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When Buick restored the Regal nameplate to its lineup last year, it probably threw traditional sedan shoppers for a loop. Looking for something big, rear-driven, and powered by an eight-cylinder engine--or even a V-6?
Not this time. The latest Buick Regal is front-drive, and gets its power and finesse from knockout styling, a Euro-sized package and handling, and a lineup of three four-cylinder engines, two of them turbocharged. It's a Buick in the new idiom, and a good complement to the lovely LaCrosse and the compact, upcoming Verano, and the 2012 Regal gets even better with the addition of the GS model.
The Regal's essentially our version of GM's global mid-sizer, sold in Europe as an Opel Insignia. It's a dynamic shape, with an optical hook stamped into its side flanks and a petite interpretation of Buick's waterfall grille applied to the nose to let you know it's still a domestic sedan. The interior's modern GM, not old GM, too, with a big shield of controls and a trio of finishes that dress up a soberly styled cockpit.
Those four-cylinder engines displace the old V-8s and V-6s from the Regal family, though they don't displace much at all, in the grand scheme. The basic 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four puts the emphasis on "basic," but the 220-hp turbo four and especially, the 270-hp GS four, have the punchy, immediate feel of other front-drivers in the class. The Saab 9-3 comes to mind, and in fact, it's a distant relative of the Buick. The Regal has Euro-feel baked into its ride and handling, too, with the muted damping of a good German sedan (hint: that's where it was developed), and reasonably good steering feel in turbo cars. The GS' three-mode adjustable driving feel pushes the performance envelope to a pleasing level, but one shy of true sports sedans like the BMW 3-Series.
Later this year, Buick will add an eAssist model to the Regal lineup. With some mild-hybrid technology, this Regal will top out at 36 mpg highway--not astonishing given the Hyundai Sonata's standard-issue 35-mpg rating, but in the zone with the Lincoln MKZ hybrid.
The Regal's tidy shape doesn't endow it with the vast interior room you'll find in a VW Passat or a Hyundai Sonata, but it's only in the back seat where it can be an issue with adult passengers. The trunk's a bit small, too.
As for safety, Buick's earned a Top Safety Pick with the Regal, but a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors aren't yet in its tech goodie bag.
With its premium price and its class-average space and gas mileage, the 2012 Regal doesn't shine on a spec sheet. In person, it's insistently handsome, and in GS trim it's truly entertaining--and that's an entirely new place in the world for Buick, though it's also a place that could take some time for value-minded buyers to find.
- A visual drama queen, in the good way
- Polished handling, especially the GS
- The power of turbocharging
- Revamped navigation system
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- On paper, down on power and gas mileage
- Tight rear-seat head room and trunk
- No all-wheel drive, no rearview camera
- Priced at a premium