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First Drive: 2011 Buick Regal delivers smooth style & solid European handling

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.

2011 Buick Regal

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.

2011 Buick Regal

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.

2011 Buick Regal

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.

Strengths

  • Outstanding fit & finish
  • Supportive seats- comfortable for hours on end
  • Rock solid and unflappable on the highway

Weaknesses

  • 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)

2011 Buick Regal

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.

Video Walkaround

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.

First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

Buick hit a home-run when they introduced the Enclave in 2008 begging the question, “What’s next?”  The 2010 LaCrosse is the answer. Can GM revive the Buick brand with the same success as they did with Cadillac?  We drive the totally new LaCrosse and find out.

Don’t Miss: Our full First Drive Photo Gallery of the 2010 Buick LaCrosse

First Drive Verdict

European imports beware, Buick is back and the LaCrosse is a worthy competitor  A slew of technology packed in a youthful and stylish package will give Lexus and other luxury rivals a run for their money- if buyers take the time to notice.

AutoInsane.com First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

Not the Buick you’d expect

Lets be blunt for a moment.  The outgoing LaCrosse was, for a lack of kinder words, boring.  So ambiguous, dull, and utterly devoid of passion it’s surprising Buick didn’t include a pacemaker so owners could maintain a pulse whist behind the wheel of it.  It’s remarkable then to ponder how for 2010 LaCrosse nameplate made its way onto a vehicle that can make your heart skip a beat, no external medical devices needed.

To compare and contrast the “old” LaCrosse with the 2010 LaCrosse in any other words would be futile. While many previous-gen LaCrosse owners already have pacemakers, the 2010 model is one all by itself.  A quick walk around the outside and it’s apparent Buick’s updated style is completely at home on a sedan. Crisp lines and smooth curves; all accentuated just a tad more than you’d expect and with a flair that doesn’t show itself in still photos.  You’ve got to move around the LaCrosse to get the whole story because like many of the other recent cars to come out of GM design the more you look, the more you see.

Things get even better inside.

AutoInsane.com First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

For as stylish as the exterior on the LaCrosse is,  the interior goes ten steps further. Open and spacious, you’d never get the feeling you’re behind the wheel of a mid-size sedan.  From the hours we spent behind the wheel we’d even say it feels more open than the new full-size Ford Taurus.  The dash has been pushed down and away from the driver leaving the center stack and controls within easy reach.

Riding on GM’s updated mid-size platform (the same that will underpin the future redesigned Saab 9-5), rear passenger room is even more impressive and for good reason. GM will sell nearly twice as many of the new LaCrosse in China, where the Buick brand has serious clout. Out east Buick expects 40% of LaCrosse buyers will choose not to drive, but to be driven around in.  For that reason the 2010 LaCrosse’s platform has been stretched for more rear leg-room.  Here in the states we won’t get fancy chauffeur oriented options like rear audio and ventilation controls, but we do get to keep the extra space.  A dual rear mounted DVD entertainment system will also be avaliable.

AutoInsane.com First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

Technology for Gen-Y

To further place weight behind the idea that this car represents a whole new Buick, GM is including it’s most up-to-date technology in the 2010 LaCrosse.  This means a larger updated navigation/multimedia screen and system, full USB connectivity, Harman-Kardon audio, heads-up display, magnetic ride control, and heated/cooled seats. On up-level CXS models Buick has included an extremely slick fully animated color driver-information-center in the gauge cluster. The new interface is one of the best in the entire industry, perhaps besting even BMW and Audi.

The cool stuff doesn’t stop there. Should you choose the navigation and multimedia system you’ll also get an option we’ve never seen on any other car in the industry. The ability to record and rewind live radio. It’s not exactly like Tivo but from the second you tune in an AM/FM/XM station the audio system will begin to buffer the program. You can then rewind or fast forward as you like. You can’t save radio programs to the included hard-drive, but it’s a small feature that owners will undoubtedly rave about.

AutoInsane.com First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

We’ve never been a huge fan of GM’s current multimedia system. It’s slow, buggy, and clunky- especially compared to Lincoln’s newest interface. However, this improved system fixes all of our concerns and more.  Redundant control paths, from touch-screen to head-unit and even the steering wheel mean drivers can move through the interface easily and with very few steps.  It’s easier to use than Lincoln’s SYNC, which heavily relies on voice commands, yet offers the same depth of control you’d find on a BMW without the tomfoolery of iDrive.

AutoInsane.com First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

Behind the wheel

When the LaCrosse launches later this summer you’ll be able to choose from one of two direct injection V6 engines; a 3.0L delivering 255-horsepower or a 3.6L producing 280-horsepower. By the end of this year a fuel-sipping 180-horsepower 2.4L inline-4 will be introduced as the standard engine in the CX. All-wheel-drive (for the first time ever on a Buick sedan) can be optioned on CXL trim levels and can only be paired with the 3.0L V6.

Both V6 engines provide ample acceleration but neither are neck-snapping, especially the 3.0L laden with all-wheel-drive.  If you’re looking for a sporty drive, Cadillac may be a better choice. We were not able to drive the 2.4L four-cylinder I4 “fuel economy” option, but from the sounds of it we do have serious concerns 182-horsepower will be excruciatingly under-powered in a car this big.

With all that said, the work GM placed in making the LaCrosse smooth, isolated, and quiet paid off big time.  Twenty-percent stiffer than the outgoing model, the 2010 LaCrosse feels lively yet composed on the street.  Variable effort steering is surprisingly crisp and accurate.

Our favorite combination was the 3.6L powered CXS optioned with Buick’s real-time active suspension system and equipped with 19-inch wheels.  Sliding the shifter gate over on the LaCrosse to sport strangely does nothing at all to the transmission, instead stiffening the steering and suspension of the car.  It’s surprisingly noticeable and changes the feel of the car for the better.

AutoInsane.com First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

Conclusion

Sampling the 2010 LaCrosse on the winding back roads and city streets of Michigan gave us the impression that Buick is taking its reinvention extremely seriously.  The styling and tech features will draw in the younger demographic GM is looking to attract but only if potential buyers take the time to see the value right in front of them. If Buick can get them in the door and behind the wheel for a test drive we think the car has the potential to be the brand’s next hit. That’s an enormously big “if”, because while the LaCrosse drives the pants off the Lexus ES350, how many import luxury buyers will really cross-shop a Buick?  We’ll find out.

2010 Buick LaCrosse photo gallery

AutoInsane.com First Drive: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

2010 Buick LaCrosse Specifications

Competes against

Acura TL, Toyota Avalon, Lincoln MKZ, Hyundai Azera, Toyota Camry, Lexus ES350

Trim levels / equipment options

  • CX – equipped at the start of production with a new 3.0L direct injection V-6, premium cloth seats and 17-inch wheels. The 3.0L engine generates 255 horsepower (190 kW) and 217 lb.-ft. of torque (294 Nm) and has a six-speed automatic transmission. Later this year, a new, 2.4L Ecotec four-cylinder replaces the 3.0L as the standard engine.
  • CXL – also equipped with the new 3.0L direct injection V-6, adds leather-appointed heated seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lamps, outside rearview mirror with LED turn indicators and puddle lamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels. An advanced, intelligent AWD system is available.
  • CXS – equipped with a 3.6L direct injection V-6; real-time active-dampening suspension (optional); perforated, leather-appointed, heated and ventilated seats, and chrome-plated 18-inch alloy wheels (19-inch optional). The 3.6L engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, generates 280 horsepower (209 kW) and 259 lb.-ft. of torque (351 Nm).

Transmission
Six-speed Hydra-Matic 6T40 & 6T70

EPA Fuel Economy Estimates

2.4L I4: 20mpg city / 30mpg highway
3.0L V6: 17mpg city / 27mpg highway [FWD] , 16mpg city / 26mpg highway [AWD]
3.6L V6: 17mpg city / 27mpg highway

Suspension

Front: MacPherson strut coil-over-spring; twin-tube dampers with gas-charged valving; hollow direct-acting stabilizer bar
Rear: four-link (std. CX); “H”-arm (std.CXL and CXS); real-time damping available
Steering wheel turns, lock-to-lock: 2.75
Turning circle: 38.8-ft

Wheels/Tires

17-inch steel with cover, std on CX , P245/50R17 all-season blackwall
18-inch aluminum, opt on CX , P245/45R18 all-season blackwall
18-inch alloy, std on CXL and CXS , P245/45R18 all-season blackwall
19-inch alloy opt on CXS, P245/40R19 all-season blackwall

Dimensions & Capacities

Wheelbase: 111.7 inches
Length: 197 inches
Width: 73.1 inches
Height: 59.2 inches
Track: 61.7 inches front, 62 inches rear

Headroom: 38 inches front, 37.3 inches rear
Legroom: 41.7 inches front, 40.5 inches rear
Shoulder room: 57.4 inches front, 56 inches rear
Hip room: 55.2 inches front, 53.9 inches rear

Interior volume: 99 cubic feet
Pass anger volume: 101.7 cubic feet
Cargo volume: 13.3 cubic feet (CX, CXL), 12.8 cubic feet (CXS)

Curb weight
CX:
3948lbs (est with 3.0L)
CXL FWD: 4018lbs (est)
CXL AWD: 4199 lbs (est)
CXS: 4065lbs (est)

First Drive Gallery: 2010 Buick LaCrosse

Out to prove the new Buick isn’t a one-hit-wonder, the 2010 LaCrosse has all the right moves and plenty of style. Check out this photo gallery from our first drive report.

Photographer: Zane Merva