2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo Road Test Review

Arv Voss - CAP staff
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There was a point in time, primarily when the demise of the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors was announced, that many auto industry analysts and journalists felt that the better choice for extinction would have been the General's Buick Division. But, that was not to be. In fact, given Buick's production success and popularity in China, particularly with a much younger demographic, the brand normally associated with a more mature motorist here in North America seemed to take off and grow substantially.

There have been new Buick sedans introduced recently, such as the Lucerne and LaCrosse that reflect more progressive styling along with more spirited performance characteristics. Buick had successfully made the move from "land yacht" to a much sportier image with a more youthful appeal. Now, for the 2011 model year, enter the Buick Regal, already on sale in the European marketplace as the award-winning Opel/Vauxhall Insignia. For the past few years, it's been built at GM's Opel facilities in Russelsheim, Germany -- and in China -- built in Shanghai since 2008 as the Regal, with well over 100,000 sold thus far.

Based on the same Epsilon II platform as the Insignia, the 2011 version Regal was originally destined to be a Regal in China and a Saturn Aura on our continent. Fortunately for Buick, Saturn was scrapped as part of the recovery plan during GM's bankruptcy, and the car was redirected to become the Buick Regal. The plot thickens further, as the turbo version engine scheduled to power the new Regal had been destined to drive the new Saab 9-5, but Saab was ultimately sold which delayed federalization of the turbo engine and somewhat delayed its incorporation under the Buick Regal's hood.

Currently, there are two available engines for the Regal CXL (the midrange and only initial model - more trim levels may be added for the 2012 model year): a base 2.4-litre Ecotec direct-injection four-cylinder that develops 182 horsepower along with 172 pound-feet of torque, and an optionally available turbocharged 2.0-litre Ecotec four-banger that cranks out 220 horses while generating 258 pound-feet of torque. Both engines mate to a six-speed automatic transmission, selecting gears for the front driving wheels, featuring "Driver Shift Control" that provides a manual-shift option. A six-speed manual gearbox will become available later for turbo-powered models. The 2.0 Ecotec Turbo engine is all set up as flex fuel unit. The base 2.4 is capable of moving the car from 0-100 mph in 8.7 seconds, while the turbocharged iteration lops more than a second off that time. A higher performance GS model Regal is scheduled to bow in the not too distant future, and on the theme of the Regal's future, for the next production year (2012), the Regal will be built in Oshawa, Ontario.
In terms of the Regal's exterior design, it blends the graceful, sweeping sedan silhouette with the proportions of a coupe in a form that suggests motion from virtually any angle. The overall styling comes across as aggressive and athletic with only a few limited applications of Buick's signature design cues, such as the waterfall grille, selective utilization of chrome trim and attention to detail in the fit and finish of the exterior panels. The fenders are flared, wrapping closely around the wheels and tires, with distinctive character lines running the length of the body profile.
The Regal's performance-oriented persona is further displayed in aerodynamic, sculpted body-side details and headlamp assemblies that are also suggestive of motion. In the rear, the deck is abbreviated and the body panels are tucked-in reflecting the image of a contemporary sport sedan, showcasing bold taillamps with intricate lighting elements that reinforce the car's attention to detail. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard fare for the Regal CXL, with 19-inchers optionally available on turbo models.
The interior carries over the exterior's sweeping flavour with the side panels flowing without interruption into the instrument panel. Gauges and instrumentation provide the look of high-end sporting chronographs, and feature ice-blue LED lights and a centrally located multi-function rotary knob, similar to, but certainly more intuitive than BMW's iDrive. The centre stack that houses the climate and "infotainment" controls is designed to allow for a lower, driver focused instrument panel profile. Important touches such as the thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel and firm, leather-covered seats with highly supportive side bolstering contribute to the sport-oriented driving flavour of the Regal.

During a recent North American press launch, I was afforded the opportunity to pilot both the naturally aspirated 2.4-litre direct-injection Regal CXL and the 2.0-litre turbocharged car. Pricing for the base, non-turbo model starts at $31,990, while the turbocharged Regal hasn't been priced yet in Canada. In the US it is priced about $3,000 higher, so expect it to arrive in the $35-$36,000 range. The CXL Turbo that I focused on included the Comfort and Convenience Package, 8-way powered front passenger seat adjuster with 4-way powered lumbar, 120-volt power outlet, ultrasonic rear parking assist, power sunroof, rear seat side-mounted airbags, premium 9-speaker audio system with navigation and single CD/DVD player, and carbon black metallic treatment; plus destination charge. Standard equipment, options and packages are not yet known for the CXL Turbo in Canada, but should be similar.

The 2.4-litre in the base model CXL delivers more than adequate performance characteristics and comfortable ride quality, but the optional 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four is definitely the way to go, with its substantially higher output. The turbo model also offers another very worthwhile option – the Interactive Drive Control System (ICDS) – a chassis control technology that provides enhanced vehicle stability and improved driving safety. The system was designed to modify the car's handling personality based upon driving style. A sophisticated driving mode control module continually monitors yaw rate, lateral and longitudinal acceleration, steering wheel input, plus throttle and vehicle speed. It defines the dynamic vehicle state, including acceleration, braking and cornering, optimizing chassis reaction. All four dampers are electronically controlled and continuously adapt automatically within milliseconds to the prevailing road conditions, vehicle movements and individual driving style. Chassis settings are adjustable by the driver, with Normal, Tour and Sport settings. IDCS allows the driver to choose between three different operating modes, changing suspension settings, throttle response, shift pattern and steering sensitivity through the variable effort steering system.

The new 2011 Buick Regal CXL is in no way your grandfather's Buick of yesteryear, but is an exceptionally fun-to-drive four-door sedan, especially when powered by the 2.0-litre turbocharged motor and equipped with the IDCS option. It is truly "regal" in its performance capability, remaining flat and unperturbed through tightly twisting and undulating back road scenarios. The steering is precise and on-centre, to a "point and shoot" level. Acceleration is instantaneous with no noticeable turbo lag. Outward visibility is very good, instrumentation is well placed and legible, and the seats are comfortable and supportive even during enthusiastic maneuvering.

In the final analysis, this latest iteration midsize Buick Regal is a breath of fresh air, wrapped up in a value laden sport sedan package that delivers a pleasurable, European-bred driving experience.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Buick, 2011, Regal,

Organizations: Buick

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