Review and photos by
Chris Chase, Autos.ca
When I first tested the new-for-2011 Buick Regal last year, I was impressed by the car’s chassis, but was left wanting more from the base powertrain, a 2.4-litre engine and slow-witted six-speed transmission I found ill-fitted for a vehicle billed as a sport sedan.
The Regal’s “other” engine, added to the option list last fall, is a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder. It makes 220 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque to the 2.4-litre’s 182 hp and 172 lb.-ft., a relatively small boost in power that makes a world of difference in this car.
To be clear, the Regal’s base engine is not a bad motor. It’s a smooth-running mill whose only fault is that it’s a better fit in a family car than in one GM insists on calling a European-bred sport sedan. The Turbo model, with its uprated motor, fixes most of the problems I had with the lesser model.
The transmission, the same six-speed automatic used in the base car, gets along better with the turbocharged engine. It’s more responsive here, downshifting promptly when acceleration is called for, and generally behaving more decisively than it did in the 2.4-litre car I drove last year. The manual shift mode is pretty good, too, obeying the driver’s commands in a timely fashion.Starting with the most obvious improvement, the turbocharged motor is a snappy piece with great throttle response, and its generous torque, all of which is available from 2,000 rpm, makes for great off-the-line performance. The motor is smooth, too, and in the absence of the throaty exhaust note that the Regal’s six-cylinder competitors offer, is still no hardship to hear in hard running.
The automatic is the standard transmission choice in both cars, but a six-speed manual is available for the Turbo model.
With the 2.0-litre motor, the Regal’s Natural Resources Canada fuel consumption estimates are 11.5/7.0 L/100 km (city/highway); my tester averaged 12.5 L/100 km in the city and 8.9 in about 1,000 km of driving from Ottawa to Toronto and back. That result was disappointing, but I suspect strong winds on both travel days contributed to that surprisingly high number. Last year’s 2.4-litre tester averaged 10.4 L/100 km in a 50/50 split of city and highway driving.
The basic Regal boasts great handling, but the Turbo ups that ante with the addition of the optional Interactive Drive Control system. Choosing Touring mode ramps up the suspension’s roll control for flatter, more balanced cornering, and a Sport setting firms up the ride significantly, reduces power assist to the steering and sharpens the engine and transmission’s responses to the gas pedal.
Sport mode also has the effect of improving the car’s already impressive steering feel, allowing more feedback from the front tires through to the steering wheel rim. My only problem with this adjustable suspension is that it’s not a stand-alone option across the Regal Turbo line; you have to spend nearly $40,000 to get it, a bit of a reach from the car’s $35,000 base price.
Comfortable seats and the Regal’s great high-speed composure make the car a great long-distance cruiser. The Turbo model’s interior is cut-and-pasted from its lesser cousin, so it boasts the same good stuff and suffers from the same sore points. The latter include a tight rear seat whose space is closer to that of a compact sedan than the mid-sizers it’s priced against, and a rear door frame that’s easy to whack your head on as you get in and out. Another interior nitpick is an automatic climate control system that blows cold air before the engine warms up. The dashboard layout is logical, but a little more brightwork would lighten the mood, and all the panel cutlines at the bottom of the centre stack make it look cluttered.
The trunk is large, easily accommodating a medium suitcase, an acoustic guitar case, three laptops and a few other sundry items. The rear seatbacks fold almost flat revealing a generous opening between the trunk and passenger cabin. A nice touch are the rear seatbelt keepers that prevent the belt from getting caught behind the seatback when returned to its upright position.
For $34,990, the Regal Turbo’s standard features include heated front seats, 12-way power passenger seat with lumbar adjustment, rear-seat power outlet, leather and a rear park-assist system. My tester had the 1SN option group, which adds a power sunroof, rear seat airbags, nine-speaker stereo, Xenon headlights, 19-inch wheels and the Interactive Drive Control system, which bumped the cost to $39,445; adding navigation would have added another $3,230. The six-speed manual transmission, for drivers so inclined, is a no-cost option.
Buick says it’s trying to skew its demographic to include younger drivers, and in base form, the Regal’s chassis is a big step toward that goal. The Turbo model is a massive leap, however, making good on what was wrong with the base car, and improving what was already right.
Pricing: 2011 Buick Regal Turbo
Base price: $34,990
Options: $4,455 (1SN Package of sunroof, rear seat airbags, nine-speaker stereo, HID headlamps, Interactive Drive Control and 19-inch wheels)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $40,995
Crash test results