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Burt Reynolds has left the building; there are no more W-cars to kick around. Buick has swept almost all the dusty past from its showrooms—but in an odd Taurus-like move, has dubbed its savvy new front-drive, mid-size sedan with the retro Regal badge.
Trust us. This is no Regal. It’s hardly a Buick, if you recall anything that came before the swank Enclave. Hey, we grew up on big Buicks oozing with V-8 authority, or at least, thrumming away with a workmanlike 3800 V-6—and that’s why this capable, stunning car feels like an odd fit, even for a brand that once sold Roadmasters and Reattas side by side without anyone to translate.
What makes it such a non sequitir? The Regal’s not just a small Buick—it’s a small Buick with only an aluminum four-cylinder engine, and if you want it, turbocharging. There is no V-6, nor is there a V-8. That alone could get it charged with heresy. It could be the right move at the right time, as most of the car world steps away from hulking hunks of low-efficiency iron. It could be a major disconnect.
Engines alone don’t divorce this sedan from the past. The Regal essentially is our version of the European Opel Insignia sport sedan and once was intended for dead Saturn. It’s since been retrofitted with Buick’s waterfall grille and taillamps, and it’s a visual knockout, an ersatz Infiniti G37 with a Nike-like side swoosh and a dynamically styled interior.
In handling and road feel, the Regal’s from another world, too. The automatic can be shifted with paddles. A manual transmission is on the way, probably arriving in tandem with a wagon. This Regal is an iconoclast, and it responds like nothing we’ve ever driven from Buick.
What the new Regal isn’t: particularly roomy or sporty. The Regal handles very well, but without the edge you’d find in a Ford Fusion—there’s a softness that’s a compromise between Buick’s past and its future. The turbo four spins out 220 horsepower, good but more than 50 hp shy of the upcoming Hyundai Sonata Turbo, which also outpaces it on price and room. That back seat pales against the rear benches or buckets in just about every near-luxury sedan on the same shopping radar screen: Maxima, S60, TSX, Passat CC. It’s a ‘tweener for sure, and there’s no telling if the smaller side of mid-size is going to play well with the Costco set.
We’ve driven the standard and turbo versions of the Regal CXL, which carries a base price of about $27,000. Buick says less expensive versions are coming, and it's also confirmed a 260-hp-plus Regal GS with that manual gearbox. We think it’s engaging and very appealing from the outside in, but it’s also smaller and pricier than expected.
That’s usually the case for imported domestics like the Regal—and it’s a tough sell, even to that small set of loyalists who hang with the hipsters every now and then.