Pros: Dramatic exterior design; athletic tendencies; high-performance potential (GS); premium-level cabin; long list of standard amenities; good fuel economy (eAssist Hybrid)
Cons: Lethargic off the line; turbo lag; tight trunk; poor visibility; road noise with 20-inch wheels (GS)
For many years, the Buick Regal was one of the stodgy statesmen among full-size sedans. It was a nameplate that stood for reliability, comfort and sturdiness. After a long, successful run, the Regal was discontinued in the early part of the double-zero decade. Fast-forward several years to 2010, when the Regal was unearthed, dusted off and brought back to life as an all-new car from the ground up. But this one was nothing like its ancestor. Rather, it was now a svelte European-style sport sedan with an infusion of advanced electronics. The only thing the two versions shared was the name, and that in itself was a disconnect.
However, the new Regal had some problems. First, it alienated the nameplate's previous fans, older drivers who wanted a big, comfortable cruiser, not a Euro-tuned handler. Another challenge was the car's reserved overall performance character despite its handling prowess.
To remedy this situation, Buick has introduced two new variants for 2012 to fortify the Regal's position and more aggressively pursue a younger set of buyers. The GS model builds on the Regal's performance credentials, while the eAssist goes after those interested in a green-leaning sport sedan. The two will flank the standard Regal to offer a more comprehensive and relevant model range.
Buick's hope is to make deeper inroads into the highly competitive sport-sedan segment. Whether the Regal can achieve that goal is yet to be seen.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Buick Regal interior is decidedly upscale. Gauges and controls exude a sophisticated, Euro-flavored appearance. The driver's cockpit is nicely carved out to emphasize the sedan's performance credentials.
The front seats are supportive, well shaped and adequately bolstered for spirited driving, although on the narrow side. The Regal's second row can accommodate three adults but is more ideal for two. This rear seat offers plush seating with good leg- and shoulder room. Rear headroom for taller passengers is limited; the low-slung roof is the culprit there.
For cargo, the Regal's trunk offers a usable 14.2 cubic feet of space. But that cubic footage shrinks to just 11.1 on the eAssist Hybrid because of the space taken up by battery storage.
The Regal is available in three trim levels: base, Turbo and GS. This interior is not the most refined in its class, nor does it have the most performance character. But it does have a balanced dose of each, making "sporty elegance" an appropriate theme for this cabin.
The base model offers available Bluetooth, USB interface and the IntelliLink smartphone-based communication system. The midlevel Regal Turbo offers optional automatic xenon headlights, an adaptive suspension with driver-selectable modes and a nine-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound stereo. The performance GS model gets all of the above as standard equipment. Navigation is an option across all Regal trims levels.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The front-wheel-drive 2012 Buick Regal can be powered by a choice of two engines as well as an available mild hybrid system that it calls eAssist.
The base unit is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder producing 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. Energy is sent to the front wheels by way of a six-speed automatic transmission with manual mode. EPA-estimated fuel economy for this engine is 19 mpg city/31 mpg highway.
On the eAssist model, this 2.4-liter engine is combined with an 11-kw electric motor that derives power from an advanced lithium-ion battery. Fuel economy jumps to 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway using the same six-speed gearbox. That's an overall increase of 25 percent.
The Regal Turbo is propelled by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 making 220 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. This engine mates with either the standard six-speed automatic transmission or an optional six-speed auto.
At the top of the Regal range is the newly introduced GS model, which utilizes the 2.0-liter turbo engine but adds more boost and a better-breathing exhaust system. These modifications increase the GS's output to 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. This uprated model uses a standard six-speed manual to achieve fuel economy ratings of 19/27 mpg.
Occupant protection comes from six standard airbags - front, side and curtain. Uplevel trims get two more side airbags for the rear-seat outboard passengers.
The Regal is also equipped with ABS, stability control and OnStar emergency telematics.
The base Regal does a good job at splitting the difference between ride and handling. Steering isn't as responsive as one would want it to be, but the car still displays a good bit of nimbleness. Furthermore, its 4-cylinder engine prides itself on its smooth and refined power delivery. The eAssist mild hybrid model is simply a quieter version of the same thing.
Moving up to the Regal Turbo gives this chassis a chance to live up to its sporting credentials. The steering feels sharper, and the car has a more dynamic feel. This Regal's Euro-tuned suspension was designed to show off its athleticism on quick-cutting switchbacks and in high-speed maneuvers. Unfortunately, the Turbo does suffer from a noticeable lag when launching from zero.
For a seriously athletic outing, the newly introduced Regal GS delivers fully, thanks to its sport suspension, 20-inch wheels and powerful brakes. Even hard-core enthusiasts will be impressed with its high-performance dose of power and track-caliber capabilities.
Granting flexibility to the Regal driving experience is the Interactive Drive Control System (IDCS), which alters suspension damping, throttle response, shift points and steering speed based on three adjustable drive settings: Tour, Normal and Sport.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 325i: The BMW is more expensive than the Regal but also offers a higher level of refinement and handling prowess.
Acura TSX: The TSX is richer in content but falls short of the Regal's comfortable ride. Both cars are equally sharp and precise in turns.
Volvo S60: From a ride-and-handling standpoint, the S60 and the Regal Turbo are very comparable. Both are sporting in nature but also deliver a comfortable cruising experience. The Volvo, however, feels more solid and offers a higher level of safety.
Volkswagen CC: The CC is better engineered with spryer dynamics and more features, but the Regal, with more horsepower and torque, delivers better straight-line performance.
The Regal Turbo seems to make the most sense for those wanting a legitimate sport sedan with everyday usability. It's powerful in a straight line and confident in corners without being overzealous. The Regal Turbo also offers a plush ride when driving it in a relaxed manner. Adding the optional Interactive Drive Control System makes this car a very complete package that can adapt to virtually all driving styles, venues and conditions, except for maybe a racetrack. Only if weekends at the raceway are a part of your plans should you consider the more high-performance Regal GS. In addition, the Turbo variant brings an abundance of premium-level amenities, making it as upscale as it is sporty.