- Sporty handling
- High fuel economy
- Upscale cabin
- Lots of standard features
- Pokey acceleration
- Confusing electronics interface
- Narrow trunk
Mention the words Buick Regal and you're bound to get one of three responses. Some folks will give you blank stares. Others may remember a nice-riding but otherwise nondescript sedan with that name (that retired after 2004). And older folks may recall hood ornaments, pillowed velour bench seats and padded landau tops. With the all-new 2011 Buick Regal, the company is looking to change all that and give this nameplate a more modern and memorable persona.
The personality transplant comes by way of Europe – the donor being General Motors' Opel division. The 2011 Buick Regal is based on the Opel Insignia and as such shares that smart sedan's athletic handling and well-sorted European ride. The Regal is a midsize sedan, but it rides on a 107.8-inch wheelbase, which is about 4 inches shorter than what you'll find on the recently introduced Buick LaCrosse. This means the Regal is a bit smaller, with a tighter backseat. Basically, you can consider this Buick's midsize car.
The 3,600-pound Regal is available with a 2.4-liter inline-4 that sports direct fuel-injection technology and high fuel economy (up to 30 mpg highway), but we've found its 182 horsepower inadequate for motivating a car with luxury aspirations -- most midsize sedans without luxury aspirations are quicker. A turbocharged 2.0-liter engine sporting 220 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque is also offered and is a much better choice. It's hardly an acceleration champ either, but its punchy low-end power makes it seem quicker than it actually is.
Buick is positioning the 2011 Regal against the likes of the 2011 Acura TSX and 2011 Lexus IS 250. In the past, cross-shopping a Buick against these two well-known luxury sport sedans might have seemed as odd as adding liverwurst along with pizza and a cheeseburger to lunchtime considerations. But things have certainly turned around recently for Buick. If you can set aside your preconceived notions and take a 2011 Regal for a spin, chances are you won't forget to add this Buick to your sporty midsize sedan consideration list.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011
For 2011, the Buick Regal nameplate returns after a six-year hiatus. Only now, it's affixed to a Euro-bred sport sedan.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2011 Buick Regal is a midsize family sport sedan available in two trim levels: CXL and CXL Turbo. Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, heated sideview mirrors, keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, full power accessories, OnStar, leather upholstery, a power driver seat, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, a trip computer, a 60/40-split rear seatback, a seven-speaker stereo (with CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, iPod/auxiliary audio jacks and steering-wheel-mounted controls) and Bluetooth connectivity.
Opting for the Regal CXL Turbo will add rear parking sensors and a 12-way power-adjustable front passenger seat -- both of which are available on the standard Regal CXL as part of the optional Comfort and Convenience package. Options exclusive to the turbo model include 19-inch wheels, xenon headlights and an Interactive Drive Control system with Sport, Tour and Standard modes. Options for either Regal include a sunroof, a hard-drive-based navigation system with digital music storage and a nine-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The Regal's cabin has a clean, no-nonsense design aesthetic, though a few splashes of metallic trim brighten things up a bit. The low-mounted climate controls are easy to decipher, though the audio setup has too many flat, look-alike buttons.
Adding the navigation system brings with it even more usability issues. The GM nav system is intended to utilize a touchscreen, but the Regal doesn't have this, instead relying on an odd redundancy of two multipurpose control knobs (one on the dash and the other on the center console). Also, the six radio preset buttons do not work unless the display screen has the audio menu highlighted -- it's odd and anathema to cars with navigation systems.
The front seats have plenty of support for spirited driving and comfort for long-haul trips. Those riding in back, however, may find the rear seatbacks a bit flat and uncomfortable, though a wide center armrest adds a measure of comfort back there. Trunk capacity is respectable at 14.2 cubic feet, but the trunk is narrow, meaning there's less space for golf bags than you'll find in some other similarly sized luxury sedans.
Standard safety equipment for all 2011 Buick Regal models include antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, OnStar, front seat side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Rear-seat thorax airbags are available as an option on all Regals, while brake assist is included only on the turbo model.
In Edmunds brake testing, both versions of the Regal came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet, which is about average for cars in this class.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2011 Buick Regal as one of its "Top Safety Picks," awarding it the highest score of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2011 Buick Regal is offered with the choice of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque, or a 2.0-liter turbocharged variant that produces 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic (with manual shift capability) is standard for both engines; the turbo is also offered with a six-speed manual transmission.
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 19 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 23 mpg in combined driving for the 2.4-liter engine. The CXL Turbo achieves an estimated 18/28/22.
In testing, a 2011 Regal with the base 2.4-liter required a very long 9.9 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph. This is considerably slower -- in some cases, by more than 3 seconds -- than the competitors. The Turbo improves that time to 8.4 seconds, which is obviously better, but still slow for the class.
Those expecting a disconnected feel and a floaty ride are in for a big surprise with the 2011 Buick Regal. Quick steering and a firm, unwavering attitude on a winding road give the Regal plenty of sport sedan credibility. We're big fans of the optional Interactive Drive Control that provides three distinct settings for steering, suspension and throttle tuning. Sport mode noticeably improves the Regal's sportiness, while Tour gives the car a compliant ride without a hint of old-school Buick float.
Unfortunately, acceleration is far from sporty, at least with the base 2.4-liter engine. Under full throttle, this engine seems to generate more in the way of noise than power. In our opinion, the turbocharged engine is certainly worth the price premium. Despite its unimpressive timed runs at our test track, the Turbo offers a broad power spread, plenty of gusto around town and sufficient punch for charging up on-ramps. The six-speed automatic clicked off smooth, timely shifts and unlike some other recent GM autoboxes, this transmission didn't seem obsessed with upshifting early in order to maximize fuel economy.
The 2011 Buick Regal proves the old "what's in a name" adage; the tri-shield division has produced a car worthy of consideration by those who truly enjoy driving.