Buick revives the Regal name for 2011 in a mid-size sedan born and built in Germany. (As the lineup expands and the manufacturing plant is readied it will be built in North America.) Shorter than the LaCrosse, this latest Regal is an all-new car to Buick. It's based on the same structure as the Opel Insignia that won major awards in Europe last year.
The 2011 Buick Regal is initially offered only in mid-line CXL trim with leather upholstery. The new Regal is powered by a 182-hp four-cylinder with six-speed automatic, or a 220-hp turbocharged, direct-injected 2-liter with a six-speed manual transmission. The turbocharged engine delivers a huge boost in torque for more relaxed yet more powerful propulsion. Fully independent suspension has been tuned for ride comfort but this Buick won't shy away from the winding road alternative, and the steering and brakes are up to it.
Best thought of as a four-passenger car that could carry a child seat rear-center, the Regal's interior is mix of sporty and luxury much like an Acura TSX. The degree to which you favor the efficient sporty look or warmer luxury feel may well dictate which cabin color scheme you choose.
The Regal CXL comes nicely equipped and amenities, be they standard or optional, include Bluetooth, navigation with real-time traffic, and heated front seats. We did not see memory seats on the option list yet there should be enough to keep anyone comfortable and connected.
We found the Regal very quiet, with a very smooth ride, a welcome respite on miserable commutes and a good partner for cross-country drives. It may be the quietest car in its class. Mix in a solid thud to the doors, tactile clicks to the controls and a structure safe and secure, and the Regal is a well-rounded package.
The Regal competes with the Acura TSX, Audi A4, Mazda 6, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S60, Lexus ES. Much of the direct competition has more power, less weight or both. The Audi and Acura are sportier, the Mazda and Volkswagen larger, and the Lexus ES driver could get a well-equipped Regal turbo for the requisite luxury in a better driving car.
The Regal is a world car designed for use in varied international markets and shares all its body panels with German-sister-division's award-winning Opel Insignia. It's characteristic of contemporary sedans with a sloping roofline that's visually extended by the edge of the rear lamp housings and a brief trunk lid with a subtle built-in lip spoiler.
Shiny bits on the sides are limited to the window surround trim and a front fender-mounted turn indicator. There are no rub rails or chrome strips along the side, and a simple character line sweeps down and aft behind the front wheel and carries through the rear door. The lower edge is void of trim but it does get the textured paint protection to minimize stone chips. All the wheels have plenty of spokes yet nothing cross-laced your car wash will abhor.
Regal gets the majority of its Buick-ness at the ends, both slathered with abundant chrome trim. The lengthy nose carries a prominent waterfall grille framed by lamp clusters. On the turbo, the daytime running lights are right-angle segments that look like arrows pointing out and up toward the rear-view mirrors.
A large chrome spear is anchored with big Buick crest on the trunk, and the sweep of the lamps mirrors that of Regal's big-brother LaCrosse. On turbo models a single chrome tailpipe comes out either side; on standard cars conventional under-bumper exhaust pipes are used.
Regal makes a clean profile. It is six inches shorter than the LaCrosse and is longer than all but one of the cars Buick mentions as potential competitors. The wheelbase, the distance between front and rear wheels that's a better indicator of room and ride quality is in the middle of those aforementioned competitors.
With leather standard even the base CXL makes a welcoming interior, easily labeled entry-luxury or entry-premium. It's comfortable and quiet, and its character changes based on color.
An ebony cabin is mostly black, with light stitching is the seats and trim, a light headliner, some trim matte-finish silver and other chrome, with dash, door and console sweeps done in piano-black trim. On the alternative light-cabin trim the upper and lower doors, lower side pillars and the dashboard are chocolate, the mid-doors, seats and carpeting a light tan or cream color, and the trim sweeps are woodgrain. While the latter is the warmer of the two and gives a more luxurious impression, others will find it busy and prefer the sportier, more monochromatic look of the ebony interior.
On the majority both front seats will be powered, and unlike some competition, the power passenger seat offers the same range and adjustments the driver gets. Long-term support is good but lack of lateral support and cushion deflection shows these seats clearly biased to comfort rather than the athletic-for-a-Buick performance. Taller drivers note the headrests further forward than they preferred, a more common complaint as safety regulations continue to tighten.
Rear seats are quite comfortable for occupants to around 5'10 and best limited to two passengers; we found no center headrest. That sloping roofline, even with a section carved out of the headliner, limits rear headroom, a problem the smaller VW Passat and larger Mazda6 don't have. Leg and toe space is good, the Regal bigger than all but those same two cars. We'll call the center fold-down section an elbow rest because it's wide and short, and note rear passengers do have AC vents and reading lights.
A contemporary control layout places the tip computer/message center between watch-dial-like speedometer and tachometer, and below numbered fuel and coolant gauges; like everything else these are illuminated in icy blue. If you have navigation the screen is top center for good line-of-sight use and as intuitive as any other GM system. But this one has a multifunction controller right behind the shifter so you needn't lean forward to work a touch-screen.
Myriad white-on-black buttons cluster on the center panel for audio, car, and navigation details with left/right temperature climate control below. Behind the ashtray a large piece of chrome frames the shifter and it, like the chrome lips on the gauges and rotary dash controls, readily catches sun glare. The matte-finish sweep around the shifter floats above the console, suggesting it will easily catch and trap detritus or cords for small electronics. Some storage is available under the asymmetric center armrest, and the oddly contoured door pockets hold quite a bit.
The steering wheel is the most sporting ever found in a Buick and the redundant controls handy on the road. Given the sporty implications we were surprised to not find shift buttons on it but lever does have a manual gate. Vision, both inside to instruments, controls and nav screen day and night, and outside is quite good by modern safety-car standards.
The trunk is quite useful, with moderate lift-to-load and lift-to-unload dimensions, flat side walls, securing points and 14.2 cubic feet of volume because it's fairly long. The split rear seat folds down and there's a lockable pass-through in the armrest, but it's a long reach through the trunk to lock it.
The Regal is firmly sprung for a Buick yet quiet by any standard. The wrong road surface will admit a little noise from the rear tires and picky back-seat drivers might notice a bit of wind noise from behind at speed, but the new Buick Regal has to be among the quietest cars in its class; even with the engine at maximum it's barely above background noise and doesn't give any audible hint it's working hard.
The Regal rides very well, with minimal intrusion from road imperfections. It has a very solid feel, and one of substance in keeping with its weight. Driving it hard or fully loaded at speed will belie that while bred on the autobahn it has been tuned for comfort and the rear suspension damping is quite soft. The turbo's optional adjustable shock damping will mitigate that and tightens down the whole chassis, but it comes with 19-inch wheels and we prefer the tires on the standard 18-inch wheels.
The Regal is an excellent touring car for extended ventures or simply long commutes where the soothing could be beneficial, but it is not a sports sedan. The turbo makes it a sporty sedan, but we'll have to wait for the Regal GS for a sports sedan.
A direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder provides 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque so it needs to be revved to get the most out of it, and a 3600-pound Regal with a pair of people in it can use every one of those ponies. It's quite satisfactory around town or on the open road, but passing a truck on a two-lane or climbing a mountain grade you'll be pushing it.
The turbo adds about 40 horsepower but far more important close to 90 pound-feet of torque and at much lower revs. This makes the Regal more relaxed, downshifts happen less often, and it feels much more powerful than the 1-second quicker to 60 mph implies. Since the manual gate in the automatic will hold a gear selected at heavy throttle, you can use the readily use the turbo's wave of torque and never see more than 3000 rpm showing by shifting up early manually.
With the available six-speed manual gearbox, clutch effort is easy.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 19/30 mpg City/Highway. The Mazda6 gets 21/30 mpg, the Audi A4 is rated 23/30 mpg, the TSX 21/30 mpg, and the VW Passat 22/31 mpg. Expect the Regal turbo to rate 18/29 mpg; we would consider the slight economy penalty and $2,500 price differential a small price to pay for the useful passing power.
Regal uses hydraulic steering and it provides good feedback, feel and directional stability. Again, it hasn't the feel of a leading sports sedan but is competitive and more than satisfactory for the car's mission.
Brakes are up to the task, and both the gas and brake pedals are calibrated such that they require some foot travel before you get into heavy braking or kick-down acceleration rather than the instant bite of a sports sedan.
The Regal brings a stylish alternative to the entry-premium midsize sedan segment. It musters visual appeal, soothing quiet and smoothness, quickly deciphered features, comfort and economy conducive to long drives and a better than average warranty. We find the turbo model deserves strong consideration for the modest cost premium.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report after his test drives of the Regal CXL models near San Diego.