2011 Buick Regal CXL
Buick is beginning to resemble a mugwump, astride North America with its mug on one side of the world and its wump on the other.
The wump, in this circumstance, is the all-new—to America—2011 Regal sports sedan, and the mug is the nearly-new La Crosse luxury four-door.
To explain: the Regal is a German car that bears no resemblance to Buick’s previous cushy model of the same name. In Europe, it is known as the Opel Insignia, built by the General Motors subsidiary in Russelsheim, Germany. The La Crosse was largely designed in China, Buick’s biggest market.The new Regal is intended as a world car but is unknown in both China and the United States. Compared to the La Crosse, it is more European and American in execution, so the question is how it will do in the Middle Kingdom. Both cars are built from the same platform.
As executed for U.S. consumption, the 2011 Regal fits into a growing new category of mid-size cars that are defined by their relatively modest four-cylinder power, augmented in some cases by turbochargers. Recent examples are Japan’s Suzuki Kizashi and the South Korean Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata.
The reason is that the U.S. government and the industry have agreed on new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards that will require manufacturers to achieve a minimum of 35.5 miles to the gallon by 2016.
As a result, the new Regal is available only with four cylinders. The tested CXL model, with 2.4 liters of displacement, delivers 182 horsepower to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. For those who want more, there’s a 2-liter four-cylinder turbo.
Buick says the Regal’s competitors are the Acura TSX, Volvo S60 and Volkswagen Passat and CC, though it is unlikely many potential customers will think of it in that company. The S60 is a more expensive all-wheel drive sedan and the front-drive TSX is available with both four- and six-cylinder engines. The CC has a four-cylinder turbo and a V6. All are imports with disparate groups of disciples.
Regardless of where you place it, the Regal is an appealing car, but out of phase with the Buick tradition of emphasizing comfort as a primary virtue. That’s not that there haven’t been performance oriented Buicks in the past—the Grand National of the 1980s comes to mind—but the reputation has mostly been softer.However, the Regal is no plush Le Sabre. It has the attributes of a modern tightly wound sports sedan. The steering, which has a heavy feel initially, is accurate, abetted by a suspension system that emphasizes handling. Yet it is supple enough to handle choppy pavement without getting out of shape. On straight roads, it tracks cleanly with good on-center feel, and offers silent running so passengers can enjoy their aural surroundings.
But the tested Regal CXL—the only version available at introduction—is no drag racer. Zero to 60 miles an hour acceleration stops the timer just shy of nine seconds. However, that also produces 19/30 miles to the gallon fuel economy on the EPA’s city/highway cycle. It likely would be better but for the CXL’s curb weight of 3,600 pounds.
The power gets to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode, which is the only transmission available. It shifts smoothly in leisurely acceleration and somewhat hesitantly when you get your foot in it, either manually shifting or in automatic.
For those who wanted to wait a bit for more performance, Buick scheduled a later introduction of the CXL with the 220-horsepower, 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with a base sticker of $29,495.
The tested naturally aspirated CXL started at $26,995. The price included stability and traction control, antilock brakes with brake assist, six air bags, electric parking brake, leather upholstery, air conditioning, remote locking, tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, power driver’s seat and fog lights. Also standard are an audio system with XM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and GM’s OnStar communications service.A package of options consisted of a navigation system, upgraded Harman-Kardon audio system with 10 speakers, motorized sunroof, power passenger seat, rear parking assist and rear-seat side airbags. The bottom line came to $31,780.
Exterior styling doesn’t jump out at you. Nobody will be surprised that this is a Buick, especially because it leads with the traditional waterfall grille. From any angle, it fits right in with modern mid-size sedan styling.
The interior is distinct from that of the Chinese-designed La Crosse. But it is pleasant and functional in its own European way. Instruments are legible and have daytime lighting, and the controls work in a familiar way. However the outside mirrors are oddly shaped, which somewhat reduces their effectiveness. A blind-spot warning system is not available and unnecessary in any case.
Front seats are supportive with minimal lateral support. Out back, space is barely adequate for average-sized adults, with a forgettable center position without foot room. The trunk space is better than average and the big hinges are covered to prevent damage to luggage.