Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, Autos.ca
Whether the new Buick Regal, aka Opel Insignia (now built in Russelsheim, Germany, but soon to be built in Oshawa, Ontario) will capture the hearts and minds of Canadian Buick buyers is an open question.
General Motors’ past efforts to re-badge Opel cars for the North American market haven’t been too successful. They included the Cadillac Catera (1997-2001) an Opel Omega clone; the Saturn Astra (2008-2009), a rebadged Opel Astra; the Saturn Aura (2008-2009), aka Opel Vectra; and the Saturn Vue SUV (2008), a version of the Opel Antara.
While the mid-size Opel Insignia sedan has the kind of trim looks, sharp handling and vehicle athleticism that Europeans like – it was named European Car of the Year in 2009 – those virtues don’t always translate well in North America where buyers expect domestic cars to look and drive like American cars.
Still, as a company looking to change its image from a manufacturer of large, ponderous, ill-handling luxury cars often driven by senior citizens, to one that sells luxury cars with more dynamic styling, improved vehicle dynamics and a more youthful appeal, the “European-ized” Regal makes good sense.
It’s the new Buick, you see. Octogenarians need not apply.
Much attention has been paid to the turbocharged 220-hp Buick Regal CXL Turbo model (which will change its trim to GS and get a boost to 255 hp in 2012), but this is typical of the automotive media’s obsession with horsepower. The standard Regal CXL, this week’s test car, with its 182-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder has all the power you’ll need for daily duties with better gas mileage, and at a more reasonable price.
A four-cylinder engine in a mid-sized Buick, you say? “All the power you’ll need?” I wouldn’t blame you for being sceptical. But after having spent a week with the Buick Regal, I was impressed at how peppy and quiet this four-banger is and there were times when I thought there was a V6 under the hood. It does feel a bit stretched when pulling out to pass at highway speeds, but around town and in typical commuting duties, it’s more than adequate. On the freeway at 100 km/h, the engine motors along at only 1,800 r.p.m. in top gear, helping to keep the engine and cabin quiet. With direct fuel injection, dual overhead camshafts, four-valves per cylinder, continuous variable valve timing for intake and exhaust valves, and electronic throttle control, this “Ecotec” 2.4-litre engine is a sophisticated powerplant that develops 182 horsepower at 6,700 r.p.m. and 172 lb.-ft. torque at 4,900 r.p.m. Energuide fuel economy ratings are 10.8/6.5 city/hwy (L/100 km) while EPA ratings are 12.4/7.8 city/hwy. My test car’s onboard fuel consumption display read 11.4 L/100 km after a week of city and highway driving. The Regal uses Regular gas.
GM’s smooth-shifting Hydra-Matic 6T45 six-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment in the Regal CXL (a six-speed manual transmission will be available in the Turbo model) and it’s a good match with the engine. It offers sequential manual shifting by moving the shift lever into a gate and pushing forwards to shift up, back to shift down.
Low-profile 18-inch tires – my test car had Michelin Pilot MXM4 235/50R18-inch all-seasons – a fully independent suspension and firm, but well-damped shocks, provide crisp handling, minimal lean in the corners, and a sporty driving feel. While the ride is comfortable, it’s a firmer ride than Buick owners may be used to.
The Regal’s standard hydraulic rack and pinion steering is quick and responsive, but steering effort is a bit heavy at slow speeds – it’s not a variable assist system like that of the Regal Turbo. The Regal’s turning circle of 11.4 metres (37.4 ft.) is a bit wider than it could be for this size of car.
Standard disc brakes at all four corners with ABS, and a firm pedal feel provide confident braking. Consumer Reports’ braking tests show an excellent 60 mph to 0 braking distance of 131 feet in the dry, and 145 feet in the wet. Electronic stability control and all-speed traction control are standard in the Regal.
A combination of generous sound insulation, a strong bodyshell (25 per cent stiffer than the previous Regal), and a quiet engine keeps mechanical noises out of the cabin, and apart from some tire noise on the highway, the Regal is a very quiet cruising car.
You’d expect a mid-size, five passenger sedan with a 2738 mm (107.8 in) wheelbase to be roomy, but the Regal is not as roomy in the rear seat as it should be. Rear legroom and kneeroom is just adequate for adults and headroom is minimal for adults of above-average height; and the bucket shape of the outboard rear seats makes it more comfy for two than three passengers. For convenience, there is a centre folding armrest with two cupholders and a shallow storage bin, and for safety, there are two rear head restraints, but not three.
Up front is a stylish instrument panel with wraparound piano black trim, aluminum-trimmed steering wheel, doors and shift surround, chrome-trimmed gauges and radio controls, centre information screen and pleasant blue backlighting. My only criticism is that the smooth plastic surface of the instrument panel tends to retain finger smudges. Oh, and the power door lock button is in the centre dash, not on the doors.
Well-bolstered leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel are standard in the Regal CXL – the optional driver’s seat in my test car had power rake, height and lumbar adjustments while the front passenger seat offers power height and manual lumbar adjuster. A tilt and telescoping steering wheel is standard.
The standard audio system is an AM/FM/CD/MP3 with seven speakers, an auxiliary audio input jack, a USB port, and input jack for iPod or other MP3 player inside the centre console. Optional is a nine-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system with a 320-watt amplifier. All Regals come with a standard OnStar emergency and information service that includes six months of the Directions & Connections Plan with Turn-by-Turn Navigation; available is an optional HDD-based navigation system with 40-GB hard drive, 7-inch colour screen, and control knob.
Split folding rear seatbacks fold down easily and there’s a centre pass-through for transporting long items. The Regal’s 14.2 cu. ft. is smaller than average for a mid-size car, but the trunk is fully lined and well shaped.
Standard safety equipment includes standard dual-stage frontal airbags, front side airbags, and side-curtain airbags; rear-seat side air bags are optional.
All 2011 Regals come in the well-equipped CXL trim level which explains its fairly extensive list of standard equipment (additional trim levels to be offered in the 2012 model year). With a base price of $31,990, the Regal CXL is a good value when compared to other mid-sized luxury cars, and is more comparable with well-equipped four-cylinder sedans like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, and Chrysler 200.
The 2011 Regal is available with five option packages priced from $1,130 to $6,855 bringing the maximum potential as-tested price close to $39,000. Our Regal CXL test car with the 1SD package ($2,525) included 12-way power passenger seat w/4-way power lumbar, rear 115-volt outlet, rear ultrasonic park assist, and power glass sunroof bringing the price to $34,515. Adding $1,450 Freight and $100 air conditioning tax brought the as-tested price to $36,050, plus taxes.
If you prefer more power, the 2011 Regal Turbo model starts at $34,990 in CXL trim and adds the 220-hp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, standard manual transmission, variable assist steering, power front seats and available 19-inch tires and driver-selectable suspension settings.
For those more concerned with fuel economy, Buick will soon introduce a Regal e-Assist model that uses a 115-volt lithium-ion battery and 15-kW induction motor-generator unit to provide extra boost to the gasoline engine, thus improving fuel efficiency by up to 24 per cent.
None of this should take away from the standard Buick Regal which I think offers a nice balance of power, fuel economy, handling and luxury.
Pricing: 2011 Buick Regal CXL
Base price: $31,990
Options: $2,525 (Preferred Equipment Package 1SD: 12-way power passenger seat w/4-way power lumbar, rear 115-volt outlet, ultrasonic rear parking sensors, power glass sunroof)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $36,065
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)