2012 Buick Regal eAssist Review

Taking the road less traveled, hybrid Regal will get you there on less

2012 Buick Regal eAssist Review

About 15 years ago when this author began to ride motorcycles, we were inundated with advice from experienced riders on surviving riding out on the street. Advice ranged from watching out for anyone using a cell phone or eating in a car, to avoiding riding behind semi trucks that could shred a tire or block a rider’s view of road debris, etc. And we were cautioned to never follow a Buick, because the old man or blue haired granny driving it would be traveling 10 mph slower than the posted speed limit, have their right turn signal on for miles and then make a left turn with no warning.

FAST FACTS

1. Mated to the standard 2.4L 4-cylinder with 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque the electric motor adds as much as 15 hp and 79 lb-ft.

2. eAssist models also get regenerative braking and a start-stop system.

3. The result is fuel economy that’s up 25% to 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.

4. With Regal models starting at $27,940 eAssist is a $2,000 option.

Now with the average age of Buick owners dropping faster than American’s approval ratings for Congress, that’s no longer true. In fact, today it would be more accurate to admonish riders to steer clear of Honda Accords or Toyota Camrys. A younger crowd has discovered that Buicks have a lot to offer as understated luxury cars with excellent technology, much-improved driving characteristics and plenty of value.

A 4-CYLINDER WITH ELECTRIC BOOST

We drove the base Regal when it first came out and we were enamored with the car.  Derived from the German Opel Insignia, the Regal feels like a taut German sedan. But alas, the standard 182 hp 2.4-liter motor feels underpowered.

2012 Buick Regal eAssist Front End

When the turbocharged model arrived, boosting horsepower to 220 ponies and 260 lb-ft of torque, we were smitten. Now the chassis had a worthy engine. 

Now we’ve spent a week with the Regal eAssist. The power sits between the base and Turbo models, but the gas mileage increases to 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, and still provides enough power to make the Regal an enjoyable car to drive as a commuter, and to challenge some twisty bits of tarmac.

First let’s talk about the eAssist technology. It is designed to improve a vehicle’s fuel efficiency by adding a compact electric motor and state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery to a 2.4L four-cylinder engine, improving fuel economy by about 25 percent, and boosting performance a bit. Power on the base engine remains at 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque, though the electric motor can provide as much as 15 hp extra and 79 additional lb-ft of torque. The electric boost comes on under certain conditions like taking off from a stop light or ascending a hill, and it allows the 6-speed transmission to operate more efficiently.

One of first GM vehicles available with eAssist, additional fuel saving features include regenerative braking and a start-stop function, with the power being generated from braking stored in the lithium-ion battery pack and then used to power various accessories like the radio and climate control when the car is in start-stop mode. 

COMFORTABLE YET ENGAGING

 

2012 Buick Regal eAssist Profile

The body structure is 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 a generous 107.8” wheelbase. Steering is light yet precise and offers good feedback while the brakes are strong with good pedal feel. Everything feels solid, taut, and athletic, like a quality European sedan should.

Slipping behind the steering wheel, the driver is greeted by a handsome and comfortable cabin. The front leather covered seats are wide and comfortable with three-position heating for both the seat cushion and seat back. Ideal for cold weather climates, one can fry an egg on setting number three.
Legroom is excellent thanks to seats that can be moved very far back although headroom in the rear might be a bit tight for folks over 6-feet. The cabin is whisper quiet at speed, meaning Buick has worked out the aerodynamics well, including making it slippery underneath the car to attain such good gas mileage.

2012 Buick Regal aAssist Side

There are a lot of soft touch materials in all the right places in the Regal, including the tops of the door sills, armrests, console, and dash. The drivers gauge package is easy to see and operate with a large round tach and speedometer and two smaller ones for fuel and an “Eco” gauge to give you instant feedback on your driving habits. It even switches into the “off” mode at stops to let you know the gasoline engine is off. Plus, the information screen between the large gauges offers lots of good info, and is easy to toggle through the system to get the info you want.  And the whole dash is nicely lit up at night. 

There is ample storage in the door pockets and in the glove box which is lined with a velvety material – a nice touch. The console is a bit small but has a divided compartment for an iPod or phone and has a USB, Aux. port and a power outlet. A second power outlet is located at the lower portion of the center stack.

DARK CABIN, CONFUSING CONTROLS

The interior is not, however, without its flaws. While it is handsomely elegant, even the sunlight shinning through the moonroof can’t stop the cabin from feeling dark. Our test car had the black interior, and except for some brightwork surrounding the gauges and vents, it’s all black. Even the trim on the doors and lower dash are piano black lacquer pieces, and there’s no contrast like there is on the Regal’s beige interior. There is some white double stitching on the door trim, but curiously, it isn’t picked up anywhere else in the car.2012 Buick Regal eAssist Gauge Cluster

Also, the Nav screen is nice and large, but there are a lot of toggle switches and buttons and dials beneath it for all the radio, and mode and phone switches. It makes for a busy look and is more complicated than necessary. Unfortunately, the Regal’s German origins also show up with a round “i-Drive’like” control on the console. So now there are some operations that require one to use the Nav’s touch screen, then go down to the dial, and back up to the screen, and back and forth until you want to scream. It is so typically German to require three separate steps when one easy one would do just fine. Hopefully the first time Buick redesigns the Regal they will let the American engineers handle the interior.

Trunk space is a bit smaller than the other Regal models, because of the batteries located between the rear passenger seat and the trunk. Thankfully, while the whole rear seat can’t fold down, the battery pack only limits have the space, meaning the driver’s side can still drop so you can slide reasonably large objects through.

2012 Buick Regal eAssist Front

The Regal that we tested came with a lot of nice features and amenities including 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, and heated outside mirrors, dual zone heating, 8-way power front seats with lumbar support, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with phone and radio controls, remote start, rear park assist, and more, at a base price of $29,515. The e-Assist engine adds $2,000, and a reasonable $1,145 for the Nav system and upgraded radio, and $1,000 for the moonroof, bringing the total to $34,470. 

THE VERDICT

The Regal continues to be a surprising mix of luxury and sport that will satisfy those looking for understated elegance, a comfortable ride and an engaging drive. Of course the turbo model offers much more power, but the eAssist adds just enough oomph to the base engine to make the package enjoyable, all while offering the best fuel economy in its class.

2012 Buick Regal eAssist Rear 

And herein lies much of the reason why the Regal eAssist is so appealing. While we don’t want to take anything away from it, there really is no other hybrid available in this category. As a result, if you’re looking for high mpg in this size and type of machine, the only other place left to go is to the conventional mid-size sedan set.

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