The Regal name rejoined Buick's lineup in the 2011 model season after a six-year hiatus. When it exited stage right in 2004, Regal was a respected, yet uninspired mid-size sedan. Throughout Buick's bumpy, storied history; Regal has enjoyed time as a coupe, sedan, mid-sizer, full-sizer, V-6er, V-8er and four banger; quite a diverse resume.
In 2011, Buick started over with a clean slate, delivering a snappy ride which the 2012 model builds upon. This latest entry-luxury Regal incarnation shares underpinnings with the European-sold Opel Insignia. The 2011 Regal was assembled in Germany. For 2012, mid-size Regal sedans sold in North America roll off an assembly line in Canada.
In 2011, Regal offered two powertrains and one trim level. In 2012, in addition to a base model, Regal adds a Grand Sport (GS) trim with a beefed up 270 horsepower four cylinder turbo powertrain. Turbo charging takes advantage of compressed air feed into engine cylinders for a more potent air/fuel combustion delivering enhanced power. Also arriving in 2012 is a Regal eAssist mild hybrid edition capitalizing on light weight lithium ion battery technology.
While Buick tangos with a sometimes curmudgeon- like image here in the 50 United States, the brand cultivates a polar opposite aura in China. The tri-shield division rates as one of the hippest brands in the strategically-important emerging market. Three years ago, the Insignia went on sale in China branded as the Buick Regal.
China's huge market potential is one reason Buick survives as one of four post-bail General Motor divisions. Pontiac, Hummer, Saab and Saturn were not as fortunate as all are now historic footnotes. Here in the states, Buick must carve out an entry-luxury niche in concert with Cadillac division's ultimate luxury status. Domestically, GM's Buick division and Ford Motor Company's Lincoln line are undergoing extensive TLC to entice market share momentum away from oversees competition.
All 2012 Regal trims are front-wheel driven. All-wheel variants are not offered. While a mid-sizer, Regal tilts towards the smaller end of the spectrum (although wheelbase is quite long). By contrast, Acura's mid-size RL sedan measures three-and-a-half inches longer.
Eventually, Regal will boast four, four-cylinder powertrain offerings in 2012. A 2.4-liter, direct injection base four cylinder delivers an underwhelming 182 horses is designed to run with regular 87-octane regular gasoline or E-85 ethanol flex fuel. Base Regals also offer a 2.0-liter 220 turbo-charged engine with different calibration than the more potent GS turbo. Later in the year, fuel-extending eAssist (the 'e' symbolizing electric) with' light electrification technolog'y becomes available with the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine. Buick's eAssist technology is mild hybrid technology not as intricate (or expensive) as gas-electric hybrid systems found in the Toyota Prius. Anticipated Regal eAssist mileage in the 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway estimate with automatic transmission. The 2.4-liter four cylinder solo delivers 19 and 30 mpg respectively. Buick's eAssist technology is also available in the larger 2012 LaCrosse.
From a performance standpoint, the new-for-2012 Regal GS comes equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo tweaked to pump out a smile-enducing 272 horses. It's the turbo engine of choice best matching Regal's elegant exterior. When combined with six-speed manual (six-speed automatic arrives later in 2012) fuel economy lists at 19 mpg city and 27 highway. For optimal performance, premium 91-octane fuel is recommended for the 2.0 turbo (but not required) to fill the 18.5 gallon tank.
The manual transmission includes a hill-holder-type clutch designed to keep Regal from rolling backwards for about four seconds when positioned on an incline, more than enough time to engage first gear.
One noticeable exterior nuance added in 2012 are small iconic portholes on the hood. Returning are welcome secondary blinker bands built into the side-view mirrors. Heated mirrors come standard in GS. High side belt lines angling ever so slightly in a downward trajectory towards the vehicle's front reduce side window width. A 'reverse c' secondary character scoop adorns front doors. The roof's apex takes place directly above the B pillar, sloping rearward to the short deck lid. Some sedans opt for a more conservative, balanced arch. The nose-like, large grille includes a vertical waterfall-like design with circular tri-shield logo flanked by narrow band-like head light housing. Dual trapezoidal exhaust tips and tri-shield logo and small spoiler adorn the GS back end.
The new for 2012 GS high output turbo with manual six-speed transmission starts at $34,450. The 2011 Regal marked a return of a manual transmission to Buick, absent since the compact Skylark days. Our tester featured options included in-dash navigation with seven-inch touch screen ($1,145), power sunroof ($1,000) and 20-inch polished wheels ($700) for a bottom line of $38,155 with $860 destination charge. A base Regal with 2.4-liter engine starts at $27,530.
Standard in GS in Regal's interactive drive control allowing drivers to choose from three suspension modes: standard, sport and GS mode. The GS trim are larger ventilated front disc brake rotors
Inside, leather front heated bucket seats with contrasting white stitching incorporate side bolsters grabbing hold of riders. Every GS features an ebony interior. The instrument panel features two large, independent, deep-set circular gauges with two smaller circular modules along the top. Between the larger gauges is a digital message window. At night, blue backlighting illuminates the panel and dashboard. The commanding, three-spoke, multi-textured steering wheel includes cruise control and Buick's tri-shield logo in the middle. The bottom of the GS wheel is flat, a staple of high end and professional race cars. Dashboard located push-button electric start comes standard as does an electric parking brake accessible between the front buckets. Large, very-easy-to-grab C-clamp-like bushed-aluminum handles adorn all four doors.
At 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 an array of buttons. Not the most intuitive design so secondary steering wheel controls come in handy. A 12-volt outlet and USB port assisting portable electronics resides inside the armrest/storage bin with two vertically-arranged cup holders nearby. Notable standard GS equipment includes beeping front and rear park assist helpful when parallel parking, three-month XM satellite radio subscription, dual zone air conditioning and a nice array of air bags including side curtain and side seat mounted varieties in both front and back.
Rear door entry is narrower than some rivals. Row two seatbacks fold forward with a 60/40 split. Two adults fit with optimal comfort; head room is tight for those taller than six feet. Front headroom is more generous. The sensitive brake pedal reacts immediately with the touch of the right foot.
Regal qualifies as a driver's car promoting a sporty ride with tight suspension and handling. It's not a luxury/floaty ride previously found in Buick's Roadmaster. The comparatively diminutive cargo trunk (14.2 cubic feet) features goose-neck type hinges ensconced in heavy buffering as not to interfere with transport packaging.
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.2012 Buick Regal GSAt a glance:Price as tested:
2.0-liter, four-cylinder high output turboHorsepower:
3,710 poundsCity/Highway economy:
19 mpg city/27 mpg highwayPowertrain warranty:
Five years/100,000 milesAssembly:
Oshawa, Ontario Canada