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German-built Buick only slightly Americanized

2011 Buick Regal

GM/General Motors

Overall Rating
7.5
Overall
The ride and handling are strong points. We'd like some controls to be simplified and big North Americans may find the cabin too confining. Still, this is a solid entry and worth a test drive. You'll like this car if: you want a handsome sedan with European roots.
Looks Rating
7.5
Looks
The overall exterior design is clean, balanced and well-proportioned. Nothing is odd or out of place at all. It's the kind of design that will leave many of the uninitiated wondering about that understated sedan over there.
Interior Rating
7.5
Interior
First, it's a bit small by mid-size sedan standards. Tall people will notice it in the back seat. Some controls could be simplified and the materials are not quite as rich as the best we've seen in the most expensive Acura TSX models.
Ride Rating
8
Ride
GM's engineers have done some very good work here. The ride is a balance between control and compliance. The Regal can be entertaining to drive, but when the roads get a bit dicey, the suspension soaks up most of the punishment if not all, depending on how serious the potholes and lumps.
Safety Rating
9
Safety
Buick has loaded up with the safety gear and the Regal does well in crash tests.
Green Rating
6.5
Green
The Regal is sold only with four-cylinder engines, so let's give Buick credit for recognizing fuel economy as an important factor. But the Regal is a fairly heavy car, so relative fuel economy is only okay.

Buick wants you to think of the 2011 Regal as the sport sedan of Buicks. That's not such a stretch, either.

This repackaged Opel Insignia from Europe is, indeed, a highly competent mid-size car with clean styling and modern features. It's responsive yet reasonably fuel-efficient because the Regal is the first General Motors mid-size sedan with an all-four-cylinder engine lineup.

Buick offers the front-wheel-drive Regal in two trim levels, the 182-horsepower CXL ($31,990) and the 220-hp CXL Turbo ($34,990). In Europe, the Insignia competes against the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat and now you know why the Regal is just slightly smaller than the typical mid-size car in North America.

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Another cover note: The 2011 Buick Regal is built on the same assembly line in Russelsheim, Germany, as the Insignia, though production will move to Oshawa, Ont., for the 2012 model year.

The point GM types want to make above all else is that the Regal is not a dull and dumbed-down Insignia. Sure, it's been Americanized a little, but only where necessary - the drivetrains and suspension. North American emissions standards and the personal tastes of drivers on this continent simply cannot be ignored.

What does that mean? Well, we won't get the diesel four-cylinder engine sold in Europe and our Regal is slightly less firm in terms of ride quality compared to the Insignia. The Regal isn't mushy, mind you, but it's not as hard as what Europeans favour.

Buick types say a key rival is the Acura TSX, which by the way is the Honda Accord in Europe. It's a global industry, right?

So it's not a surprise to find the Regal has a cabin that is smaller than the Chevrolet Malibu (which uses a stretched version of this platform) and most other family sedans in this price range. Big, tall passengers will find the back seat a tight fit and if you have oversized child seats, you won't necessarily like the rear, either.

But I'm betting most potential buyers will really like the premium yet understated cabin overall. Yes, there's plenty of simulated wood trim, but it doesn't look cheap. To be fair, the best versions of the TSX (which tops out at $41,890) have a more sumptuous cabin, but not by as much a margin as you might think.

The Regal naturally comes with lots of bells and whistles. The GM navigation system in the centre of the dash has the usual touch-screen, but here the interface is a pair of multifunction dials. The Germans seem to enjoy such complexity. Why, we don't know. It's not hard to learn what does which, but must we? Simple is always better and the controls here could be made simpler.

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For power, the CXL has a direct-injected, 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine. Here, it's naturally aspirated and rated at 182 hp. The optional, turbocharged, 220-hp, 2.0-litre engine is certainly a step up, but not entirely necessary for most buyers.

The base engine is powerful enough for most needs, though the 0-100 km/h time of around 10 seconds is a little lackadaisical by competitive standards. For comparison, the four-cylinder TSX (200 hp) will do 0-100 km/h in less than eight seconds and a 198-hp 2011 Hyundai Sonata comes in at about 8.4 seconds.

The Regal's engine is teamed with a six-speed automatic. It delivers crisp and smooth up-shifts. It's a good gearbox, though the engineers programmed it to up-shift quickly so as to maximize fuel economy. It's in no hurry to downshift, either - not unless you hit the throttle hard.

The car's greatest strength is the chassis. The ride is firmer than, say, the Buick LaCrosse and that means it's just right for a Buick sedan aiming to be sporty. GM's engineers have created a poised yet comfortable ride. If you get frisky, the suspension delivers lots of control; if the roads are bad, you won't be tortured by rattled teeth.

The Regal is a good indication of where Buick wants to go - upscale and against the likes of Acura, Volvo (here, it's the S60) and Lexus (the IS250). On the plus side, the Regal is comfortable, quiet, solid to drive, safe and the Buick brand has long done well in various quality studies.

On the downside, the Regal is smallish by mid-size standards and the base engine is not overly powerful. Moreover, the automatic transmission software is programmed more for fuel economy than sporty driving. That's odd, given the Regal is being marketed as a wannabe sporty sedan.

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That leads us to this conclusion: while the base CXL is adequate for most drivers, the turbocharged CXL Turbo is probably a wise investment for the majority of drivers interested in this sort of car. We're talking middle-age boomer males who typically have an oversized Y chromosome.

The long and short of it: if you really want the sport sedan of Buicks, get the turbo.

Tech specs

2011 Buick Regal CXL

Type: Mid-size sporty sedan

Price: $31,990 ($1,450 freight)

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 182 hp/172 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.8 city/6.5 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Volvo S60, Acura TSX, Lexus IS250

jcato@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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