Despite its carefully cultivated conservative image, Buick has a long history of building performance cars. But understand this: Buick builds performance cars on its own terms. Back in the '60s, the Buick Skylark GS was the silkiest, quietest, most refined muscle car ever to chase down a Pontiac GTO.
You might call today's Regal GS the spiritual heir to those big-muscle Skylarks, especially as it can match Pontiac's nifty Grand Prix GTP stride for stride, sprinting from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds. That's quick acceleration by any measure and particularly for a conservative-looking mid-size family sedan. Yet Regal sacrifices none of the virtues that make Buicks Premium American Motorcars. Those virtues include roominess, a smooth ride quality and a long list of features.
LS ($22,845); GS ($26,095)
If you have any lingering doubt that General Motors can build dramatically different cars using the same basic chassis, compare Buick's Regal and Century. These two share the same platform (along with the Pontiac Grand Prix and Oldsmobile Intrigue). Aside from basic dimensions, however, they are as much alike as milk and champagne.
Regal looks clean, nicely proportioned and free of excessive bright trim. Its S-curved belt line and full-width tail lights confirm its Buick identity, even though its horizontal-line grille departs from Buick tradition. For 2001, both models will have the body-color grille, black trim, and body-color Buick lettering on the rear bumper. Also new for 2001 is an escape handle in the trunk, plus additional insulation in the rear wheel houses.
The Regal is the sportiest of the Buicks, a trait that's reflected inside. Although the controls and instrument panel design look tame compared to a Pontiac Grand Prix, it's pretty daring by Buick standards. An attractive cowling curves over the instrument panel and the dashboard, in turn, sweeps nicely into the door panels.
Major instruments are readily visible through a large, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Optional auxiliary audio controls are built into the upper wheel spokes, and you can honk the horn by pressing on the center of the hub, which houses the driver's airbag.
Regal's bucket seats, covered in leather in GS models, don't offer quite as much lateral support for tearing down winding roads as those in the Pontiac GTP. Regal's seats are more comfortable for long trips than those in the Pontiac, however. On LS as well as GS, they are six-way power adjustable. Heated outside mirrors are standard on all Regals. Optional heated front seats ($225) would be a welcome addition in the depths of a northern winter.
Part of GM's formula for winning the mid-size sedan wars is packing in more comfort and convenience features than its target competitors, and the Regal is rolling proof of this. Just hitting the highlights, the Regal LS comes equipped with dual-zone air conditioning; excellent audio; power windows, mirrors and door locks; antilock brakes (ABS) and low-speed traction control.
The GS is loaded. Rather than detail its contents, we suggest you study the data panel; it'll take awhile because there's a lot to read. However, one thoughtful item does bear mention here, a warning light to let you know when you have low pressure in one or more tires. Low pressure is the prime cause of reduced tire life and can substantially reduce traction, particularly on wet pavement.
Interior room is a major asset of the Regal. There's plenty of space up front, which you'd expect, and plenty of space in back, which you might not. Unlike many mid-size cars, three adults can sit back there comfortably, without territorial squabbles or contortions, and they can do so for extended periods. Moreover, because the rear seats are slightly elevated, rear-seat occupants have a good forward view, to help them critique your driving. The center seating position isn't quite as comfortable as the outboard spots, and it lacks a three-point belt, but in general, the Regal shames its import competition for rear-seat roominess.
The rear seat splits and folds down to make hauling long items such as skis and fishing rods easier and more convenient. An integrated child safety seat is optional. Speaking of safety, the Regal stacks up as contemporary, though not outstanding. Anti-lock brakes and traction control come standard. It has the required dual front airbags. A side-impact air bag for the driver's seat is standard on GS and on leather-trimmed LS models, but is not available for the passenger side.
Thanks to its excellent torque, the 3800 Series II V6 that comes in the Regal LS can haul this big sedan out of the blocks in a hurry. This is an excellent engine and it delivers 200 horsepower. The Series II V6 has stood the test of time, but has also been refined over the years and is widely used by General Motors. Projected fuel economy is 20/29 miles per gallon city/highway.
Though it's a good engine, the normally aspirated 3800 pales next to its supercharged counterpart in the Regal GS. Supercharging adds 40 horsepower to the output of the 3800 V6, but the bigger benefit comes in the form of mass quantities of torque. While the Regal LS comes with 225 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm, the GS boasts 280 pounds-feet at a more useful 3600 rpm. Torque is that force you use to get off and running when the light turns green, or to pull out for a pass on a two-lane highway; the Regal GS performs both of these tasks with gratifying zeal.
This zeal is habit-forming. Because the Regal GS is so quiet, its power means that it requires some extra attention to the speedometer as the supercharged V6 quickly tows the Regal beyond legal speed limits. Punch the throttle from a standstill and the Regal GS will exhibit a bit of torque steer, a gentle tug on the steering wheel at full throttle, but this trait becomes almost transparent after a little familiarization.
Regals are equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. Both LS and GS come with traction control, although the LS uses only engine modulation to reduce slipping, while the more sophisticated full-range system on the GS uses the brakes in addition to engine power controls to reduce loss of traction on slippery surfaces.
Even with its stiffer Gran Touring suspension package, which comes standard on the GS, the Regal isn't quite as athletic as the Grand Prix GTP. On the other hand, its ride quality is distinctly smoother and more compliant. And it does handle well. The Gran Touring suspension includes touring tires for better steering, handling and control. The front springs and front stabilizer are stiffer, while a rear stabilizer bar is added. Rear shock absorbers and front struts are tuned for higher dampening rates for more body control. The Gran Touring package also includes GM's MagnaSteer, the variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering that provides easier steering at low speeds but increased steering effort at higher speeds for improved steering feel. As a result, the steering is accurate and exceptionally quick.
Likewise, braking performance is a definite cut above, with good control and pedal feel. The Gran Touring package comes with larger front brake rotors to increase braking response.
The Buick Regal is an excellent blend of posh and performance, with plenty of space and many features. Buick's sportiest sedan, the Regal GS, is one of the hottest mid-size sedans you can buy.