Sports sedan? Buick? Isn’t putting those words together the equivalent of asking for a hot ice cube?
A few years ago, you might have rightly thought so, but these days the brand that was once a synonym for stodgy is chasing a new, younger audience.
Its entry into this sportier segment is the Regal Turbo, a step up from the regular Regal. Both are versions of the European Opel Insignia. Production has moved from Germany to GM’s plant in Oshawa.
The Regal base comes with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder, making 182 horsepower and starting at $31,990, while my Regal Turbo tester came with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, producing 220 horsepower and starting at $34,990.
Both Regal models come in a single CXL trim line with available option packages. Mine had several extras, including a sunroof, rear-seat airbags, upgraded speakers, rear parking assist, xenon headlamps and driver-selectable suspension settings, bringing it to a hefty $39,645. My tester also used the stock six-speed automatic transmission, which can be swapped for a six-gear stick shift (a manual! In a Buick!) at no extra charge.
The Turbo is a step up from the adequate but hardly inspiring non-turbo 2.4-litre, but as far as a sports sedan goes, it’s not quite there yet. Still to come is the 2012 Regal GS, due later this year with a turbocharged engine spinning out 255 ponies.
Judged on its own, the Regal Turbo is a sweet machine, and I truly enjoyed driving it. The handling is sharp; the steering is quickthe engine and transmission are well-mated with smooth shifts and linear acceleration; and the ride is firmer than what you’d typically expect from Buick. It’s pleasantly growly under acceleration, although my tester’s exhaust droned loud enough at idle to set off the security alarm on an adjacent car.
Compared to some of its similarly sized rivals in the mid-priced sedan market, though, it falls short. Many of them use a V6 instead of a turbocharged four as their upscale engines. The six-cylinder Ford Fusion, Mazda6 and Nissan Altima make more horsepower than the Buick Turbo and at lower starting prices. So do the V6 versions of the Chrysler 200, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
But the real competition is from the Korean companies. The Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima siblings both use a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 274 horsepower ? 54 ponies more than Regal ? and with better fuel efficiency than Buick. They also top out fully loaded, including navigation, at $33,499 and $33,695 respectively.
Handsomely styled outside, especially with my tester’s optional 19-inch wheels, the Regal carries its good looks to the inside, with ice-blue instrument lighting and tasteful chrome accents. Still, there are a lot of small buttons for the various controls that take attention away from the road while driving.
Standard features include climate control that automatically defogs the windows, power-adjustable leather seats with three heater settings, auto-dimming rearview mirror, satellite radio, a USB port for music players and folding rear seats.
The front seats are comfortable for shorter hauls but got a little hard on the butt after about an hour. Legroom is great up front but less so for the rear-seat passengers, who also risk whacking their heads if they don’t duck low enough to accommodate the sharply raked roofline. At 402 litres, trunk space is about mid-pack with the competition.
In an effort to find a new audience, GM hasn’t quite delivered what it promised, especially against the sport sedan standards set by companies such as Audi and BMW, or even Cadillac. What it has produced is a decent if pricey driver that improves on the base model’s engine and includes some seriously nice road feel and handling. If the name Buick still conjures up memories of wood grain and wallow, it’s time to start rethinking this invigorated brand.
Freelance writer?Jil McIntosh reviews?vehicles for Wheels.?email@example.com
2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo
PRICE: $34,990, as-tested $39,645
ENGINE/POWER: 2.0L turbocharged
4-cylinder, 220 hp, 258 lb.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (L/100km)
City 11.5, highway 7.1, as-tested 11.4
COMPETITION: Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord
WHAT’S BEST: Decent handling, handsome styling, well-equipped
WHAT’S WORST: Competitors offer more power for less money
WHAT’S INTERESTING: It can be ordered with a stick shift
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