Motoring: Buick Regal reborn for North American market
In 1973, Buick came out with a stylish new coupe called the Regal, and the rollercoaster story of this nameplate began. In the 1980s Buick came out with a version of the second generation Regal that no one at the time expected: the Grand National. It was a muscle car unlike all other American cars made up until that point. Its top performance engine was not the V8, but a 3.8-litre V6 turbo that produced 245 hp, which rose to 276 hp by the time the last version of the Grand National, the GNX, was produced.
It might not be the most powerful Buick production car ever made, but it still is the quickest. The GNX posted a 0-100 km/h time of just 4.7 seconds, which actually made it quicker than the Corvette of the day.
So what does General Motors do with the Regal when time came to replace this magnificent rearwheel drive coupe in 1988? They produce a small, ugly, front-wheel drive econo-box that was available as a two-door coupe and a fourdoor sedan. To say they pissed off the Regal's hardcore fans is an understatement.
The fourth generation model, introduced in 1997, was an even bigger disappointment. Now there was no coupe version and the car had grown massively. It now was just another large sedan for the large-waisted American market.
Its sales numbers were less than impressive for the bosses at GM and in 2004 the Regal was killed.
Fast-forward to 2009 and the Buick Regal name reemerges in China of all places. Buick is considered a very prestigious brand in China and sales of its cars in this market were overtaking even the American market. At the time, Buick didn't have a mid-size sedan to offer to the Chinese, so GM took a model from their European Opel (Insignia) line and rebadged it as the Regal. The car did so well that the decision was made to bring this model to the North American market, and hence the 2011 Regal was born.
Like the fourth generation model, the fifth generation Regal is only made as a four-door sedan. But, like the second generation model, this Regal has the option of a turbo motor - a 2.0-litre, fourcylinder unit that produces 220 hp. But the more popular option will undoubtedly be the normally aspirated 2.4-litre, four-cylinder unit that produces 182 hp. This was the engine in my test car. Mated to a very responsive six-speed automatic, power is fed only to the front wheels, but thanks to German engineering, this Regal handles very well.
And yes, you did read that correct, this Regal is made in Germany. Eventually they will move production to an American factory, but for now, the Regal is the first German-made Buick ever.
The signs of that are evident everywhere. The quality of the fit and finish is fantastic and the engineering does feel like it will last a very long time. This is easily the best Buick I have ever driven. Not only is it comfortable on the highway, but also handles corners brilliantly. It truly has its Japanese and Korean competition nicked in this area.
The interior is also very impressive. First of all, this has more space for backseat passengers than in the new BMW 5-series. In the front, you get all the toys you would like, including a very clever navigation system that gives live traffic prompts. The only downside in this interior is the rather busy and confusing centre dashboard. It has so many buttons, you really have to learn what does what and how things get programmed. It also has an iDrive-style knob to control some functions, but I don't like how it works in this application. This doesn't make it a bad car, just a confusing one.
So, the new Regal is a goodlooking sedan, has a nice and spacious interior and has excellent road manners, but there is a fly in its ointment, and that is fuel economy. You'd probably think that being a four-cylinder, this would be quite economical, but its not. I averaged 12.4-litres/100km in my week, which means it drinks more than some V8s. I have no idea how Buick messed up on fuel economy, but they did.
Should that put you off from buying one? That depends on your driving needs. If you don't drive a lot, but like driving a nice car, you'll love it. But if you drive a lot, you'd be better off looking elsewhere.
Prices start at $31,990.