2016 Buick Regal Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 11, 2016

The 2016 Buick Regal turbo intrigues us, with excellent styling and handling; we'd skip the base car, and make sure our back-seat passengers were small.

The Buick Regal sports all the equipment it needs to make it a convincing performer in the sport-sedan and luxury-sedan world: a turbocharged engine, high-tech safety equipment, and an advanced infotainment system. The Regal is simply one of General Motors' best sedans, and some of that is due to its roots. The Regal is essentially a version of the Opel Insignia, a car developed and sold by GM's European sales arm.

The Regal is a Goldilocks among mid-size sedans: it marries sport styling with great road manners. It's elegant, refined, and makes an excellent pitch for the kind of car shoppers Buick wants more of—the ones who pay a little more for premium features and finishes for a car that's similar in other ways to less expensive family sedans.

The swoopy, sleek, and tightly composed look of the latest Regal is one of the reasons we recommend this mid-sizer so often. It's the most athletic-looking vehicle in the Buick lineup, and it's completely discarded any Buick cues from the past. The Nike-like swoosh down its sides says as much about its mission, as the absent chrome ventiport holes that can be found on just about every other Buick, past and present.

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Inside, the Regal is mostly intuitive and completely pleasing. Its two-tone wood and leather trim on top models is handsome but subdued, and the cockpit's been progressively updated for a smooth integration of buttons, screens and new technology.

On the road, the Regal splits its identities into fun and frugal. On the frugal side, there's a base model powered by a 2.4-liter, 182-horsepower inline-4. It's just adequate in power and in refinement; there's a reason it's been on and off again in the Regal lineup over the past few model years. Off the menu this year: the Regal's mild-hybrid eAssist model, which is only offered to fleet buyers in 2016.

We don't mind, we'd rather have either of the Regal Turbo models anyway. Both the Regal Turbo and Regal GS get their power from a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 259 hp and 295 lb-ft of twist. Both models power up to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds, and each has a decent growl, but if you're looking to give a shift, only the GS is available with a manual transmission.

The GS isn't exactly a BMW 3-Series or even Cadillac ATS competitor, but its our favorite of the lineup because of its sporty feel and good-natured ride. What we lack in top-end performance, we appreciate it cruisability while keeping our spines intact.

The Regal can be fitted with all-wheel drive, including an electronically controlled limited-slip differential for the rear wheels for better control and stability. The Regal's ride is composed and taut, without being stiff, and takes all of the best parts of its German heritage and brings them to the U.S. in an unlikely package. Its power steering is meaty, without being overly heavy, and the performance from the all-wheel-drive system is well worth the look from shoppers—especially in cold-weather states.

The Regal is rated for five, but most comfortable for four. It's slightly smaller than some of the mid-sizers in its class that are bordering on full-size territory. There's plenty of room up front for adults, but we've found that asking three to fit in back would require some familiarity with yoga, or one or two pre-teens.

Buick's safety scorecard with the Regal has been respectable. The Regal now boasts a standard rearview camera on all models, and GS cars are equipped with front and rear parking sensors. Safety extras include adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitors, and forward collision warning systems.

The Regal uses Buick's latest and greatest infotainment system, dubbed IntelliLink, which borrows all the good parts of the Cadillac CUE system, without porting over the bad parts. The Buick skips CUE's haptic feedback, but offers a programmable interface that can store up to 60 "favorites," which could be anything from a radio station to a destination preset. Bluetooth phone connectivity and streaming will give the Buick a long shelf life, and Bose audio is just the frosting if you're looking for premium sounds.

Supplemental information from the IntelliLink system is fed to a 4.2-inch display between the gauges on most cars, but GS models upgrade to an 8.0-inch screen. Navigation, audio, phone, and vehicle information is displayed on the screen, which controlled via steering wheel-mounted controls. The Regal, like other GM vehicles, now boasts 4G LTE connectivity to turn the Buick into a rolling hotspot for an added monthly fee.

Base Regals are rated at 19/31/23 mpg—well below 4-cylinder Hyundai Sonatas and Nissan Altimas. The Regal's turbo 2.0-liter inline-4 earns a 20/31/24 rating when paired with a manual transmission, or 21/30/24 mpg with the automatic.

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2016 Buick Regal

Styling

The only dated thing about the Buick Regal is the name—the styling is some of GM's best work.

The modern Buick Regal looks nothing like the notchback Regals of yore—or even the bloated, marshmallowy sedan of the more recent past. Instead, it's looked like a relative athlete in the Buick stable since 2011, and its sheet metal is swoopy and tightly-drawn in all the right places. Plus, the interior has grown handsome and mostly intuitive, with an attractive integration of buttons, screens and technology.

The pings of the past are few: the Regal has a waterfall grille, and the 19- and 20-inch wheels are more a concession to old-school American taste than to modern-day handling and engineering. The hockey-stick line across the bottom underscores an important note for us: the Regal may be GM's best looking four-door on the market today. The new LED wings add touches of class to the front and the back, and a new grille and bumpers smarten up the nose and tail.

The front end of the GS is broken up with bladed, vertical air intakes. In back, the exhaust tips are reshaped, and the small rear spoiler is a bit larger.

Last year, Buick revised the interior for a simpler, better approach. The well-lit instrument panel with sharp gauges is now bookended by better doors with glints of metallic trim that look upscale, or by black leather seats with white trim in GS models that have the same effect. An 8.0-inch touchscreen sits atop revised controls in Buick's "shield" and a 4.2-inch display sits between gauges to relay infotainment or driving information. On GS models, the 4.2-inch screen is replaced with an 8.0-inch model that can change looks depending on driving modes.

The interior can be trimmed in piano black plastic, a dark wood called Kibo, or a satin metallic look that's our pick among the three. (It'll likely age better and won't be a magnet for smudges and fingerprints.)

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2016 Buick Regal

Performance

Stick with the turbo Regals; their entertaining handling and acceleration easily outmatch the base 4-cylinder.

Back in 2014, the Buick Regal consolidated its turbocharged 4-cylinders into a single engine offered on both Turbo and GS models. That leaves fewer differences between two models, though the GS still offers its adaptive suspension for enthusiasts shopping within the Buick brand.

Of course, if you're not into the exciting versions of the Regal, try the base 2.4-liter, 182-horsepower inline-4. It's just adequate for smoothness and acceleration. Direct injection brings better fuel economy with it, but this Regal seems a little overwhelmed on anything other than flat surfaces, with just a driver aboard. It's only offered with a 6-speed automatic, which does have a driver-control mode for hanging around in lower gears when you need.

Last year's mild-hybrid Regal eAssist has been demoted to fleet-only sales, though you might find some on popular big-box used-car lots.

Regal Turbo

None of today's Regals have a V-6, much less a V-8, but the new turbocharged inline-4 offered on the Regal is a sweet-revving engine that generates strong acceleration.

The Regal Turbo and Regal GS models now share the same engine—they were separated by 50 hp a few years ago—that's been borrowed from the Cadillac ATS. The turbo-4 features a twin-scrolling turbocharger and direct injection to make 259 hp in both applications. According to Buick, most of the engine's torque is available down as low as 1,700 rpm, with 0-60 mph times under 7 seconds. The Regal Turbo is only fitted with a 6-speed automatic, the manual is reserved only for the GS.

In our first drive, the Regal Turbo was undisturbed by the powertrain transplant. The Regal Turbo is eager to drive, but doesn't spoil its mainstream attitude. There's not much drama coming from the engine either; GM has kept most of the noise isolated all the way up to redline. Regal Turbo models get an electric power steering rack that doesn't build up too much weight, nor is it too quick in its ratio. Compared to the GS models, which have a lowered suspension and adjustable dampers, the Regal Turbo leans a little more.

The Regal also can be fitted with a new all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, one with electronically controlled limited-slip differential at the rear wheels and with a differently designed rear suspension to accommodate the drivetrain. It can split up to 90 percent of its available torque to the rear wheels, or shift torque between rear wheels with an electronic limited-slip differential. The result: better response to on-power cornering, and maybe more important, a few thousands more interested buyers who put AWD in the "must-have" bin.

Buick Regal GS

The Regal GS is still the version we'd choose, every time. It gives the Buick brand a new benchmark for precision, without falling over itself in homage to Germany's sport sedans (though at heart, it is one—it's based on GM Europe's Opel Insignia sedan).

It may have lost its own, dedicated engine option, but the Regal GS still has a few tricks that only the top-end model can lay claim to. The first is a drive-select mode that changes the behavior of the throttle, suspension, transmission, and steering feel. The system, which is called Interactive Drive Control, dramatically changes the attitude of the GS from sedate "Touring" mode, past "Sport," and into "GS" mode, which is the stiffest among the three. The GS won't be confused with a German sport sedan such as a BMW, Audi, or even a Cadillac, but the system builds effort and response in a way we appreciate: namely, it doesn't spoil the ride. Out of the box, Touring mode is quiet and comfortable enough for any daily driver, but still manages to handle better than the base Turbo model.

The GS rides on a lowered suspension with standard 19-inch wheels, or available 20-inchers with summer rubbers.

All-wheel drive makes the Regal GS a better performer on the bends and in rutted pavement, and the big brakes have a reassuring bite and firm pedal feel.

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2016 Buick Regal

Comfort & Quality

The front seats have good cushioning and comfort, but leg room is at a premium in the Buick Regal's rear seat.

The Buick Regal is comfortable for four adults, assuming the rear passengers aren't too large, as the car is slightly smaller than some other mid-size cars in the segment.

At the midpoint in wheelbase and overall length of compact and full-size—think Ford Focus and Fusion—the Regal doesn't come up shy in front-seat space. Base models have more mildly shaped seats than the GS' buckets—they have much better bolstering—but they're all trimmed in leather. We'd ask for more support on the base Regal's bottom cushions, but head room and leg room aren't constrained, unless you slide the seat forward and opt into the sunroof.

The back seat of the Regal has been rated for three people, but we'd say that's ambitious. Only two will likely fit in the back seat, and that's assuming they're not in need of a lot of leg room. Looking at the numbers reveals that the Regal's back seat should be as spacious as a Honda Accord, but we think there's something in the cushions that constricts the space more in the Regal. Head room is fine in the Regal, not as much as the VW Passat, but only the tallest passengers will crane to get into the back of the Regal

Similarly, the trunk of the Regal isn't as big as others in its class. Just 14.3 cubic feet of storage is available in the Regal, which is 3 or 4 cubes shy of its competitors and far short of the 20 cubes found in the trunk of the Ford Taurus.

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2016 Buick Regal

Safety

The Regal performs well in crash tests, but it's not at the top of its class.

The 2016 Buick Regal carries over crash-test ratings from years prior, but it misses the best rating from one agency due to incomplete testing.

While the IIHS has given the Regal top "Good" scores in all of its crash tests, it hasn't yet put the Buick through its rigorous small-overlap crash test. That keeps it from eligibility for a Top Safety Pick award and lower slightly on our scale. The IIHS notes that the Buick's front-crash safety system rates as "Superior."

Federal testers have given the Regal a top five-star score overall, with four stars for front- and rollover-crash protection.

A rearview camera is now standard equipment for all Regals, and the GS gets standard front and rear parking sensors. Advanced safety features such as blind-spot monitors, forward collision alert, and lane-departure warning systems are optional on most models.

Outward visibility isn't much of a problem with the Regal, however we'd still load up the safety options on our cars for peace of mind.

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2016 Buick Regal

Features

The Regal has all the technology we want in its cabin, from smartphone connectivity to a still-available manual shifter.

The 2016 Buick Regal hasn't been changed substantially for a couple of model years. It's still offered as a 4-cylinder and in turbocharged form, with an option for all-wheel drive. A so-called "mild" hybrid system was removed from the normal mix and is only available to fleet buyers.

For 2016, all Buick Regals come with standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; a rearview camera; cruise control; dual-zone climate control; a power driver seat; heated front seats; Bluetooth with audio streaming; and an AM/FM/CD/XM audio system with a USB port.

On more expensive models, the Regal adds features like a power passenger seat; a heated steering wheel; parking sensors; and remote start.

The Regal GS also gets its own set of features, not the least of which is an adjustable suspension on front-drive versions. It also wears special 19-inch wheels, with 20-inch wheels on summer tires as an option. The Regal GS also has a reconfigurable 8.0-inch LCD screen between its gauges that display information related to its driver-adjustable modes. A shift-it-yourself manual gearbox is a no-cost option.

The Regal's infotainment needs are handled by IntelliLink, which governs its audio system and smartphone connectivity. The interface uses an 8.0-inch LCD touchscreen to allow drivers (and front-seat passengers) to reconfigure the home screen, to choose up to 60 favorites across its suite of applications, and to store up to 1,000 contacts—while integrating smartphone-based streaming audio and accessing navigation with natural-voice commands. IntelliLink also displays redundant information on a 4.2-inch screen tucked between the gauges.

Buick's latest navigation system, an option on the Regal, eliminates our biggest complaint with previous models. The touchscreen display makes entry of destinations much easier. You can choose a turn-by-turn navigation service offered through OnStar, which doesn't have any resident maps or POIs in the car. OnStar also offers 4G LTE connectivity, which includes the ability to create a wi-fi network from the car.

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2016 Buick Regal

Fuel Economy

The best Regal fuel economy comes in a version not available to consumers; numbers are strictly average, otherwise.

The Buick Regal comes in such a wide variety of powertrains, it's possible to pick one on EPA combined fuel economy alone.

If you're looking for the most efficient versions, you'll have to find someone who can purchase a fleet car. The Regal eAssist has the highest fuel economy of the lineup, but it's only being sold to bulk buyers—not consumers—for the 2016 model year.

The eAssist combines lithium-ion batteries and motors to boost acceleration when the Regal accelerates—in tandem with a larger-displacement inline-4—but it's a bit more limited in scope and intent than a true hybrid. The Regal eAssist can't run on electric power alone, for example.

The EPA rates the eAssist version at 25 mpg city, 36 highway, 29 combined. Those are the best figures in the entire Regal lineup—but compared to some other hybrids with more battery capacity, the Regal suffers. The Ford Fusion Hybrid, for example, is rated at 42 mpg combined, and has more interior space to boot.

Of the Regals available to consumers, the normally aspirated 4-cylinder model gets the best gas mileage. Base Regals are rated at 19/31/23 mpg—well below 4-cylinder Hyundai Sonatas and Nissan Altimas.

The Regal's turbo 2.0-liter inline-4 earns a 20/31/24 rating when paired with a manual transmission, or 21/30/24 mpg with the automatic.

With all-wheel drive, the Regal is rated a bit lower, at 19/27/22 mpg.

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