Road Test

2011 Buick Regal

A touch of European sportiness for GM's oldest surviving brand

2011 Buick Regal

The words Buick and sport are rarely, if ever, used in the same sentence. But Buick is hell-bent on changing that perception with the 2011 Regal sports sedan.

The Regal name harkens back to the muscle car era of the seventies when domestic manufacturers were cramming monster (7-plus litre) high-output V-8 engines beneath the hood of every mid-size car they could. GM alone offered 421-cubic-inch Pontiacs, 454-cubic-inch Chevrolets and 455-cubic-inch Oldsmobiles and Buicks. The latter was later changed over to a turbocharged 3.8-litre V-6 in the early eighties in an effort to stand apart from the pack and it created it's own following.

Since then, Buick has become synonymous with senior, rather than sport. But thanks to booming success in China where Buick is the must-have brand for young, successful and influential men, the brand is pushing to change its image here with a string of new products aimed at younger buyers.

Heavily influenced by its Chinese design studio and markets and based on an award-winning German platform, the 2011 Regal is as happy on twisty back roads as on the pancake-flat turnpike.

The new Regal is a practical four-door sedan, but at its core it is the award-winning Opel Insignia. It is built in Germany alongside its namesake for this first model year, but production will shift to Oshawa, Ontario with the 2012 model. The exterior styling is modern with smooth flowing surfaces, tight panel gaps and the mandatory big (18-inch) wheels and tires.

Inside, the influence of the Chinese design team and desire to appeal to younger buyers is apparent. Instead of trying to impress with acres of chrome we have piano-black trim and soft-touch surfaces, a smooth flowing instrument panel with a trio of analog instruments, augmented by digital information, and a raft of technology.

A wide centre console carries everything from the audio and HVAC controls to navigation screen and rotary controller. Strangely, for a vehicle of this class and price with a colour screen, there is no back-up camera.

The front seats are wide, supportive and readily adjustable. There is decent rear seat space for two, three in a pinch. But the sloping roofline means you have to duck a lot to avoid hitting your head getting in, and anyone over about 5’10" might have to remain that way once inside. The trunk is large and well finished and the rear seat backs fold for added cargo space.

The Regal is initially available with one engine, a 2.4-litre four-cylinder producing 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. It will be joined in the coming months by an optional turbocharged 2.0-litre four putting out 220 ponies and a significant 258 lb-ft of torque.

Both drive the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The turbo will also be available with a six-speed manual. When is the last time you saw a Buick driver shifting his or her own gears?

The base engine is adequate. Smooth and quiet, it allows climbing long grades and passing without any worrying moments. But the added torque and performance of the turbo engine will undoubtedly feel better with a few people on board and more accurately reflect the "sport" image.

Fuel consumption is a factor as it should be in this day and age. Here the Regal shines. Government ratings suggest 10.8 litres/100 in the city and 6.8 on the highway. That might be attainable with a tender foot and flat roads but with my foot and in our world, I managed 9.6 for 500 or so kilometres of mixed city and highway driving.

The European roots and platform become evident the first time you turn the wheel. The front wheels respond instantly and instead of leaning like an ocean-liner, the new Regal takes a set and tracks like a sports sedan – almost like an European sports sedan. It’s not in the same league as the more widely known and expensive German sports sedans, but it is a far cry from Buicks of yore.

Despite this new-found alacrity, the ride remains supple and comfortable, surrendering little in exchange for the additional firmness. The steering is a bit light, but the brakes are firm and progressive.

My test vehicle was in CXL trim, with a base price of $31,990 plus taxes and delivery charges. Standard equipment includes: dual zone climate control, air conditioning, seven-speaker audio with MP3 capability, iPod and USB inputs, ABS, electronic stability control, 12-way power driver’s seat, manual passenger seat with power vertical adjustment, cruise, Bluetooth wireless, heated mirrors, power windows and locks, leather seats, remote keyless entry.

The test vehicle also had the $6,855 Preferred Equipment group which added power sunroof, 120-volt auxiliary output, 8-way power passenger seat, rear park assist, rear side airbags, nine-speaker, 320-watt Harmon Kardon audio system and voice-activated navigation system.

The 2011 Buick Regal is a significant step in the right direction for Buick. The turbo will be an even bigger one toward earning the "sport" designation.

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