Saturday, December 3, 2011

Buick Regal Turbo and GS

Dad's 1976 Buick Electra Limited was a thing of beauty. Twenty feet of Independence Red paint and glinty chrome; black leather inside with engraved faux-wood inlays in the doors. It floated, silently, above the road. My, how things have changed.

I've been watching GM for years and am in love with the direction they're taking. Buick is aiming to be the luxury/performance division of GM, targeting Lexus as a prime competitor. Their efforts are working and the demographic of their buyers is dropping.

The new Regal is nothing like the last one, which was a Chevy Impala sister-ship. This one started as an Opel Insignia, in Europe, and it looks and performs like no other Buick you've experienced.

What we (Anthony in particular) likes most about the Buick is that it's available in a manual transmission - very rare for this class of car. And a welcome feature!

We spotted two examples, a Turbo and a GS and decided to drive both in order to solidify our focus on one vehicle.

We drove the 220 hp Turbo, first. It was a 2011 - black on black - well equipped but lacking a few things we'd like, like touchscreen navigation and push-button start.

The fit and finish was first rate. And the interior gives the driver and front passenger a real "cockpit" feel. The cowl wraps around the occupants. Outward visibility is good (not great). I prefer a little wood on the dash, rather than the aluminum and piano black accents the Regal has. But it works. It conveys a sporting feeling. The interior is more intimate than we thought we wanted, but it's not uncomfortably tight and rear seat legroom is acceptable, even with a 6' 2" driver.

Saddled with about 500 lbs of passengers (the two of us and a 6' 2" salesman), power from the turbo four cylinder was sufficient, but not at all enthralling. Fuel economy at 32 highway is good. Shifting is smooth and linear. Clutch engagement was just right.

Switching to a silver GS, the first thing you notice is more aggressive styling. Beautiful open-spoke rims revealing Brembo calipers on giant discs. A unique front fascia with aggressive vertical air intakes. It continues in the interior with heavily bolstered seats, perforated leather, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel.

The GS's added 50 hp was evident the moment we pulled out of the driveway. The car WANTS to go 80 and provides a nice push of thrust at each row of the 6-speed. I am really looking forward to driving this car alone, without the weight of other passengers. The drivetrain has multiple modes, including GS, which tightens steering and suspension and provided the most fun weaving in and out of 4 lanes of highway traffic.

The car would benefit from a panoramic glass roof. And our salesperson expressed concerns about iPhone connectivity, but Buick's website claims it's easy. We were surprised not to see fog lamps, ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats. These might be available as options. American manufacturers still haven't caught on to the fact that fewer options packages are better, and the top of the line model should have EVERYTHING.

GM set the bar high in our search. We adored the GS - it will be our choice if we decide on Buick. I can't wait to see how the competition stacks up.


  1. Buick sells more cars in China than the US now. I think you nailed it, they are trying to be the "other" Lexus for China. Good for them. There's no reason the US cannot produce a competitve luxury car. But you don't have the Chrysler 300 on your list. I think the new style is right on the mark. You are looking for a car not an suv because of the fuel economy?

  2. Agreed that the 300 is gorgeous. But it's a price point issue. Equipped the way we want it, a 300 would be about $40,000.

    Charger is of course the 300's platform mate. It lacks the eleganza but is completely evil looking. We're looking forward to driving a V-6 with AWD and the new 8-speed transmission. Unfortunately, none were available for test drive at the two dealers we visited today.

    We are not looking at SUVs because we are keeping our Explorer. It's in the sweet spot - paid for and bulletproof in terms of reliability.

    We did drive the Optima and the Passat today. They both gave us a lot to think about. I'll be adding my thoughts, soon.