2013 Buick Regal Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 3, 2013

The 2013 Buick Regal is a worthy sport sedan with arresting looks and sweet handling--so long as you stick with the turbos.

The 2013 Buick Regal has a traditional name, but if you've wandered into a showroom looking for a V-8 and rear-wheel drive...well, things have changed. Today's Regal is a front-drive four-door. Sometimes it's a mild hybrid. It's never a V-8—it's never even a V-6. Under the skin, it's an Opel, from Germany.

And it's the best modern-day Regal yet, and the best Buick you can buy today.

That doesn't make it a perfect fit for everyone. The 2013 Regal has a premium price tag to go with its brand, and performance numbers and rear-seat specs are down when compared to some bargain family four-doors. If you're past that, you'll see the Regal is 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.

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The Regal is our version of GM's global car, which is sold across the Atlantic as an Opel Insignia. Blessed with a good shape, a hockey stick stamped into its side flanks, and a wedged version of Buick's corporate waterfall grille plugged into its nose, the Regal is a domestic take on a worldwide car. The interior is modern with a large array of controls and handful of finishes dressing up a sober cockpit.

This year, Buick's dropped the standard four-cylinder from the Regal lineup, and has inserted its mild-hybrid "eAssist" powertrain in its place. With 182 horsepower and a 20-kilowatt lithium-ion battery, and an electric motor and six-speed transmission playing tag in between, the eAssist aims to split the difference between dull hybrid driving and exceptional hybrid gas mileage. It does: it delivers what's now middling gas mileage for the class, and middling handling for the otherwise dandy Regal lineup. The tires give up more easily and tell you less about the road—while the drivetrain turns in less EPA-rated highway mileage than the larger, gas-only Nissan Altima.

We'd gladly give up the notion of saving the planet for either of the Regal's punchy turbocharged four-cylinders. A standard 220-horsepower turbo-4 or high-po 270-hp version are available in the Regal turbo and GS respectively. Both have a verve and immediacy that place it among the tops in its front-drive sedan category. The Regal gets the added benefit of a European development that bestows a solid ride and handling, with reasonably good steering and muted damping borrowed from the Germans (that's where it was developed). The adjustable driving modes in GS models help draw every last drop of performance from the engine, but we'll stop short of calling the Regal a true sport sedan like the BMW 3-Series.

The Regal's shape means that it won't have the same interior space as a Hyundai Sonata or a Volkswagen Passat, but it's only an inconvenience for tall back seat passengers. The Buick's trunk is a little small, too.

As for safety, Buick's earned five stars from the NHTSA, and a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS, but a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors aren't yet in its tech goodie bag. Navigation now works with IntelliLink and Bluetooth voice controls, though, and connectivity with mobile apps puts the Regal on par with other leading mid-size luxury sedans.

With its premium price and its class-average space and gas mileage, the Regal doesn't shine on a spec sheet. It does in person, so long as you steer in the direction of forced induction.

9

2013 Buick Regal

Styling

Dynamic styling gives the latest Buick Regal something its ancestors never had.

A globally aware four-door, the 2013 Buick Regal doesn't look like anything that's worn the badge in the past. Can we get an amen for that?

It's one sexy, sculptured, athletic-looking sedan—and one with a well-stamped passport, since it's sold in Europe as an Opel Insignia. The few nods to Buick's past are tastefully applied, from the waterfall grille to the big, and optional, 19- and 20-inch wheels. It's the rest of the shape that's gone international, and been wildly successful at it. It's probably the best-looking sedan that GM builds, what with the Nike-like swoop stamped into its door panels, and the drama that ensues. From the rear quarters, there are cues of the old Infiniti Q50 (nee G37), and the abbreviated trunk brings it all to a quick, tidy conclusion. It connects well with the compact Verano, a little more tangentially with the big LaCrosse sedan and Enclave crossover—the Regal's the real knockout in the brand's styling portfolio.

We like the cockpit, too. Center stack controls are arranged in a shield shape, which is surrounded by high-quality trim. The instrument panel is lit by sharp LED gauges that are clear and easy to read. In some trims, an LCD panel dominates attention in the center of the dash to relay navigation information and functions.

7

2013 Buick Regal

Performance

Turbo versions have truly sporty ride and handling, but the 2013 Buick Regal eAssist surrenders some of that feel in the name of fuel economy.

Two turbos and a mild hybrid—sounds like an exotic European recipe for performance, right? It's scattered over three models of the 2013 Buick Regal, and we're smitten with two of them to varying degrees, while the third leaves us wondering just how "mild" a hybrid can be.

Let's start with that base Regal. Buick's axed the plain four-cylinder from the Regal lineup this year, so its mild-hybrid Regal eAssist is now the entry-level edition. It consists of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 182 horsepower, teamed with a six-speed automatic, an electric motor and lithium-ion batteries. The combination of gas and electric power can add torque on the road, or can power some accessories like the oil pump, but it can't operate in battery-only mode. (GM specifically avoids "hybrid" for that reason, but it's similar in concept to the Honda systems.) The batteries recharge by recapturing braking energy and from engine torque.

While we've come to like the same drivetrain in other applications like the Buick LaCrosse , the Regal eAssist we tested wasn't as smooth or as efficient as we'd hoped. The Regal eAssist's low rolling-resistance, 17-inch tires just don't have the more precise feel dialed into other models, and the ride quality is less pliant. There's significant lurch and grab as the regenerative braking tries to hang on to every possible erg, and the transition from regenerative to friction brakes is obvious. Gas mileage rises from 19/31 mpg to 25/36 mpg by the EPA cycle, but we were pressed to reach 29 mpg in long interstate driving at 70-mph average speed. As a whole, the eAssist doesn't stretch as far as the pure hybrids—or as a Nissan Altima—to deliver fuel economy, and the extra weight and dynamic changes subtract what's really best about the latest Regal.

On to that, then. None of today's Regal sedans offers a V-8, or even a V-6 engine, but the turbocharged four-cylinder in uplevel models is a welcome blast of boost from the Regal eAssist. It has better handling than anything bearing the same badge, ever, and both versions of the turbocharged Buick Regal now has the attention of enthusiasts with the new GS model introduced this year.

In the middle of the Regal lineup is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes 220 horsepower. The powerband is insistent down low, and friendly. In manual-equipped models the Regal turbo can spin up its tires in Sport mode, and the automatic isn't certain punishment either, it features paddle shifters for sportier driving. It's quiet in relaxed cruising and eager if you stamp on the right pedal. The mid-level Regal doesn't have enough grunt to make us forget about the 270-hp figures posted by the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, but there's help from the GS model to keep us interested. On turbo Regal models 18-inch wheels are standard, and 19-inchers can be fitted as an option.

New for the 2012 model year and returning this year is the Regal GS, which hits those horsepower bogeys and leads the charge for sporty Buicks today and tomorrow. In this state of tune, the turbo four exhales 270 horsepower, through either the six-speed manual or automatic. All-wheel drive isn't offered, but the Regal's tuned to dial out torque steer while it dials up 0-60 mph performance of well under 7.0 seconds. It gets distinct 19-inch wheels and tires, with an option for grippy 20-inch summer tires.

Developing the suspension in Europe has given the Regal excellent road manners, and better handling than many of its competitors that hail from Asia. The Regal uses front struts and a multi-link rear end to keep things tidy on the road, with a subtle yet nimble feel and a well-damped ride. Base cars are equipped with electric power steering, while turbocharged Regals get a hydraulic setup that isn't overly hefty, but progressive and natural. Disc brakes on all four corners have a satisfying bite and firm pedal.

Turbocharged Regals can be fitted with Buick's Interactive Drive Control System to tailor suspension response, throttle and steering sensitivity. GS models get Sport and GS modes that dial in enough steering heft and response to rival many sedans made by BMW, which set the highwater mark for sporty sedans. The different settings make a meaningful difference that let drivers dial down the car for daily use, and tighten up for the fun ride back home. If we have our pick, we'd leave the IDCS off of base turbo-4 cars for better value, and leave it to the GS, where it's standard equipment.

8

2013 Buick Regal

Comfort & Quality

Interior room is competitive on paper, but the Regal's rear seat is a little snug, and the trunk is small.

The Buick Regal slots neatly into the mid-size segment, but to some the appearance is deceiving. It sits at the midway point between a VW Passat and a VW Jetta—or a Ford Focus and a Ford Fusion—but especially in its back seat, it can seem much more snug than other mid-sizers in the class. That makes it a more difficult pitch against roomy sedans like the Nissan Maxima, though it's still quite comfortable for four adults.

In front, the Regal has a power-adjustable driver seat, covered in leather, and with just enough bolstering formed into the seatback to take your mind off the flatness of the bottom cushion. It's comfortable, not constrained, but there's less head and leg room than in other mid-size sedans. You'll notice it more if you opt for the sunroof and if you slide the seat back into the knees of the rear passengers.

The sticker says we can fit three in the back, but we're not sure we'd ever stick more than two adults back there. Buick says the Regal has roughly the same amount of leg room as a Honda Accord, but the big cushions in the Buick make the back seat feel smaller than the Honda—even though the Regal has 3 more inches in back than the TSX. The Regal's roofline is a little more aggressive than other sedans, which means tall heads may rub up against the top, but the Buick has enough space—it's comparable to a Volkswagen Passat.

The Buick is a little cramped when it comes to cargo room. Only 14.3 cubic feet in the trunk, which is about 3 or 4 cubes smaller than other sedans, and much smaller than the Ford Taurus, which boasts 20 cubes in its cavernous trunk.

9

2013 Buick Regal

Safety

The 2013 Buick Regal gets safety respect, with top scores from both the NHTSA and IIHS.

With strong performance in crash tests from both of the recognized testing agencies, the 2013 Buick Regal earns a high safety rating here, just shy of the best due to a lack of some standard safety technology.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the Regal gets "good" scores in all its tests, which lands it a "Top Safety Pick" award. It hasn't been subjected to the new small-overlap front-impact test as of yet, however.

The Regal earns a five-star rating overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and five stars for side-impact protection. Its scores of four stars for front-impact protection and rollover resistance keep it from our top rating.

The Regal wouldn't necessarily perform better in crash tests with more safety features, but it would be more competitive at the sales desk. It already comes with dual front, side and curtain airbags, with an option for rear side airbags. Traction and stability control are standard, and so are GM's OnStar system and tire pressure monitors.

The Regal doesn't have much of a problem with visibility, and uplevel Regals do have rear parking sensors, with an option for front sensors. We'd still like to see GM upgrade its offerings to include a rearview camera and blind-spot monitors—especially since Bluetooth is standard.

9

2013 Buick Regal

Features

The Regal's outfitted with standard Bluetooth, leather, a touchscreen radio interface, and a new and inexpensive navigation option.

The Buick Regal is pitched as a premium offering in the mid-size class, so it's bundled with plenty of standard equipment.

For the base Regal eAssist four-door, that means power locks, windows, and mirrors; cruise control; automatic climate control; an AM/FM/CD/XM audio system with a USB port; a power driver seat; leather-trimmed, power-operated and heated front seats; and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.

All Regals feature Buick IntelliLink, a touchscreen-based system that weaves Bluetooth and voice controls, a console-mounted controller and steering-wheel controls, into a command set that connects with smartphones to deliver mobile apps like Pandora and Stitcher.

The Regal eAssist has some available features, including rear parking sensors; pushbutton start; a power passenger front seat; rear side airbags; a Harmon Kardon surround-sound system; and a garage remote.

Turbo Regals get all of this equipment as standard and add a heated steering wheel (except on the GS), and offer the adjustable Interactive Drive Control System as an option, along with 19-inch wheels. On top of this, the Regal GS has standard adjustable suspension and its own 19-inch wheels; 20-inch wheels and summer tires are an option, as is a sunroof.

A new navigation system is optional this year, which addresses one of our biggest issues from last year's car. The knob-driven controls are still here, but a better touchscreen makes tasks like inputting a destination much easier this time. And it now interfaces with IntelliLink, meaning that you don't have to choose one or the other. (There's also turn-by-turn navigation offered through OnStar and its subscription service.)

Go all in on a Regal GS and the base $27,000 price balloons to nearly $40,000. That puts the Regal in line with others like the Acura TSX, Volvo S60, and Lincoln MKZ, but far from some luxury competitors that can easily run past $50,000 in top trims.

7

2013 Buick Regal

Fuel Economy

Even with the mild-hybrid eAssist model, the 2013 Buick Regal's gas mileage is just barely competitive.

Much better than any mid-size in the past—think back to the drinky turbo T-Types—today's Buick Regal sedan doesn't quite reach the gas-mileage heights of larger, mass-market four-doors.

Last year's base inline-4 engine is gone, which leaves the eAssist mild-hybrid drivetrain as the starting point to get into any Regal. Even though it has hybrid running gear and the EPA officially calls it a hybrid, GM dials down those claims by pointing out the eAssist is a milder version of electrification. The Regal uses lithium-ion batteries to boost acceleration under certain circumstances, and to help run power-sapping accessories, but the Regal can't run on electrons alone, which is different than most other hybrids.

The EPA rates the eAssist 4-cylinder and 6-speed automatic combo at 25 mpg city, 36 highway. That's not much better than the base Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima, nor the Ford Fusion with a 1.6-liter EcoBoost. The Regal's numbers fall behind the 38-mpg highway figure set by the Nissan Altima too.

Mileage in the turbocharged Regal drops too, either with a manual or an automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter turbo-4 in the Regal is rated at 20/32 mpg with the manual or 18/29 with the automatic. Opting for more power in the Regal GS lowers those numbers too, at 19/27 mpg for the manual and automatic versions.

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November 11, 2015
For 2013 Buick Regal

I have a Buick Regal Eassist

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I have a 2013 it is so smooth driving quite and good on gas miles are great. Its style and colors, & performance is outstanding. the only feature it does not have is the back up camera that way I gave it a 4 I... + More »
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June 19, 2015
2013 Buick Regal 4-Door Sedan GS

Fun and Stylish

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Nice job Buick. My Regal GS is fun to drive, handles great and is very comfortable. After 2 years and 35K absolutely no problems at all. The 6 speed manual shifts slickly and the clutch is very smooth. Some... + More »
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June 7, 2015
2013 Buick Regal 4-Door Sedan GS

never see them

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I have been delighted by my Regal gs. It has lots of get up and go, comfortable, and brilliant on it's styling. It truly is a pretty car. The only concern I have with the car is it's below average fuel... + More »
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