By Kevin Miller
Buick is in a product renaissance, with the Enclave and LaCrosse leading the way. Last month Buick sold its 100,000th Enclave crossover. The brand’s conquest rate has tripled in the last year, and the import conquest rate has quadrupled.
Onscreen text before the Regal launch stated that the Regal’s “Arrival is a departure”. That is very true for the North American market, where Buick has been selling to customers in the AARP demographic for decades.
With that said, the North American premiere of the Regal launches the car as Buick’s performance flagship. Though pricing won’t be released until sometime next year, the Regal is billed as a premium sedan at a non-premium price. The driving experience is said to be absolutely European, which is believable since the Regal is essentially a Buick-branded version of the Opel Insignia, which itself was the European Car of the Year last year.
Like the Insignia on which it is based, the Regal is a good-looking sedan with athletic proportions and standard 18 inch wheels shod with 245/45R18 all-season tires. Fortunately, the designers who penned the Buick iteration of the car resisted the temptation to add Buick’s signature VentiPort portholes to the Regal.
Front legroom is more than adequate for my long legs; I actually moved the seat forward a bit from its rearmost position when I was getting comfortable in the Regals on show. However, that front legroom comes at the cost of rear legroom, though that tradeoff is the same in any vehicle of the Regal’s size. I was pleasantly surprised to find a 120 VAC household electrical outlet on the Regal’s center console.
For now, all Regals are front wheel drive. I had the opportunity to chat with Jim Federico, GM Vehicle Line Executive for Global Mid-Size Vehicles, and I asked him whether the Insignia’s available all-wheel drive system had been considered for the Regal, Mr. Federico stated that it had been heavily considered, and that it is available in the Regal’s “toolbox,” though it will only come to the US if the Regal sells well enough and enough customers show interest.
The new sedan will reach Buick showrooms this spring, with a 182 HP 2.4 liter DOHC Direct Injection four cylinder engine. Available only with a six-speed automatic transmission, the preliminary fuel economy rating is 30 MPG highway.
A couple of months after launch, a 220 HP 2.0 liter DI turbocharged four cylinder will become available with a six-speed automatic transmission, delivering a predicted 29 MPG EPA rating on the highway. The turbocharged Regal, available with optional 245/40R19 all-season tires on attractive 19” wheels, is equipped with Interactive Drive Control, a system which offers Normal, Sport, and Touring calibrations for suspension, steering, and throttle response. A few months after the turbocharged Regal launches, a six-speed manual transmission will become available.
While the Insignia is offered with three different versions of a 2.0 liter Direct Injection turbodiesel in European markets offering between 110 and 160 HP, there are no current plans to bring any of those diesel powertrains to the North American market, as diesel vehicles simply don’t sell well in the US. GM’s Federico indicated that as the turbodiesel is modified to meet Euro-6 emission standards for 2013, it will become 50-state US emission compliant, at which point the possibility of bringing a diesel-powered Regal to the US may be evaluated depending on market conditions.
For about a year, Regal sedans will be produced alongside the Opel Insignia in Russelsheim, Germany; production is being set up in GM’s Oshawa, ON plant to come online for the Regal’s second year of production.
During the Regal’s launch, Buick alluded to their next car, referred to as a Premium Compact Sedan. Recent internet reports tell us that it is likely a version of the Chinese-market Buick Excelle, which is based on the latest Opel Astra. It will be interesting to see how far downmarket Buick’s premium aspirations can reach without tarnishing the Premium aura the brand is cultivating.
The Regal looks to be a promising car for Buick, truly a departure from the brand’s old image and an arrival in a new segment. If the pricing is right, the Regal could become the best seller in Buick’s lineup; it has the looks and the promise to do just that.
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