Driven: 2011 Buick Regal CXL

By Brandon Turkus

September 29, 2010

We always get a bit excited when we find out that a European car is being rebadged for American consumption. That feeling of excitement quickly dissipates, though, when we look back on the actual history of cars from foreign markets being rebadged in the States. Stories of the Renault/AMC Alliance, Cadillac Catera, and Ford Contour stream back to our consciousness, causing us to drop to our knees and pray that history won’t repeat itself. We had a similar moment when we heard that the Vauxhall/Opel Insignia, the 2009 European Car of the Year, was coming stateside. Thankfully, our fears were unfounded as the Insignia, using the resurrected Regal nameplate, is a homerun for Buick.               

The Regal goes on sale with a 2.4-liter direct-injected I-4, and produces 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. We’ve tested this engine before, and found that it possess admirable qualities, but is often put into no-win situations. When we tested it in GMC’s Terrain, we lamented that it was a good engine overburdened by the vehicle it was serving. Unlike the Terrain, the Regal never feels underpowered, but you certainly don’t get the sensation that the car can truly hustle. It does an okay job in pretty much every condition. Around town, it got off the line quick enough, is able to make passes with some planning, made an average four-cylinder sound, and returned the exact fuel economy numbers that GM said it would get (30 miles per gallon on a 250-mile road trip). Hopefully, the upcoming turbocharged Regal will add some excitement.
Shifting duties are handled by a great six-speed automatic. This is truly a good gearbox, with quick upshifts and downshifts being handled either by the computer or by the driver. More importantly, shifting happens at the right time. You can run the engine up to redline without fear of short-shifting. Stomp on the gas on the freeway, and, while not as fast as a DCT, it’ll swap cogs aggressively to get you going. Props to GM on this one.
The Regal does one thing exceptionally well—it changes your mind about Buick. A floaty, waterbed-like ride and brakes that stop the car eventually were highlights of the old Buick range. The first turn you take in the Regal is a revelation. The steering has a BMW-ness about it, that kind of firm weight behind it that makes it feel like you, the driver, actually has something to do with turning the front wheels. The wheel talks to you, not as much as a 3-Series, but you get a good idea of what’s going on. Everything else is conveyed through the ride, which is a great blend of sportiness and comfort. Cruising down the road is plenty comfortable, with most medium-sized depressions ironed out, but when you get to the turn, you can throw the Regal in with confidence and zeal. Body roll, squat, and dive are all well controlled, with only very aggressive inputs provoking a notable response. We were afraid that the European suspension from the Insignia wouldn’t make it into the Regal, and we are extremely glad it did.
Looks are always fairly subjective, but in this writer’s opinion, the Regal sits somewhere between pretty and beautiful. It’s a tastefully understated piece of design, thankfully devoid of flair. The waterfall grille is traditional Buick, while the hockey stick creases that begin behind the rear wheels and carry forward to the front are a tasteful carryover from the European Insignia, giving the profile a pleasant flash. The tail end is busier, but no less good looking, with a tasteful chrome strip and a three-shielded Buick logo protruding from the bottom of the duck-billed spoiler. If we could register one complaint, it would be that the Regal is a bit under-wheeled, something that is being addressed on the turbocharged CXL or the GS.
Climb inside the cabin, and be amazed at the curviness. There is hardly a straight line in sight, as everything around is constantly sweeping, the most dramatic element being a large swath of (faux) wood on the door that thins out and curves out in front of the driver, similar to the LaCrosse. The cabin, especially in the chocolate and beige color scheme of our tester, is a very warm place. The top of the dash and parts of the doors are dominated by soft-touch chocolate trim, while lower portions and the leather seats are a beige color, with the aforementioned wood trim rounding things out. The steering wheel, even though it’s from the GM parts bin, is wrapped in soft leather, and is just a great item to work with.
The cabin does have its fair share of foibles, though. The seats were surprisingly firm, and we would have preferred some deeper bolsters to cosset us on long rides. A combination of faux wood and hard plastics does even more damage to the interior. It seemed like half of the plastics were nice and pleasant to look at and touch, while some weren’t. Split it up, Buick, we’d rather have good material quality everywhere than outstanding quality in only one aspect. Likewise, the faux wood is a strong reminder of Buicks of old. Besides the materials, the interior just kind of feels like Buick raided the parts bin. Buick is supposed to be a step above Chevrolet, not at the same level. So why does the Regal have the same navigation layout and switchgear, and steering wheel as a Chevy Equinox?
Finally, the cabin doesn’t feel young. The layout is modern and the materials are decent, but the choice of colors and trims caters to more mature customers. The Regal is modern looking on the outside, which will bring people to dealerships, but the brown-and-beige trim with faux wood is going to be a hard sell to a thirty-something couple who has money for a BMW but decided to check out Buick.
The Regal line is still very young, with only a limited number available on our shores. The addition later this year of a 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 and a six-speed manual is going to go a long way to broadening Buick’s appeal. Also likely to bring customers into showrooms is the revival of the GS badge on a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive version of the Regal. New body styles are also possible, as the Insignia is offered in Europe in both five-door hatchback and wagon varieties. One thing is for certain, the Regal looks to be quite a hit, and one that could help the brand get the attention of a broader audience.
2011 Buick Regal CXL
Engine: I-4, 2.4 liter, 16v
Output: 182 hp/172 lb-ft
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 20/30 mpg
Weight: 3600 lbs
Base Price: $26,245
As Tested: $31,975
On Sale: Now