The 2011 Buick Regal is a grappling hook thrown over the wall of sport sedan credibility, but there's still a tough climb ahead. The last Buick revered by enthusiasts was also a Regal, but a much different formula than the tidily-sized, well-mannered European-market Opel Insignia that Buick is now rebadging.
It wasn't supposed to be a Buick, but Saturn's lights went out before it could use the second-generation Aura. Stuck with a fully-developed car that's worth sharing, General Motors' Buick division carved out a niche below the LaCrosse and called the inherited goods Regal.
Within the burgeoning Buick lineup, the Regal is being positioned as a sports-sedan with European tuning. Buick identifies the Regal's most direct competition as the Acura TSX and the Volvo S60, an odd pair of bogeys. Other competitors include the Audi A4 and Volkswagen CC. As a premium sedan, the Regal competes well on the strength of its high level of equipment, $26,245 MSRP, and graceful ride and handling.
A problem arises when you expand your scope slightly to see what's available in the mainstream sedan marketplace, where a lot more space and plenty of luxury features are available for about the same money. Bigger isn't always better, but it's tough to argue for the Regal when a Kia Optima EX with Technology and Premium packages comes in just under $28,000 and offers a smoother, more powerful engine that gets significantly better fuel economy.
(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)
(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)
There are, however, reasons to consider the Regal. It's stylishly designed with great proportions and a stocky stance that suggests finely-tuned handling. The flared fenders and sculpted bodywork is tidy and stretches over a 107.8-inch wheelbase, longer than the TSX, CC, and S60.
For 2011, the Regal is available only in the CXL trim level, which means standard leather upholstery and power-adjustable, heated front bucket seats, climate control, 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, and a 2.4-liter four Ecotec four-cylinder that sends 181 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. The transmission offers a manual-shift function, as well. The engine note is gritty when it's under strain, and the automatic transmission pauses distinctly between shifts, interrupting power delivery, but the powertrain's behavior is generally commendable.
The engine is relatively strong, but saddled with 3,600 pounds — about 400 more pounds that it should be hauling in this class. And despite its direct fuel injection, you'd expect more power, smoothness, and efficiency. The Regal's 19 mpg city and 30 mpg fuel economy ratings are more optimistic than the 22 mpg average we got in mixed driving. By comparison, the four-cylinder Kia Optima and sister Hyundai Sonata — both classified as large cars by the EPA — weigh in at about 3,200 pounds and sip 24 city and 35 highway.
That extra weight makes Buick's attempt to frame the Regal as a sport sedan somewhat dubious, too. Yet for a front-wheel drive car, our Regal was well-balanced in handling tests, its ride tightly controlled with a chassis that soaked up bumps without harshness, all of which substantiate the 'European-tuned' claim. A 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is also available to juice up the muscle, and a six-speed manual transmission will soon be an option, as well, both specifications that speak to a sportier bent. The turbo engine's 220 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque makes things more urgent, but the Regal could really sing with about 300 hp.
(Bill Sherman for Boston.com)
(Bill Sherman for Boston.com)
Still, not everyone drives flat out, and the Regal's flowingly-designed interior and high level of equipment in CXL trim proved a great place to spend time. Our car had navigation, a great-sounding harman/kardon audio system with a hard drive (and time-shifting capability) and superb seats. The Regal's 37.3 inches of rear legroom is more than the TSX and S60, but in the open waters, the Regal's back seat tightens up when hosting full-sized adults or modern bulky child seats. The 14.2-cubic foot trunk is likewise less than you can get elsewhere, but usefully accessible and spacious enough for most tasks.
As a mainstream sedan, the 2011 Buick Regal is a hard sell. It's down on space and powertrain refinement compared to what's available in the same price range. Despite the pretense, the Regal is not a sport sedan, either, even with a turbocharged engine. As a premium sedan, the Regal makes more sense, as it shines more from its comfortable, well-equipped interior and confident chassis. Like many deals that objectively fail, the Regal has a lot of personality, and personality goes a long way.
Dan Roth writes regularly for Autoblog.
2011 Buick Regal CXL
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $26,995/$31,780
Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 19/30
Fuel economy, Globe observed: 22 mpg
Drivetrain: 2.4-liter I-4, 6-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
Body: 4-door, 5-passenger sedan
Horsepower: 182 @ 6,700 rpm
Torque: 172 ft.-lbs @ 4,900 rpm
Overall length: 190.2 inches
Wheelbase: 107.8 inches
Height: 58.4 inches
Width: 73.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,600 pounds
Good looking, good handling, well-equipped and comfortable
Fuel economy, performance-killing weight
THE BOTTOM LINE
One of the best Buicks ever, very pleasant to drive, but outgunned on several fronts.
Audi A4, Acura TSX, Volvo S60, Volkswagen CC
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About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
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