Last week I had the chance to sample the completely new 2011 Buick Regal on the roads and highways of Southern California. We’ve been foaming at the mouth at a chance to get behind the wheel of the Regal ever since it was introduced in LA last year. Could the car that was almost a Saturn really deliver as a Buick? Lets find out.
One walk around the Regal and it’s immediately recognize as a Buick, which is a very good thing. Despite being more stylistically reserved than its big brother, the LaCrosse, the Regal looks youthful, classy, and elegant. There are very few hard creases in the bodywork, lending to a fluid in-motion look even while sitting still. It’s impressive considering only minor styling changes were made to convert the Regal from its originally intended form as a Saturn Aura.
The Regal will be avaliable with two engine options; a base four-cylinder and more powerful turbo-charged four cylinder. Both use direct injection. The base four produces 182-horsepower while the turbocharged four (avaliable later this year) increases output to 220-horsepower. Both engines will be mated to a 6-speed automatic and the turbo will have a 6-speed manual as an option.
Buick claims the Regal’s main competitors are the Volvo S60 and Acura TSX. I’ve yet to drive either the Volvo or Acura, so I can’t give direct comparisons. However, in a pure stats game, the Regal is left underpowered compared to the upscale engines in both the S60 (300hp) and TSX(280hp). Only the TSX offers a base four cylinder, of which the Regal bests by 10hp (172hp vs 182hp).
Where Buick really turns on the heat is in price. The Regal starts at a relatively cheap $26,995 for the base four and $29,495 for the turbo. Acura starts their base TSX at $29,310, while an optional V6 starts at $34,850. Volvo offers a turbo-6, which starts the S60 at $37,700. As you can see, the Regal holds a substantial price advantage over both rivals.
The Regal, which is sold as an Opel Insignia in Europe, has a noticably European weighted chassis tuning. In short, the days of Buicks driving like a boat are officially over. The turbo model also has the added benefit of an adaptive suspension and steering system. Called IDCS (Interactive Drive Control System), the car changes steering angle and suspension damping both automatically and with the aid of three driver selectable modes. Buick describes it like this:
“IDCS allows the driver to choose between three different operating modes that change the suspension settings, throttle response, shift pattern and steering sensitivity through the variable effort steering system. The three modes deliver three types of experiences:
Normal – balanced and optimized for all driving situations
Tour – optimized for comfort and relaxed driving on long journeys
Sport – optimized for road holding; enthusiast driving .”
It works largely as advertised. Switching between modes yields a noticeable change in the driving dynamics of the car. It’s really impressive. In fact, the Regal is downright fun in Sport on winding roads. However, push the car and the steering gets noticably foggy and hard to place. It’s not horrendous and 99% of owners will never notice, but you’d never catch an Audi doing the same thing. Base engine models come with an also competent, although stiffer, suspension and steering feel. Both suspensions were extremely well poised on the highway.
The base engine, while not anemic on paper, is embarrassingly slow on the road. I understand it’s the “fuel economy” option, however even in that area it falls short. The I4 is rated at 20mpg city, 30mpg highway. The more powerful turbo I4 only falls slightly behind at 18mpg city and 29mpg highway. The turbo is an overall spectacular engine. It pulls hard from lower RPMs thanks to a twin-scroll turbo and delivers usable power in the middle range. Although I didn’t get a chance to drive the turbo with the six-speed manual, I’d sense it would be the combo to go with.
Inside, the Regal continues to impress. The car extends GM’s recent streak of high quality and high fit & finish interiors. Three console finishes are avaliable; piano black, satin metallic, and Kibo-patterned wood (pictured above). The multimedia infotainment system has a usb/iPhone port, an aux port, supports streaming bluetooth stereo, and bluetooth hands-free phone use. It’s controlled by an iDrive like knob mounted on the middle console. After a few minutes using the system, it’s extremely easy to change settings and navigate menus on the road and without looking down. I do hold two complaints; that the chrome ring around the gear-shift often reflected the sun in my eyes and the mass of brown buttons in the center stack looked overly mono-tone and hard to distinguish at quick glance.
It’s exciting to think that the redesigned 2010 Chevrolet Malibu will be a closely related version of the same platform. I’m personally looking forward to the just announced Regal GS that is due later this year. It will feature an even sportier suspension tuning and a more powerful engine. I can’t wait to sample the Regal in depth more in the future. It’s an intriguing and compelling offering that will continue to drive the Buick Renaissance forward.
- Outstanding fit & finish
- Supportive seats- comfortable for hours on end
- Rock solid and unflappable on the highway
- Base engine is anemic, underpowered and provides little additional fuel mileage
- Rear seats lack headroom, even for average folk
- Adaptive suspension and steering felt ambiguous when pushed too hard (GM says they are still refining software settings)
First Drive Conclusion
Forget the base engine and go with the turbo. It’s an entry level premium car that can hang with more established European rivals in a more affordable wrapper. If you really want a true sports sedan, better wait for the high-performance GS model slated for later this year.
2011 Buick Regal Photo Gallery
Required Disclosure: The lodging, transportation, and access to vehicles required to write this article were provided, free of charge, to the author by General Motors. AutoInsane.com routinely accepts such offers from automakers to expand our coverage, however no special treatment, bias, or special consideration is given in return.