2011 Buick Regal Review [Video]

More than just a new car from the same-old Buick, the Regal takes GM’s old man brand in an all-new direction

2011 Buick Regal Review [Video]

Back in 2007 Buick unveiled the Enclave crossover and the brand embarked on a quest to reinvent itself. With new styling, the LaCrosse pushed the envelope further, adding improved interior trim quality, while still retaining the brand’s big-as-a-boat-and-feels-like-one-too drive quality.

FAST FACTS

1. The Regal comes exclusively with 4-cylinder engines, including a 182-hp 2.4-liter, a 220-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged model and a 258-hp 2.0T in the Regal GS.

2. Fuel economy on the 2.4L model is rated at 19/30-mpg (city/hwy).

3. The Buick Regal is based off the same platform as the European Opel Insignia, which has won 31 awards in Europe, including the 2009 European Car of the Year.

4. Pricing for the new Regal starts at $26,245 with Turbo models around $28,000.

5. As a brand, Buick rates 3rd in the latest J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, and was 1st in 2009.

But the 2011 Buick Regal is the definitive step for Buick. Based on the European Opel Insignia, the difference is in the drive. It’s not just a new model from Buick, it’s a new type of Buick.

THE DRIVE: SOLID AND SMOOTH

Gone is the feeling that you’re sitting on grandma’s couch, with more suspension travel than a Baja truck. And yet the Regal is still smooth, with enough comfort to please the majority of traditional Buick buyers.

As one might expect of a Buick, it delivers an excellent highway ride, but not in the way the brand’s land yachts of yore did. Instead, the Regal’s ride is much akin to the Volkswagen Passat or even the CC, which Buick says is one of the target vehicles for the car. Like those sedans, there’s a distinct level of German stability and effortlessness at highway speeds.

Body roll is minimal and the steering is even quite precise, thanks to Buick’s decision to stick with “old-fashioned” hydraulic steering over the newer electric systems that almost always result in vague on-center feel.

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We wouldn’t go so far as to say the Regal has sporting pretensions, but as far as mid-size sedans go, it’s very good.

EFFICIENT 4-CYLINDER OUTMATCHED BY REGAL’S QUALITY

Powering the new Regal is GM’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Ecotec engine, which uses direct injection to deliver a reasonable 182-hp and 172 ft-lbs of torque. Those numbers are by no means staggering, but do help the Regal achieve a 19/30-mpg rating (city/highway). It’s also important to note that the Regal, unlike many of its targeted competitors, does not require premium fuel.

Thanks in part to a six-speed automatic transmission, the 4-banger isn’t buzzy on the highway, although it’s certainly raspy under acceleration. This isn’t likely to sit well with traditional Buick buyers, but shouldn’t be an issue for the “younger” demographic the brand is after, who don’t mind trading a little detached luxury for a more sporty-sounding drive.

Sadly, we do have to say ‘sporty’ and not ‘sport’ because acceleration is somewhat lethargic. The actual 0-60 mph time of about 8.5 seconds actually isn’t all that terrible, but the car feels slower. In fact, it’s as much of a testament to how good the Regal is that this engine just comes up short. While we’re more than ready to recommend a 4-cylinder over a more powerful V6 in a Camry or Accord, in this Buick we’d suggest the Turbo model that offers a 38-hp bump to 220-hp and a more significant jump in torque, all the way to 258 ft-lbs – a leap of 86 ft-lbs.

The one area of the car that needs to most work, however, is the transmission, which often has harsh shifts in stop-and-go traffic. More importantly, GM needs to address the delay in the transmission, which doesn’t stop the car from rolling forward on a hill when you drop it into reverse. As a result, like with our GMC Terrain tester a few months back, we almost turned a pedestrian into a hood ornament as we attempted to back up on the slope leaving the office parking garage only to have to car roll forward before we could get on the gas.

NEAR-LUXURY INTERIOR A NEW BEST FOR BUICK

Open the door and the Regal continues to show improvements in GM’s ability to put together a cabin, aided by the lack of any wood grain trim, something that just screams ‘seniors discount’ and which almost always comes off as looking cheap.

Overall the packaging is quite good and a step above most mid-size sedans, though still clear of the luxury realm. There are nods to luxury like the white stitching on the seats, center console, doors and steering wheel, although the leather still looks and feels a touch lower grade than it should. Some simple chrome and piano-black accenting helps add variety to the cabin, but overall it’s a monotone look of not-quite-black with buttons that fade into the center stack.

Hard plastic hasn’t been entirely eliminated either, on the passenger side dash and staring you in the face on the steering wheel. But worse than that is the irrefutably cheap plastic Buick logo made from the souls of recycled Power Rangers.

Perhaps the biggest item in need of a quick fix, however, is the digital readout on the dash, which looks to be dated from the Atari era with pixels the size of a Packman snack.

Rear seat room might also be an issue for some. It’s adequate for most folks, but those at the 6 foot mark will be rubbing their heads on the Regal’s sloping rear roof. And even for those who do fit better, there’s a closeness to the back seat space that’s more cozy than inviting.

EVEN BASE MODELS COME WELL-EQUIPPED

Like a lot of GM products, what the Regal does lack in some areas it makes up for in content. Base models come with standard leather seats, heated front seats and a 12-way power driver’s seat, a leather steering wheel with remote audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth, remote keyless entry, stability and traction control, dual zone climate control, six airbags, 18-inch wheels and even the 6-speed auto-box won’t cost you extra. In fact, if you want a manual transmission, Buick is only offering the 6-speed unit on the high-powered turbo model.

Pricing starts at $26,245 and jumps to $29,035 for a model equipped like our test car with a sunroof, 12-way power passenger seat, parking sensors, rear seat side airbags and a 9-speaker harmon kardon audio system. Models with Navigation cost just over $31,000.

Those who want the added power of a turbo can find models between $28,000 and $34,000. Mid-way between those numbers will land you a special trim level with Buick’s new Interactive Drive Control System with three models to control the continuously adjustable dampers, throttle response, shift times and steering sensitivity. Plus you’ll also get HID lights and some nice 19-inch wheels.

If there’s anything to complain about when it comes to available features on the Regal, it’s the somewhat confusing shopping experience, with a total of 13 trim levels – not including the upcoming Regal GS.

A car’s design is always a huge selling point, but it also happens to be the most subjective aspect of any review. Still, we’re compelled to comment, with the Regal a subtle yet handsome sedan that continues its near-luxury packaging to its design.

More subtle than the LaCrosse, it’s an appealing shape that’s handsome though hardly stunning. This is generally a good thing, however, as it’s likely to gain appeal over time – like with the design of a BMW 3 Series.

You might not make excuses to drive the new Regal on a Sunday afternoon, but when you awake Monday morning to face the commute you’ll have no regrets as you open the front door to spy this new Buick shimmering in the light of dawn. And that’s when it hits you just how well the Regal looks in your driveway, like a car that requires no explanation to your neighbor.

THE VERDICT

After a week with the car, we were impressed with just how good this new Buick is – transmission issues aside. Unfortunately for the Regal, GM has some incredibly stiff competition in this segment. And while the Volvo S60 is targeted as a rival, it’s the Acura TSX that presents the most compelling alternative, with slightly better power, fuel economy, interior trim and driving dynamics. It will cost you, however, with a base price that’s a solid $3,000 more than the Regal. Still, those factors add-up to a superior vehicle.

Instead, we’d highly recommend the new Regal as an alternative to traditional mid-size sedans. It’s no disrespect to the Buick either, with a comparably equipped family sedan costing about the same, while the Regal adds a level of driving refinement and style that few family sedans can match.

RELATED READING

2009 Acura TSX
2009 Volkswagen CC Sport Review
2010 Lincoln MKZ Review
2011 Hyundai Sonata: First Drive
2010 Subaru Legacy: First Drive

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