When General Motors began its restructuring process several of its iconic brands were given the axe, surprisingly to many, Buick survived the thinning of the corporate herd.
At a recent press launch for Buick’s latest offering, the 2011 Buick Regal, the assembled journalists learned that the revival of this storied nameplate was an attempt to reinvigorate a brand that was thought by many, to be well past its prime. It came as no surprise that the average age of the current Buick customer in North America is 68 years, a number that must send shivers down the spines of members of the product planning and marketing teams at home office. The reborn Regal is being targeted at mere pups of 32 years of age.
The Regal is new to our market, but is in fact based on the company’s German charge, the Opel Insignia, a car that has proven a home-run for the company in Europe, where it was awarded the title of 2009 European Car of the year, and currently sits atop the sales chart in the mid-sized sedan category.
Under the Hood
Initially Canadian consumers will be only be able to purchase a Regal in the premium CXL trim, but this stylish German-made sedan is available with two drive train options. The standard power plant is a 2.4-litre Ecotec four-cylinder engine featuring direct injection. This very efficient engine is a proven performer, and delivers 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. A six-speed automatic transmission (complete with manual mode) is standard, and during my brief time with the car, proved to be a smooth operator.
Those consumers looking for a little more zing can order their Regal fitted with a 2.0-litre turbocharged Ecotec engine also benefitting from direct injection. A very healthy 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque is delivered to the front wheels without drama, via a six-speed transmission that felt much quicker to react to driver inputs, thus allowing the enthusiast driver to better exercise the turbo-charged cars sporty aspirations.
Consumers choosing the turbo-charged car can also order a system called Interactive Drive Control which adapts the car’s vehicle dynamics based on driver inputs. The system offers three different operating modes – Normal, Tour and Sport – which tweak the independent suspension and stability settings, as well as the response of the throttle, shift pattern and steering sensitivity. This package made driving the Regal invigorating enough that I was still harping about the experience a month later. Word that a performance oriented GS package is in the works should attract even more traffic to the Buick showroom in coming months.
At the Wheel
The Buick Regal is being marketed as a premium model for General Motors, but a premium model with a sporty edge. After spending some time behind the wheel of both models, I must admit that the car delivers as promised. The ride is comfortable for cruising, but communicative enough to give the car that seat-of-your-pants feel demanded by enthusiast drivers. Steering inputs proved responsive, and the car’s compact dimensions and excellent sightlines made exploring back country roads a pleasure I never expected to experience in a Buick. The Regal also benefits from four-wheel disc brakes backed up by the potent combo of four-channel ABS and “intelligent” brake assist. Stopping power remained consistent and fade-free, even when tested on long mountain descents and when called into action to help me avoid renegade Kamikaze squirrels.
The Regal ‘s profile is sleek, and almost coupe like. This adds to curb appeal, but does rob the rear seating area of some headroom. A wide stance, long wheelbase, and aerodynamically-sculpted body looks both aggressive and sporty. The presence of Buick’s traditional waterfall grill and a smattering of Buick badges represent the only cues to past models, which is a good thing.
The interior represents a significant step for the brand. All panel and seating surfaces work well together, and seem to be made of quality materials. Fit and finish is on par with the best offerings from Europe or Japan, and the cabin layout conveys a sense of spaciousness. The front seats offered excellent support during hard cornering, while at the same time proving comfortable enough for long distance touring. All instrumentation and controls were easy to see and reach from the driver’s position, and I found their use intuitive in short order.
The level of standard equipment on the CXL is impressive. It includes such items as 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlamps, fog lamps, heated mirrors, driver information centre, eight-way driver (four-way passenger) power-adjustable heated leather seats, tire pressure monitor, and a leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio controls.
The target market for this car is a tech-savvy crowd so the Regal is equipped with Bluetooth and a premium audio system with USB and IPOD connectivity. XM satellite radio is standard as is GM’s popular OnStar communications system.
Ordering off the menu of options will equip the car with a navigation system, an enormous 40-GB hard-drive for your music files, an up-rated Harman/Kardon audio system with nine carefully matched speakers, and safety items such as rear seat side airbags and rear park assist.
Initial production for the Regal is scheduled for Germany, but Oshawa is ramping up to take over production by the Spring. The normally aspirated Regal CXL is available now, with turbo models arriving at the dealership shortly. Word that a performance oriented GS package is in the works should attract even more traffic to the Buick showroom in coming months, while at the other end of the spectrum, a base model will roll be introduced as a 2012 model.
A model of efficiency
The Regal delivers exceptional fuel economy for a car of its size. The 2.4-litre Ecotec engine consumes a paltry 10.8-litres of regular gasoline in the city, and a mere 6.5-litres during highway operation. This is largely due to the fact that four-cylinder engines were selected to provide motivation for the car, but the use of lightweight materials (wherever possible), direct injection, and a six-speed transmission help the Regal stand out as a model of efficiency. Numbers for the turbo-charged car have yet to be determined, but are expected to be in the same neighbourhood.
A new audience
If the 2011 Regal represents General Motor’s new direction for the storied Buick brand, I have no doubt that this car will help the company attract a new audience and build a solid foundation for the future.
2011 Buick Regal CXL
Base price (MSRP): $31,990; $34,990 (Turbo)
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