Thumbs Up: A Buick designed and built for those not in AARP
Thumbs Down: It’s a sporty sedan, not a sports sedan
Buy This Car If: You want an American alternative to an Acura TSX
My first experience with the “new” Buick came at last year’s Barrett-Jackson auction in Palm Beach. Given the opportunity to drive the new LaCrosse, I gladly took the keys and headed out to their parking lot autocross track. It handled, well, like a Buick: lots of comfort, but not much in the way of turn-in or steering feel. The GM product specialist made a point of demonstrating the car’s on-board hard drive and Bluetooth music streaming capability, and I remember thinking that Buick had missed their mark. Buyers of the LaCrosse would be traditional Buick customers, concerned more about ride comfort and interior noise than with the latest electronic gadgetry. If only, I remember thinking, Buick built a car that those of us who enjoyed driving would actually want to buy.
That car is here, and it’s called the Buick Regal Turbo. From the European styling (vaguely influenced by Chris Bangle’s work with BMW, especially at the rear) to the upscale interior and the surprisingly crisp handling, Buick finally has a car to draw younger buyers into their showrooms. It’s backed by a solid warranty, it comes with OnStar, it’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick and it’s competitively priced; in other words, Buick is going head to head against both the Lexus IS250 and the Acura TSX. If I were shopping either of these choices, I’d give the Buick a serious look.
One of the Buick’s selling points is the exterior styling, and I’m not ashamed to say that I think the car is stunning, especially in darker colors. It doesn’t look like any other car on the road, yet there’s enough of Buick’s traditional styling elements (like the waterfall grille and tasteful chrome trim) to remind you what family it belongs to. It’s based on the EU market Opel Insignia, so it’s the first Buick that can legitimately claim to be built from a European sedan, and that’s evident both from the style and from the cars ride. Unlike other GM products (the Cadillac CTS, for example), the Buick’s lines aren’t polarizing; even if you don’t love the looks, chances are good you won’t hate them.
Inside, the Euro theme is continued. Instruments are styled like chronographs, and reside in chrome-trimmed pods. Lighting is GM’s subdued blue, but the Regal Turbo also includes a “laser spot” needle indicator for the tachometer and the speedometer. Like the LED bar graphs in the Cadillac CTS-V, it really does help you acquire information on engine speed and road speed quickly. If I had a single complaint about the car’s interior design, it would be “too muck black on the dash”. In fact, there’s precious little other than black on the dashboard; you’ve got gloss piano black, matte black and textured black, but the only chrome or silver trim surrounds the shifter, steering wheel and instrument pods. The doors receive silver trim and chrome handles, which tends to break up an otherwise overly subdued interior. It’s not as bad as the acres of black plastic in the Camaro, but Buick could have done a better job making the interior a bit more visually interesting.
Still, that’s not much to complain about, and it pales to what Buick got right with the car. Take the front seats, for example: they’re superb in both appearance (with contrasting stitching) and comfort, and offer more lateral support than any other Buick in recent memory. They are, of course, heated, and both driver and passenger get adjustable lumbar support. This little detail makes a huge difference in comfort on long road trips, something the Regal Turbo would be especially good at whether your route was on interstates or winding back roads.
Even rear seat passengers won’t be disappointed, unless the driver is testing the limits of the Regal’s handling. There’s plenty of room for two adults (three, if the trip is short), but there’s not much lateral support for rear seat passengers. They do get grab handles, and this is the first Buick in recent memory that may require passengers to use them. Despite the sloping roof line, rear seat headroom is good for those under six foot; if you’re much taller than that, be sure to call “shotgun” early. Even rear legroom is decent, but remember that this is currently the smallest Buick. If you really need more room in the rear seat, shop the LaCrosse or Lucerne.
On the road, this is the best Buick I’ve ever driven (and that’s not meant to be damning by faint praise). Steering is nicely weighted with reasonable feedback, and the Regal Turbo’s optional Interactive Drive Control allows the driver to select one of three drive modes: Standard is the default mode, and it aims to provide a balance of both handling and ride comfort. Punch the Sport button and the ride stiffens, the steering gets heavier and throttle response improves. If you want comfort above all else, Tour mode yields the softest suspension, the lightest steering and the least aggressive throttle settings. Perhaps best of all is the system’s adaptive nature; if it senses a sudden change in driving style, it compensates accordingly. A sudden lane change avoidance maneuver, even in Tour mode, shouldn’t produce significant drama.
If there’s another area for improvement, it’s the engine GM chose for duty in the Regal Turbo. On paper, 220 horsepower and 258 ft lb of torque sound good enough for sport sedan duty, but the Regal isn’t a light car. In fact, it weighs in at nearly 3,700 pounds, so acceleration isn’t exactly enough to pin you in your seat. The run from zero to sixty takes nearly eight and a half seconds, and shifts aren’t exactly sport-sedan quick. You’d think that fuel economy would at least be exceptional, but it isn’t; around town, the Regal Turbo is rated at 18 MPG, and that increases to 28 MPG on the highway. I saw an actual combined fuel economy of 21 MPG, which is slightly less than what you’d expect from the Regal’s primary competitor, the Acura TSX.
That aside, the Regal has a lot going for it. The doors close with a solid feel usually reserved for German imports, and the car’s sense of style puts it in a class of one. The suspension means that canyon roads can be sought out, and not avoided as with Buicks of old. The Regal can be equipped with as much technology as your budget allows, including navigation, a Harmon Kardon audio system, the Interactive Drive Control and HID headlights. Best of all, the Regal Turbo gives us an idea of what to expect in the upcoming Buick Regal GS; if the Regal Turbo is good, I expect the Regal GS to be very, very good.
My 2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo tester had a list price of $29,495, including a destination charge of $750. The sole option on my press fleet car was the $3,695 T06 Option Package (Rear Airbags, Interactive Drive Control, Power Sunroof, 19” Alloy Wheels, HID Headlamps, Harmon Kardon Audio), for a total sticker price of $33,190. By comparison, a comparably equipped Acura TSX would sticker at $30,470, while a comparable Lexus IS 250 would sticker at $34,020. In fairness, the Buick does include amenities not available on the Acura (premium audio, for example, or the Interactive Drive Control) and has a more solid feel to it, but the TSX is a proven commodity. Will the Regal prove to be a worthy adversary? The jury’s still out, but I suspect the answer is “yes”.