed character lines flowing from the front door to the rear flared wheel wells, and the subtle spoiler integrated into the rear deck lid give the Regal the proportional look of a much more expensive car.

The Regal will come only in CXL trim, which means leather seating surfaces, and more upscale soft touch trim pieces. The materials, fit and finish are first class, and worthy of any entry-level luxury car; plus they’re nicer than many competitors at this price. Smart applications of technology are also present in the Regal, including details such as a multi-function controller on the center console for operation of the audio system, navigation system and the voice activated Bluetooth phone.

A long list of standard equipment comes on the Regal. They include, 18-inch wheels, a 12-way power heated drivers seat, heated passenger seat, XM Radio and OnStar system, heated outside mirrors, a leather trimmed shift knob, tilt and telescope steering wheel with phone, cruise and radio controls, metallic paint, CD/MP3 player, dual climate controls, driver information center, compass, anti-theft protections, auto dimming rearview mirror, and much more.

The Regal CXL starts at a very reasonable $26,245. The test car was a full-zoot version that added a sunroof, Premium 9-speaker Harmon/Kardon stereo, Voice-Activated Navigation System, and a Convenience Package with Ultrasonic Rear parking Assist, 12-way passenger seat and a few other goodies, and still only listed for $31,030.

THE VERDICT

Folks will have to rethink their image of Buick after test driving the new Regal. If you removed the Buick badges and told Lexus or Infiniti owners that this was a new model from their brand, not many would be disappointed. You get a beautifully styled, luxury car, which adds fuel efficiency as a bonus.

And for those who need something with more get up and go, the turbo model will satisfy that desire, too. There’s another new player in the entry-level luxury segment, and it will be making some noise in the U.S. pretty soon.

LOVE IT

  • Beautiful exterior styling and fit and finish
  • Handsome luxury interior with many standard amenities
  • Excellent gas mileage figures

LEAVE IT

  • Acceleration a bit too leisurely
  • Rear headroom tight for tall passengers
  • Turbo not available yet

RELATED READING

2009 Acura TSX 2010 Acura TSX V6: First Drive 2009 Lexus IS250 AWD 2009 Volkswagen CC Sport Review 2009 Volkswagen CC 2009 Audi A4 3.2

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