With Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) goals for passenger cars targeted to exceed 50 miles per gallon by the 2025 model year, automakers are tinkering diligently to maximize every ounce of petro potential. General Motors has several irons in the fire including gas-electric hybrid technology of a kinder, gentler -to-the-wallet nature. It's important to note not all gas-electric hybrids, cruising U.S. roadways since 1999, are created equal.
The higher price premium of 'full' hybrids (such as Toyota's Prius) led to the emergence of less costly 'mild' gas-electric hybrids. Mild hybrids differ slightly from one manufacturer to the next, but have one aspect in common: electric motors in mild hybrids do not solely propel vehicles at any time. With full hybrids, electric motors have the capacity to propel vehicles at low speeds. Instead, the electric motor in mild hybrids provides an assist to the gasoline engine through technologies such as regenerative braking (capturing friction during vehicle deceleration for later use). Mild hybrid technology from General Motors utilizes the marketing tag eAssist (think e for electric).
General Motor's entry-luxury Buick division features two 2012 models benefitting from eAssist; its largest sedan, Lacrosse and this week's tester, the mid-size, front-wheel-drive Regal sport sedan. General Motors' eAssist does NOT require an assist from a plug-in wall socket as it's a self-contained, self-recharging design.
Full and mild gas-electric hybrid technologies are part of an emerging list of fuel-extending options now available to consumers including clean diesel (Volkswagen Jetta) , full electric (Nissan Leaf), compressed natural gas (Honda Civic), plug-in hybrid (Prius Plug-in variant) and extended range (Chevy Volt).
Regal and LaCrosse eAssist models utilize a relatively lightweight 65-pound lithium-ion battery power pack for electric energy storage. Also, a 15-kilowatt electric motor-generator is mounted to the four-cylinder engine in place of an alternator. In addition to regenerative braking, eAssist also proves added electric power assist during acceleration and shuts down the internal combustion engine during prolonged stops at traffic lights or when Metra commuter trains saunter on by.
Indeed when flooring from a standing start, the extra torque is noticeable and greatly appreciated. Light electrification (GM's pet name for mild hybrid) stretches fuel economy while improving performance, a great win-win scenario. Aside for extra performance pep (and increased fuel economy), the average driver would be hard pressed to recognize any routine difference between this Regal and one with the conventional four cylinder. Just get in and drive.
Regal's eAssist technology gets mated to GM's 2.4-liter, direct injection four cylinder powertrain and standard six-speed automatic transmission. With estimates of 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, eAssist improves fuel economy 25 percent over the stand-alone 2.4-liter four cylinder. Regular 87-octane fuel fills the relatively large 18.5 gallon tank.
The lithium Ion battery pack is located between second-row backrests and the trunk, but it's not as bulky or weighty as nickel metal hydride battery packs found in most full-hybrids from Toyota. Also of note, backrests continue to fold down with a 60/40 split with a small pass-through opening accessible from the larger split. Trunk volume gets reduced slightly to 11.1 cubic feet from an already comparably diminutive 14.2 cubic feet. The cargo region features goose-neck type hinges ensconced in heavy buffering as not to interfere with transport packaging.
Regal offers a staggering four powertrain options in 2012. In addition to the 2.4-liter Ecotec four cylinder available with or without eAssist, two turbocharged four cylinders are available. In the 2013 model year, eAssist becomes standard with the 2.4-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder engine, whittling down the number of powertrain to three.
Regal with eAssist comes standard with three months of satellite radio, compact disc and MP3 player, dual zone air conditioning and remote keyless entry. Two option packages are available (Premium One and Premium Two) and eAssist technology adds $2,000. Our tester with Premium Two package started at $29,519. In-dash navigation ($1,145) and power sunroof ($950) brought the bottom line to $34,470 after factoring an $860 destination charge.
Outside, GM opts for a very low key approach to eAssist technology promotion. In fact, no mention is detectable anywhere on the exterior armor hinting of this handsome vehicle's mild hybrid underpinnings, reflecting a quiet dignity.
The hood includes two small iconic port holes on each side, a salute to a past era when larger versions adorned Buicks. Strap-like door handles sport chrome plating. A large, waterfall front grille includes Buick's familiar tri-shield circular logo front and center, contrasting a short rear deck lid. Regal's teamed with eAssist sport seventeen-inch, lightweight aluminum wheels and low rolling-resistance tires. This rubber adds about one mile per gallon in both city and highway travel.
As with non-hybrid Regals, the semi-flat instrument panel includes two larger circular analog gauges (speedometer and tachometer) with two diminutive circles in between; one being a simplistic 'eco' gauge replacing the temperature readout. For a more detailed summery, look to the in-dash monitor/screen, doubling as the optional navigation feed. A push-screen 'hybrid' icon summons forth a schematic detailing real-time hybrid activity including when eAssist is engaged with 'hybrid power,' 'engine power,' 'engine idle' or 'Auto Stop' (when the engine is silenced during prolonged stops).
Power leather front bucket (with white stitching) are firm, bolstered and uncommonly comfy, some of the best cushioning in the business. The driver's seat powers vertically easy adjustments tailored to taller drivers. Since Regal tilts towards the smaller end of the mid-size segment, backseats are best left for two adults.
Our Regal with eAssist included Premium Package electronic push button start and stop. All four doors include aluminum-brushed c-clamp-like handles for easy opening and closing of the light-weight doors. Dual inline cup holders between front buckets are near a center arm rest which opens front the front (hinged at the back) to gain access to USB and audio ports. The three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel incorporated cruise control and secondary audio functions. Along the center stack bottom resides a small ventilation control center with dials controlling temperature and buttons for fan speed and direction. The dial-less nine-speaker sound/navigation system above features a dizzying array of buttons, so secondary steering wheel controls come in handy.
Overall Regal has the feel of a solidly built vehicle, qualifying as a driver's car with tight suspension and handling. It's not a luxury/floaty ride previously found in Buick's house-boat-on-wheels Roadmaster. Domestically speaking, the closest competitor is probably Lincoln's MKZ hybrid. Both are mid-size, entry-luxury types registering identical highway mileage (36 mpg highway). The key difference being MKZ is classified as a full hybrid with better city mileage (41 mpg for MKZ vs. 25 mpg for Regal). However, Regal eAssist has a bottom line thousands of greenbacks lighter.
Six months of OnStar, GM's in-vehicle communication network, comes standard. With the push of a rear-view mirror frame button, this system connects occupants with a 24-hour manned command central; no tutorial to wade through, just easy access to information.2012 Buick Regal with eAssistPrice as tested:
$ 33,610Destination charge:
2.4-liter, four-cylinder EcotecHorsepower:
3,618 poundsCity/Highway economy:
25 mpg city/36mpg highwayPowertrain warranty:
Five years/100,000 milesAssembly:
Oshawa, Ontario Canada