Buick resurrected the Regal name for its newest car, but that doesn't mean it's anything like the Buicks of old.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
The new Regal is a small, fun-to-drive, thoroughly modern car that marks a dramatic break from the heavy, V8-powered Buicks of the past.
It doesn't have that meaty, American iron feeling you would normally expect from this brand because — truthfully — it was never meant to be a Buick in the first place.
This car actually started out in Germany as the Opel Insignia. If General Motors hadn't gone bankrupt, it would have been sold in America as a Saturn, but that plan died along with the Saturn brand.
The Insignia was too good of a car to keep away from Americans, though, so GM decided to bring it to the United States as a Buick instead. Thus was born the 2011 Regal.
And thank goodness.
The new Regal is exactly the kind of car that GM needs to be selling here. It has an upscale, premium feel — despite its smallish dimensions — that make it seem like an expensive car from the driver's seat. It looks as classy as, say, an Infiniti G37, but it has a starting price around $26,000, which is $5,000 less than the Infiniti.
Its snazzy body isn't much of a surprise for Buick, which has been cranking out good-looking cars like the Lacrosse and Enclave for
several years, but there's one thing about the Regal that's a shocker:
It only comes with a four-cylinder engine. That's a major change for a brand that has long been known for V8s and the occasional V6.
Now, before you get too upset about this Buick sacrilege, you should know that one of those engines has a turbocharger that gives it the
oomph of a big V6.
The model I drove, a Regal CXL Turbo, served up an overflowing plate of smooth, sophisticated power. There was no truck-like grunt — just
the quiet whirr of a turbocharger spinning under the hood as it delivered 220 horsepower from a little 2.0-liter engine, which is
The result is a car that is not only fast — 220 horses in a car this light makes it feel like a rocket — but also fairly efficient at 28
mpg on the highway. The non-turbo version, with a 2.4-liter engine, is rated for 30 mpg at highway speed.
This car excels on both the outside and inside, where GM executed everything to perfection. The body looks sleek and luxurious, a good fit for driving around upscale suburbs. And the interior is even better, another example of how "New GM" has figured out how to give cabins the wow factor of luxury cars without a luxury price.
The driving feel, though, isn't quite as good.
Granted, it's great for a Buick, with a light, nimble feeling that shows its European DNA, but it's not as sporty as the more luxurious
cars that it aims to compete with — such as the G37, Acura TSX and Nissan Maxima.
The Regal undercuts all those cars on price, though, making it seem like a great value in comparison. You can get it with the turbocharger
for under $29,000, and even when decked out with lots of high-end options the price only reaches the $35,000 range.
Overall, the new Regal leaves two impressions: "Wow, this is a really nice car!" And, "Wow, people might be able to afford it!"
It's a car that offers a glimpse at how great a Buick can be, even if it was never intended to be a Buick at all.
What was tested?
2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo ($28,745). Options: T07 option package including sunroof, interactive suspension and navigation system
($5,690). Price as tested (including $750 delivery fee): $35,185.
Why buy it?
It's a good value, offering the stylish looks and upscale cabin of a luxury car with an affordable base price, starting around $26,000.
Why avoid it?
It's smaller than most of its luxury-brand competition, and the front-wheel-drive handling isn't as sporty as it could be.