Review: 2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo
By Chris Haak
In our recent review of the Audi A5, Kevin Miller talked about some of the “forbidden fruit” of European cars that aren’t sold in the US, but coveted by gearheads on this side of the pond. In most cases, European cars adapted for sale in the US have had a pretty poor record of success. A few examples are the Merkur XR4Ti and Scorpio, Cadillac Catera, Saturn Astra, and Ford Contour. For every trans-oceanic transplant that does OK in the US (Euro Accord/Acura TSX) there are five examples of cars that didn’t hit the “OK” threshold.
And now we have the latest attempt to bring Euro goodness across the Atlantic to these shores. The thing is even imported from Germany, at least for the next few months until GM’s plant in Oshawa, Ontario commences series production. For now, though, it’s an an Americanized Opel Insignia, and is built in the same plant as that car. Once Canadian production begins, there will be a few minor changes to the car, and the first digit of Regal VINs will switch from a W to a 2.
It’s not easy to bring a car from Europe to the US. Even though the Regal’s design was always intended to come to the US (as the second-generation Saturn Aura), the car required a number of changes to fit US requirements and preferences. The bumpers are slightly different, the gauges are different. Suspension tuning is similar, but different, so that the all-season tires preferred in the US can be fitted to the Regal. Then, of course is the issue of exchange rates, which are not favorable for importing cars from Europe against the backdrop of the falling US dollar. There are also a number of compromises inherent in designing a car that is supposed to appeal to Europeans, Americans, and Chinese with basically the same components on all three continents.
But the luxury of selling a, well, luxury car imported from Europe is that it’s easier to bury the high cost of additional content into a more expensive, better-equipped car than it is with a car like the Saturn Astra. And indeed, the Regal Turbo is comes very well equipped. My tester had basically everything you can put into a Regal Turbo, including navigation, leather, sunroof, 19 inch aluminum wheels, premium audio, and HID headlamps. Most of that equipment was included in the pricey T07 optional equipment package, which adds $5,690 to the car’s bottom line. While the Regal Turbo’s base price of $28,745 (not including destination) is fairly reasonable, the car’s as-tested price of $35,185 is a pretty sizable bag of money.
I like the Regal’s looks a lot. It has taut, trim proportions, minimal overhang (for a front driver), and a sporty roofline. The most visually interesting features are the projector headlamps with LED lights on their corner borders, the dramatic swage line that begins just below the side mirrors and swoops down to the back wheels, and the short decklid. As I said a year ago when I first wrote about this car, the optional 19 inch wheels on the Regal Turbo look very Jaguar-like. They fill the wheel openings nicely and convey the message that this is not a Buick targeted toward the blue-hair crowd. To that point, driving the car through the city, you don’t get the feeling that you’re driving your grandparents’ car. Instead, there’s a distinct premium air about the way the car carries itself in most situations.
It’s not a big car inside, where it’s more Acura TSX size than TL size, but that’s OK since Buick would be happy to sell you a LaCrosse if you need more passenger space – or want a V6 engine. If you want more cargo space, however, stick with the Regal. Headroom in the front row is fine for taller drivers, even with this car’s optional moonroof. Headroom in the back seat was a bit tight; my head was solidly planted in the headliner. I’m six-foot-four, and I blame the Regal’s dramatically sloping rear roofline for that. The car is reasonably wide inside, but legroom is a bit more precious. It’s possible to fit a family of four in the Regal, even with two tall adults in the front seats and child seats in the back, but one must be careful about how the seats are adjusted in order to give everyone a fair amount of knee space.
The Regal Turbo’s interior continues to impress me, even though it does suffer from a few odd ergonomic quirks. The navigation screen’s LCD is somewhat small, and does not have touchscreen capabilities. Instead, there’s an iDrive-like knob just ahead of the center armrest that can be pressed or twisted to choose various functions. There’s a near-replica of the same knob below the screen that provides similar functionality, but the upper one is harder to use accurately, since you need to press its chrome outer ring for “enter.” It only took me a few hours to figure that out. Also, the knob on the console has shortcut buttons for navigation, audio, phone, and destination entry surrounding it, which helps combat the sea of identical black buttons on the center stack below the navigation display.
Destination entry for the navigation system is a hassle without the touchscreen or the simplicity of Honda/Acura’s dial solution. Forget about entering an address quickly before the traffic light turns green; you’ll have to start moving before you have finished, the screen will lock, and you’ll curse the system. Of note, the official Buick YouTube video on navigation destination entry is over three minutes long. And who thinks it’s a good idea to force people to enter “6” to confirm their destination? That just makes no sense.
Back the the ergonomic oddities: the Regal’s tachometer displays its numbers as divisors of 100 instead of 1,000 as in nearly every other car. It only took about a day to get used to this, but basically, the tach and speedometer have similar numbers on them (10-20-30-40-etc.) rather than the speedometer having 5 MPH or 10 MPH gradients and the tach showing numbers to be multiplied by 1,000 (“4” is 4,000 RPMs in most cars; “40” is 4,000 RPMs in the Regal). The center console lid is nicely padded, but the section closest to the shift lever is cut out to accommodate the cup holders, and the edge closest to the cup holder is hard plastic, and can be uncomfortable beneath one’s elbow. At first, I was going to blame this on some sort of modification made to the Insignia to cater to Americans’ penchant for cupholders, but the photos I found of the Regal’s German cousin show the same console lid.
Aside from those minor gripes, there’s a lot to like about the interior. Materials and fit-and-finish are all done quite well. I am particularly fond of the contrasting white stitches on the seat and door panels. The front door panels themselves are works of art, with gorgeous organic shapes, solid-feeling aluminum-look pulls, and nicely-padded charcoal-colored vinyl with contrasting stitching. The piano black [plastic] trim theme continues from the upper dash to the upper front door panels as well. The rear doors don’t quite get the same treatment; no piano black trim, and the door pulls are just black plastic, but shaped similarly to the fronts. This is one area in which the Insignia differs from the Regal; Germans get aluminum trim on their rear door pulls, which gives a more consistently premium appearance.
The Regal is somewhat unusual among GM cars in that it’s equipped with a Harmon Kardon premium audio. Typically, Bose is the supplier of choice for branded higher-end OEM sound equipment. The system had good clarity, decent power, and made the most of its nine speakers with distortion-free bass and clear trebles. It sounded superior to the Bose system in the Cadillac CTS to these ears. The ability to pause live radio is handy to have, but it’s annoying that Bluetooth streaming audio is not available. My iPhone didn’t get along well with the Regal during the Bluetooth [phone] pairing process, either. It took about 15 minutes (when in some cars I can do it during a red light) and multiple checks in the owner’s manual. Eventually, I got it to work – and it turned out that I was doing it correctly all along, but the electronics were the problem. I’m not sure if Apple or GM was the problem, though.
A year ago, I referred to the Regal Turbo’s engine as the “paragon of four cylinder refinement.” Twelve months later, I stand by that statement. Especially considering that the Regal Turbo’s engine is a tamer relative of the rip-roaring 260-horsepower 2.0T in the former Cobalt SS, HHR SS, Pontiac Solstice GXP, and Saturn Sky Redline, it’s amazing how smoothly and quietly this car’s engine goes about its work. Of course, most enthusiasts would prefer a manual transmission with this engine, but it really has a compatible dance partner with the six-speed automatic in this test vehicle. The transaxle proffers a sport mode which holds gears longer when you’re feeling frisky, and a manual shift capability. It will let you stay in a gear to the rev limiter, which is nice. Though the quantitative figures aren’t great for this car (220 horsepower, 258 lb-ft, 0 to 60 in about 8 seconds flat), the car feels more powerful than its numbers might lead you to believe.
Speaking of sport mode, the Regal CXL Turbo has another Jaguar-like feature aside from its wheels and profile; just as Jaguar’s Dynamic Mode button displays a checkered flag, the Sport button just below the navigation display has one a checkered flag molded into it. The Sport button in this Regal is part of the test car’s optional Interactive Drive Control. IDC isn’t nearly as sophisticated as the systems in more expensive cars (like the “M” button on BMW M vehicles), but has the ability to alter three main variables when activated: steering, drivetrain, and suspension. Giving the driver even more flexibility, IDC can be set to activate (or not) any or all of those three variables when the Sport button is pressed. So if you want firmer suspension and weightier steering without the more aggressive throttle mapping and shift points, the Regal can handle that.
There’s a Tour button next to the Sport button that does the opposite. It enhances the Regal’s drive comfort, for those with more sensitive rear ends who don’t like firm suspension and may have a blue tint to their hair. Choosing neither Sport nor Tour gets you the standard drive mode, which is supposedly optimized for typical daily commuting duties. I preferred to spend most of my 200 miles in the Regal in Sport mode, which was not harsh at all. In fact, the little bugger handles quite well for a front driver, with the steering feel better than in the pre-production model I drove last year, and a firm, Germanic brake pedal to boot.
The EPA says that the Regal Turbo should get 18 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on the highway. I have no reason to doubt those numbers, as my time with the car showed an overall 23.1 MPG average in mixed driving. As usual, your mileage may vary, depending largely upon driving habits.
And then there’s the issue of price. If you want a Regal Turbo with no options, it will set you back $28,745 plus $750 destination. My tester had everything that you can put into the car, which all happens to be included with the creatively-named T07 Optional Equipment package. For $5,690, you get rear seat mounted airbags, power sunroof, Interactive Drive Control system, 19 inch alloy wheels, HID headlamps, premium 9-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system, and navigation. The final tally came to $34,435 – not cheap, but probably a fair price. If you can live with 40 fewer horsepower (I can’t), you can get a comparably equipped CXL for about $3,200 less. The non-Turbo can’t get the big wheels, IDC, or HID lamps, so the true turbo premium is about $1,900 according to TrueDelta.com.
Compared against an Acura TSX, the Regal is within a few hundred dollars when accounting for equipment the Regal Turbo has, but isn’t available on the TSX, such as the adaptive shocks, extra ratio in the transaxle, extra horsepower, and more. Plus, the Regal brings “German engineering” to the table. Hey, if that line works for Volkswagen, it might as well work for the Regal as well.
The Regal Turbo is probably my favorite front wheel drive sedan. It’s attractive, comfortable, well-assembled, and still somewhat unusual to see on the roads. I only hope that GM keeps the car fresh as it goes through its life cycle and continues to improve the car’s competitiveness. Some of the ergonomic weirdness will probably go away eventually, either because the owner gets accustomed to it, or because GM makes changes when production is localized. But I have to admit that even a few quirks are a little charming when you know that you’re getting a bona-fide German sport sedan. From your Buick dealer, of all places.