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2011 Buick Regal CXL

Buick Injects a Bit of Sport Into Mainstream America

      When General Motors introduced the Opel Insignia in Europe a few years ago, American auto enthusiasts took notice because it appeared to be the replacement for the well received Saturn Aura. The Insignia-based model promised to be the sporty front-wheel-drive midsize sedan that GM had consistently failed to offer Americans. That promise was broken in 2009 when GM killed off the relatively short lived brand as part of its bankruptcy restructuring. The promise broken by Saturn would curiously be kept by up-market Buick.
      Buick pulled the ambiguous Regal nameplate out of retirement and placed it onto this Opel as a likely result of that model’s continuous use in China. This was a mild surprise after killing off such long running nameplates as LeSabre, Park Avenue and Century. Regardless of the marketing strategy, we have been eager to see how this Euro-style sedan stacks up in the US midsize market, which is generally dominated by the excellent but forgettable Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. In more recent years those cars’ dominance has been threatened by the likes of the Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu. So is Buick’s Regal all that Saturn promised?
      Though offered with a manual transmission (something that is increasingly scarce in this class), the front-wheel-drive Regal we drove was equipped with a 6-speed automatic bolted to a 2.4-liter direct-injected 4-cylinder (a 2.0-liter turbo DI is also offered with the auto or 6-speed manual). Having recently tested the 4-cylinder Buick LaCrosse we will skip the story about the significance of Buick offering a something smaller than a V6 and jump into our driving impressions.
      The Regal CXL is every bit as attractive as its Opel counterpart. The exterior replaces the plain Opel grille with a modern interpretation of Buick’s waterfall grille and tri-shield emblem. The appearance is athletic and filled with thoughtful design details, including a pleasantly integrated rear spoiler. The interior continues the successful design with a sweeping piano-black accent wrapping from the doors across the upper instrument panel. There is a styling continuity inside with the larger LaCrosse, though the Regal offers a more sporting look. The gauges are outlined by delightful wristwatch-like beveled details with redundant numbering that is visible only in the daylight. The center console features an easy to use center dial that controls the radio and navigation functions. Unfortunately, the Regal wasn’t granted a touch screen which seems like an inexplicable deficiency in this segment. Despite this shortcoming, all switchgear is largely easy to use and has a quality feel to it. The seats proved comfortable but were a bit lacking in support from the side bolsters.
      The Regal takes to the corners with enthusiasm. This chassis is well tuned making one almost forget that the correct set-up for a sport sedan is rear wheel drive. Brilliantly, this Buick managed to transmit desired road feel without transmitting harshness. With superbly tuned MacPherson struts up front and a four link independent suspension in the rear, cloverleafs were considered lucky encounters. The old W-Car based Regal would have resisted with squealing tires. Braking proved to be confidence inspiring and the pedal felt great.
      The Regal is not a large midsizer but positioned at the trim end of the spectrum; a class that Buick claims holds such highly regarded cars as the Acura TSX and Volvo S60. Rear seat room is tight if there is a six-footer behind the wheel, but still offers three more inches of rear legroom than the Acura TSX. The Buick makes good use of its size considering it is only 1.3 inches longer than the Acura between the front and rear wheels.
      The Regal’s 182 horsepower 2.4-liter really has to work to keep the 3,600-pound Regal full of forward motion making the engine this car’s weak link. We long for the extra 38 horsepower provided by the 2.0-liter turbo. One can also imagine that the manual transmission available with that engine would maximize the use of those horses. The EPA has pegged the small-ish Buick’s highway mileage at 30 mpg, which was extremely optimistic considering the downright pitiful 22 mpg we achieved. This is even worse than the 24 mpg we managed in the similarly rated LaCrosse, which had an extra 220-pounds to lug around. One has to wonder what the EPA did to prevent the Regal’s underhood horses from drinking so much fuel to achieve the 30 mpg rating. We trust Buick and Opel engineers will soon figure out the issue because of GM’s fantastic rating achieved by the 4-cylinder GMC Terrain that shares showroom space with the Regal.
      So was Buick able to keep Saturn’s promise of a sporting midsize sedan? Even in its underpowered base form Buick has injected the Regal with the right amount of “sport” to give enthusiast oriented drivers a feasible alternative to the plot-less best sellers in the midsize sedan segment. Even so, we strongly recommend skipping past Volume One and opting for the promising turbocharged sequel.

The Good:
Superb chassis, well-executed interior, flashy styling.
The Bad:
Poor as-observed fuel economy, lack of grunt, tight rear seat accommodations.
The Verdict:
A sport injected sedan in desperate need of a heart transplant.

Photos by Jason Muxlow

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  1. Jim
    December 23rd, 2010 at 16:05 | #1

    Can you elaborate on the fuel economy? How many miles total, and what kind of driving? “Gas reciept method” or on-board computer calculation? 22mpg is terrible. I know for a fact that a larger, heavier car with a 240hp 3800 II supercharged engine will get at least 22mpg in normal driving conditions (gas reciept method over a period of months). On premium fuel, but still…

  2. December 25th, 2010 at 23:06 | #2

    Unfortunately the fuel economy was calculated by the Buick’s computer – and not the more reliable gas-reciept method (we don’t always have the opportunity top off the tank during the car’s stay with us). 22 mpg is indeed horrible – worse than the 26 mpg I managed in the LaCrosse 4-cylinder, and worse than the Corvette Gran Sport, and worse than the 24 mpg average I achieved with my 2004 Pontiac GTO over the course of 45,000 miles. I suspect the actual figures on the Regal would be higher since my GTO’s computer typically told me I was getting 1-2 mpg worse than the the ‘reciept’ method gave, and also found the same to be the case on my 1995 SAAB 900S (which was essentially a Opel). If the 22 was in reality something much greater, I think GM needs to work out the calibration because many owners will assume that the computer is right.

  1. December 23rd, 2010 at 02:31 | #1
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