2012 Buick Regal Review

2012 Buick Regal - eAssist gives Regal the feel of a hybrid at half the price.


I think Buick gets a bad rap. Of course, with lumbering hunks of metal like the Lucerne, the automaker didn't do itself any favors. But, the times they are a changing, and it's time to take another look at this austere brand.

With new compact entries like Verano, Encore and Regal, Buick is trying to appeal to a different crowd. Someone who is both urban and sophisticated. Someone who wants luxury and upscale tech features. And, well, someone who is younger. Much younger. With Regal, Buick mostly hits the mark. I only say "mostly" because while the tech features are spot on, the styling is still a little, um, conservative.

When I surveyed my friends, who range from 20-something to 40-something, I got a pretty similar reaction across the board: They thought it was comfortable and liked the interior appointments, but the exterior styling and overall brand reputation are a little too stuffy for their taste. While big brother Cadillac has managed to get over that hump, I think Buick still has a ways to go before it finishes that climb.

Which is too bad because the 2012 Buick Regal is a darn fine vehicle. Especially when you consider all the standard features you get with a base price of $29K. I mean, we're talking leather seating surfaces, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats, steering wheel audio controls, remote start,  keyless entry, push-button start, OnStar with 6 months free service and XM Radio with 3 months free service. That's a lot of standard stuff for under $30K.

The test vehicle had a couple of pricey options -- including eAssist, navigation and power sunroof -- that took the final price up to $35K. While the convenience of the in-car navigation is nice, I would honestly say I could have done without any of the options. Including eAssist.

In and of itself, eAssist is an awesome feature. This $2K package basically takes a gasoline vehicle and turns it into a mild hybrid. Equipped with a lithium-ion battery system, the electric motor generator both allows the engine to shut off at a stop and gives a boost to the vehicle in various driving conditions. In theory, this is a great idea. You get some of the functionality of a hybrid at a fraction of the price. In reality, I was a bit disappointed with my final fuel economy numbers. And before you ask: No, I did not use the remote start. I did however drive around 70 mph on the highway and had a lot of city stop signs during my Chicago neighborhood driving.

I averaged 26.2 mpg during my one-week test, and the EPA estimates that this car should get 25 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. It was particularly cold during the test period, and I did have a lot of city driving, but I also had 30 highway miles a day during the work week. So, I had hoped for something a little better. Especially since in the Chevrolet Cruze Eco model with a 6-speed manual transmission, I averaged about 32 mpg in the same driving conditions.

Before leaving eAssist, though, I do want to mention that the actual functionality of the system with stop/start was beautiful. I could hardly tell when the engine shut off or kicked back on, and there was nary a stutter or shudder when it was time to go, go, go. I've driven a few vehicles with similar systems, and this is by far the best implementation I've seen.

Speaking of power, the Regal comes equipped with a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. For a vehicle of this size (curb weight equals 3,618), I thought this was just the right amount of power for just the right amount of get up and go. Mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, the power was smooth and seamless in addition to nice and quick.

The ride and handling of this vehicle are exactly what you'd want in an urban environment. The turning radius of 37.4 feet is just right for those tight city spaces, and I was in and out of my small parking lot and narrow alley without any difficulty. Parking garages and parallel parking were also a snap in the Regal.

On the highway, ride was more luxury and less sporty, which is perfect for that long commute out to the burbs.

The interior is very comfortable with nicely bolstered seats and good lumbar support. The center stack is typical GM, so if you've previously driven a Chevrolet or GMC or Cadillac, this won't be unfamiliar territory. If you haven't, the good news is: The gauges and controls are intuitively designed.

Every time I get behind the wheel of a Buick, I'm always very impressed with how quiet it is. From the Enclave all the way to the Regal, whenever I slip into the drivers' seat and shut the door with a solid thwap, I am enveloped in silence. And, I love it.

Gives me more of an opportunity to enjoy my music or have a hands-free phone conversation via the very handy Bluetooth connection.

One of the best features GM has to offer on its vehicles is OnStar. From automatic help in case of an accident to directions that can be beamed to your car after talking to an actual person, I would be much more inclined to pay $29 per month ($299 per year) for the Directions and Connections subscription package than to shell out $1,145 up front for a navigation system.

The test car had both, and I used them both. While the little map with the nav system is pretty, it's unnecessary. All I really need is a voice telling me when to turn, which OnStar turn-by-turn does. The frustrating thing is, if you have both nav and OnStar and choose to use OnStar, while the voice tells you where to turn, the directions do not appear on the map.

Overall, I really liked the Buick Regal in a conservative, drive this car to work kind of way. It's more comfortable than flashy, but the Bluetooth, OnStar, heated seats, MP3 connectivity and keyless start fit all the high-end luxury features I could possibly want into a compact and reasonably priced package. While I'd like to see a splash more flash in the design, the Regal isn't unattractive. And if you subscribe to the theory that the inside is more important than the outside, then you absolutely have to give this a test if you're looking at something in the $30K range.

Jill Ciminillo

Jill has been writing about cars for more than 15 years, representing the female point of view amongst her predominantly male colleagues. And since something like 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are either made by or influenced by women, that's nothing to sneeze at. Formerly the online automotive editor for the Chicago Sun-Times, the print auto editor for Pioneer Press Newspapers and the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, this 5th percentile (aka petite) female tells it like it is from the fun to the functional. Jill recently served as the first female president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and currently sits on its Board of Directors as President Emeritus. Jill is a syndicated automotive writer and acts as the managing editor for the Pickup Truck + SUV Talk website.