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All-new 2011 Buick Regal one great driving car

2011 Buick RegalBuick has reincarnated the Regal for 2011 as a mid-size sedan born and built in Germany, but eventually to be built in North America. It’s based on the same platform as the Opel Insignia, which won major awards last year in Europe. Six inches shorter than the popular LaCrosse, the Regal is an all-new car for Buick. We got a first look at a GM media preview event last year in Detroit, but got an up close and personal preview on a trip from Atlanta to Gulf Shores, Alabama and back, that included 10 days of in-town resort-area driving.

Currently, the only trim available is the nicely equipped mid-level CXL version. The Regal is basically a four-passenger car that could accommodate a rear-center child seat if needed. The leather interior reminded us of the Acura TSX, in that’s it’s a nice mix of sport and luxury.

Optional amenities include Bluetooth, navigation with real-time traffic, and heated front seats. The option list should be enough to keep anyone comfortable and connected.

Walkaround: Following the lead of manufacturers, like Nissan/Infiniti, Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus, Volvo and others, General Motors (GM) has designed the Regal as a world car built for sales in various international markets. It shares all its body panels with the aforementioned award-winning Opel Insignia, and bears the signature sloping roofline of today’s contemporary sedans. It’s visually extended by the edge of the rear lamp housings and a short trunk lid with a subtle lip spoiler. A simple character line sweeps down and back behind the front wheel and carries through the rear door. There’s no lower edge trim but textured paint protection does minimize stone chips.

Side chrome is limited to the window surrounds and a front fender-mounted turn indicator. However, both ends have their share of brightwork, The lengthy nose showcases the prominent waterfall grille framed by lamp clusters. A large chrome spear anchors a big, truck-mounted Buick crest, and the sweep of the lamps mirror the LaCrosse. Turbo models boast a single chrome tailpipe on either side, while the non-turbo’s have conventional under-bumper exhaust pipes..

On the turbo, the daytime running lights are right-angles that look like arrows pointing out and up toward the rear-view mirrors.

Interior: With leather standard, the base CXL offers a welcoming interior that’s comfortable and quiet, with its character seemingly changing with the chosen color scheme.

On our test vehicle, both front seats were powered 8-ways with a 4-way lumbar support. Long-term support was good — especially traveling — but the lack of lateral support and softness shows the seats are clearly meant for comfort rather than performance driving.

The rear seats are quite comfortable for occupants under six feet. The sloping roofline limits rear headroom — a problem the smaller VW Passat and larger Mazda6 don’t have.

Instrumentation has the computer/message center situated between a watch-dial-like speedometer and tach, underneath numerical fuel and coolant gauges, which are illuminated in GM’s signature ice blue. The navigation screen is top center offering excellent line-of-sight viewing. It also has has a multifunction controller right behind the shifter so it isn’t necessary to lean forward to work the touch-screen.

White-on-black buttons on the center stack handle audio, car, and navigation chores, with dual temperature climate controls below, and redundant controls on the sporty steering wheel. Chrome trim abounds, framing the shifter, gauges and rotary dash controls.

The 14.2 cubic foot trunk is fairly long and offers moderate lift-to-load and unload dimensions, securing points, and flat side walls. The 60/40 split rear seat folds down with a lockable pass-through in the armrest.

Safety features include six airbags standard with rear-seat side-impact airbags optional, as is GM’s Electronic Stability Control.

Under The Hood: Our 2011 Regal test vehicle was powered by GM’s 2.4-liter, DOHC, EcoTec four-banger. It puts a 182 horses to the highway, with 172 pound-feet of torque, and is married to a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy for the 2.4-liter is rated at 19/City and 30/highway.

There’s an optional 220-horse turbocharged, direct-injected 2-liter with either a six-speed stick or automatic, that delivers a huge boost in torque.

Behind The Wheel: We found the Regal very quiet, with a nice, smooth highway ride. In fact, it may be the quietest car in its class. A bad road surface will transmit some noise from the rear tires however, and we noticed some slight wind noise from behind at speed. But even with the engine pushing hard, it’s little more than background noise, with no audible hint it’s even working hard.

The Regal has a very solid feel, and driving it hard and fully loaded at freeway speeds offered comfort and quiet. It uses hydraulic steering that provides good feedback, feel and directional stability, and the brakes are certainly up to the challenge. Both the gas and brake pedals are calibrated so they require some foot travel before you get into heavy braking or kick-down acceleration, rather than the instant bite of a sports sedan. And while it’s not a true sports sedan, like some of its competitors — namely the Acura TSX, Audi A4, Mazda 6, VW Passat, Volvo S60, and Lexus ES, it’s pretty close.

Whines: While the Regal is more than adequate around town or on the freeway, with the 2.4, you could be pushing it passing a truck on a two-lane blacktop or climbing a mountain grade.

Bottom Line: At presstime, the 2011 Regal was offered only in mid-line CXL trim with leather upholstery. Look for the Regal line to expand for 2012 with a less-expensive CX model, probably with cloth upholstery, and a high-performance GS version with different bodywork, front seats, power, suspension, tires, wheels and all-wheel drive.

The 2011 Buick Regal offers a stylish alternative to the entry-premium midsize sedan segment, delivering visual appeal, soothing quiet, smooth ride, easily deciphered features, comfort and economy conducive to long drives — and a better than average warranty.

 
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