It was designed in Germany and is already a big hit in China, but will the Buick Regal connect with buyers on this continent?
There's a lot riding on the answer to this question, both for General Motors' senior division as well as for the corporation itself as the Regal prepares for its early-2010 arrival.
GM's recent re-organization plan cut a number of its underperforming entities adrift, but retained the Buick logo, in part due to its popularity in China. In fact, the Chinese are viewed as such important customers that the new Regal (an odd naming choice given that country's proletarian leanings) has been available in that country for nearly a year, racking up sales in excess of 65,000 units in the process.
Chinese Regal buyers might just be on to something.
The Euro-originating Regal was created as the Opel Insignia and was judged good enough to capture the 2009 European Car of the Year award and might actually win a few trophies in North America as well.
The automobile's clean, yet expressive look is a far cry from just about any other Buick ever built. It's in the same size range as the Acura TSX, Lincoln MKZ and Lexus IS 250. However, its trunk space and rear-seat leg room is significantly greater than it is in all three competitors, in part due to more distance between the front and rear wheels. The midsized stance likely won't win over many of the brand's traditional large-car buyers, most of whom are well into their retirement years. However, on the upside, the Regal stands a good chance of attracting younger shoppers with impressively shaped sheetmetal, jewellike nose and restrained use of chrome trim.
The upscale European influence can be clearly seen inside with plenty of stitched leather and wood trim that's offset by a tasteful amount of satin nickel brightwork on the door panels, steering wheel and center console.
Another factor that makes the Regal unique to the Buick line is that there's no engine larger than a four-cylinder. The standard powerplant is a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter unit that originates from the Buick LaCrosse, while a 220-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder will arrive shortly after the car's debut. The horsepower ratings are estimates for now, as are the city/highway fuel-economy numbers of 20/30 mpg for the 2.4 and 18/29 for the turbo engine.
Both engines transmit their power to the front wheels by means of six-speed automatic transmissions.
First-year Regals will be sold only as fully loaded CXL models, which means plenty of power-operated and luxury-oriented content will be part of the standard package, in keeping with the car's entry-luxury status. A console-mounted control knob that operates the optional premium audio, navigation and Bluetooth-enabled phone systems is available, as is the Interactive Drive Control System offered on turbo-equipped versions. This feature electronically adjusts the suspension travel and transmission shift points according to three different settings: Normal for all-around use, Tour setting for maximum passenger comfort and firmer Sport mode for maximum road holding in while cornering. The system also adapts to individual driving styles by altering the suspension, steering effort and throttle response.
In its second model year (2012), Buick is promising that more affordable Regal designations will be added to the lineup that will delete or make optional some of the CXL's gear.
Although conceived elsewhere, will the Regal work in North America? Most definitely. It's just what Buick needs to update its image: a stylish, sporty and economical sedan that's in step with the times.