There’s no V-8 under the hood—not even a V-6, for that matter—but the 2011 Regal is still the best driving experience from the brand we’ve ever sampled.
Some of the credit goes to a pair of smooth Ecotec four-cylinder engines, though we’re ready to drive a Regal with a lot more power. The base powerplant’s a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 182 horsepower, and it’s just okay in terms of acceleration and smoothness. It’s direct-injected for improved power and economy for its size, but feels a little overwhelmed on uphill climbs, even with just a driver aboard. The six-speed automatic transmission offers a driver-control mode so that you can hang in lower gears longer; still, we’re guessing this version will take about 9 seconds to hit 60 mph. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 20/30 mpg, a distinct step back in a class that includes the 35-mpg Hyundai Sonata, and even the base 33-mpg four-cylinder automatic Camry.
Spend about $30,000 and you’ll get Buick’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 220 hp. The powerband’s much friendlier here, and it gives the Regal a grunting chance to spin tires and engage your mind. It’s fairly quiet and eager to run through its powerband—and its different six-speed automatic comes with paddle shifters for a more engaging drivetrain feel altogether. Still, we can’t help but look at the coming Sonata Turbo’s 274 horsepower and think this engine’s an underachiever, too. (Buick’s promising a 260-hp Regal GS with a manual gearbox—with a price premium, we’re guessing, of another two or three grand.) Most of the competition has six-cylinder options, but none are exceptionally quicker than the 7- or 8-second Regal Turbo. Fuel economy only falls a bit with the blown engine, to 18/29 mpg.
A European-engineered suspension elevates the Regal’s handling game, pulling it higher in our performance ratings. An independent suspension, struts in front and multi-link in rear, responds like you’d expect from a continental sedan. The ride’s well damped, and bumps cause a little more noise than you’ll actually feel through the seat. The Regal’s hydraulic power steering has the turn-in and progressive feel that cars with electric power steering can only hope to one day get to. (The base Regal will switch to electric power steering in 2012, though.) Disc brakes all around are reassuring, and they're larger on Turbo versions.
Buick will even fit an electronically controlled suspension with three driving modes to the Regal, if you’re up for the extra cost. The Interactive Drive Control doesn’t fare badly at delivering most of the stock Regal’s ride quality in Normal mode; Tour and Sport will also tighten up steering and quicken the throttle. But like systems from Audi and others, the pre-selected settings are something you might fiddle with in the first few days of ownership—then forget. If you can find a Regal Turbo without the system, you’ll probably be lucky, and you’ll save.