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.