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.The mid-level Regal has a different powertrain, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 220 hp. The powerband’s much meatier and friendlier here, and it can spin tires and engage sport mode in more drivers--particularly since it's offered with a well-sorted-out manual transmission, and even the automatic comes with paddle controls for sport shifting. It’s fairly quiet on the move, and eager once you get into the thick part of the powerband. Still, the output on paper pales next to the 270-plus-horsepower posted by the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata turbo models. Eighteen-inch wheels and tires are standard, with 19-inchers 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.
Its Euro-engineered suspension gives the Regal better handling than most of the Asian competition, and brings it into the realm of the Fusion and more expensive iron like the nimble Acura TSX--especially in GS trim. With struts in front and a multi-link rear end, the Regal has a muted but responsive feel, with a well-damped ride. Base cars now have electric power steering; the hydraulic system in the turbocharged Regals isn't particularly hefty, but it's blessed with good progressive feel. Big disc brakes have a reassuring bite, too.
The Regal GS and the lesser turbo models also have an option for adjustable suspension, throttle and steering response dubbed Interactive Drive Control System. The setup provides three driving modes, with the distinction being that the base setup in the Regal GS roughly lines up with the "touring" setting in the 220-hp turbo car. With the GS, there's also a Sport and a GS mode, which progressively tighten up the handling to a level just shy of the true sports sedans from BMW. The selectable settings in the GS make a meaningful difference that lets drivers filter out harshness in more pedestrian use, and tighten up reflexes for a favorite set of curves. Given the choice, we'd leave IDCS off the mid-level car for better value, and enjoy it immensely in the GS, where it's standard equipment.