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Motor Trend: Buick Regal Prototype First Drive

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[source: Motor Trend]

First Drive: 2011 Buick Regal Pre-Production Prototype

Have Opel and Buick Built a TSX-Fighter?

November 19, 2009

By Frank Markus

2011-buick-regal-front-2.jpg

The 2011 Buick Regal is targeted at me. My last two family cars purchases have been a 2005 Acura TSX and a 1995 Infiniti G20. Our requirements were 1) a full roster of luxury features and toys, 2) four-cylinder fuel economy, and 3) long-haul durability (the G20 racked up 170,000 miles). I have no concerns about domestic-car reliability, but the Big Three haven't seriously attempted a four-banger luxmobile since the ill-fated Cadillac Cimarron. Now, with Buick training to go toe-to-toe with the Asian luxobrands (while Caddy spars with the Germans), this Regal is aimed at folks like me.

I probably won't be in the market until 2015, but I seized the opportunity to take an early test drive in some Opel Insignia development vehicles that had been Buicized with near production intent chassis and sound insulation. Sized about four inches longer than the current TSX (which itself was 2.8 inches longer than our 2005) and a bit wider and taller, the 3600-pound Regal still manages to project a light and nimble sensation from the cockpit that's not unlike our 3350-pound TSX.

Much of this sensation is due to the 2.0-liter turbo-direct-injected Ecotec four cylinder engine that will join the base 2.4-liter naturally aspirated DI engine next summer. Spooling out an estimated 220 horses and 258 pound feet, the Regal undercuts the TSX (old and new) by a little bit in pounds per horsepower, and by a LOT in pounds per pound-foot of torque. Abetting this advantage is a choice of six-speed transmissions -- GM-Europe sourced manual or Aisin automatic. Buick's 0-60 claim is in the mid-7s, and that seems conservative.

The turbo spools swiftly and silently from a stop or when overtaking (is anyone else out there growing nostalgic for the whistle that turbos used to make?). What little you do hear of the engine is far from Honda in its quality, but a whole lot less Hoover than what comes through in the original Insignia (one of which was brought along for comparison). Chalk one up for the Quiet Tuning gang.

Both transmissions acquitted themselves reasonably well, the Aisin banging off quick, smooth shifts either automatically or via the +/- gate (there are no steering wheel paddles). There was some untoward dithering of the torque converter lockup when coasting, and easing back into the throttle, but I'm assured that'll be sorted out before production. The controller also seemed eager to start out in second gear except when the car comes to a complete stop. The manual stick moves with reasonable precision and nice mechanical engagement, though it put up more resistance than I'd prefer when attempting brisk 1-2 upshifts. There's no driveline lash, though, and clutch takeup is smooth and intuitive. Manual owners may be chagrinned to learn that the traditional handbrake has given way to an electric parking brake, and while hill-holding is on the development list, it's not ready yet. But with the E-brake set on a steep hill, it will release automatically as you go to launch.

And now for the question that really needs answering: Did they Buick all the fun out of this Euro-bred chassis? The development folks swear on a stack of Opel work orders that all they did was tailor the car to match European ride/handling as closely as possible on all-season tires (summer rubber is standard in the homeland). That meant increasing the rear stabilizer bar stiffness a skosh, and slightly altering the internal plumbing of the dampers, though they concede that the end result offers less impact harshness than Opel's design, which is a good thing on Michigan roads. Indeed the Insignia and Regal setups feel pretty similar. Neither is as plush as the LaCrosse. Both follow the contour of the road faithfully with a well controlled ride that may strike the aging Buick faithful as busy. Minimal noise intrudes from such chassis impacts, which improves the mental perception of ride quality.

Opportunities to assess the limit handling were minimal, but the test cars negotiated what few elbows and esses there are in southeast Michigan with minimal body roll and no squealing hysterics from the tires-neither the 245/35R-18 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires on the home-market Insignia nor the Regals' 235/50R18 Michelin Pilot MXM4 all-seasons (19-inch rubber will be optional on the 2.0-liters). The firm brake pedal has reassuringly little free travel and the hydraulic power steering feels light but precise, requiring little or no mid-course correction.

One turbo Regal option that may further improve both ride and handling is the three-position Interactive Drive Control System. It offers normal, sport, and tour positions, but will adjust to the max-sporty setting if you throw the car into a corner, no matter what the setting. These modes also tailor the automatic transmission shift strategy, the throttle map, and the variable steering assist, but each can be tailored via the control screen if, for example, you never want the aggressive "sport" throttle map.

Finally, the cockpit arrangement seems to work pretty well, with very little of the switchgear seeming foreign (as it does in the Saturn Astra) and most of the touch points feeling soft. One car had a particularly striking two-tone cocoa and cashmere (beige) combination that was a particularly welcome respite from the typical black. If development continues to improve the Regal from the development stage I sampled, then the performance, equipment, and general ambiance might well turn out to be sufficiently upscale to satisfy a TSX intender. Well, at least this one.

Regal T-Type?

Along for the drive simply to demonstrate the "bandwidth" of the Insignia lineup was the range-topping OPC (Opel Performance Content) hotrod version, powered by a 2.8-liter turbocharged V-6. Its 321 hp and 321 pound-feet are routed through a six-speed manual to all four wheels. There is, of course, no plan to revive the Buick T-Type or Regal Grand National names in this day and age, but if they did, I'd have to counsel Buick to ditch the exhaust system fitted to this OPC model.

The drone at 2000 rpm would have banshees covering their ears. This car had three-position shocks, but the settings were all a bit stiffer than Regal's IDCS setup. The normal setting felt tolerable, Sport prompted minor kidney trauma, and when in OPC (the max setting) one fears that conversation might imperil one's tongue. But grip from the 255/35ZR20 Pirelli PZeros is as impressive as the braking from the Brembo front binders. Body roll is minimal, and acceleration from a dead stop feels Audi S4-quick and sure-footed. We may never get this model, but its Recaro seats and aggressive fascias might be welcome on some slightly less wild variant. -FM

2011-buick-regal-center-stack.jpg

2011-buick-regal-rear.jpg

2011-buick-regal-front-three-quarter-2.jpg

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"Buickized" insignia explains the rear foglight.

Very positive review. Hopefully this will be a winner.

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that interior pic is exactly how i would want it. mmmmmm

258 lb ft and 6 speed manual = i could be very happy with that car. take that, passat and CC.

finally, something worth saving the GM balance for.

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that interior pic is exactly how i would want it. mmmmmm

That's EXACTLY what I was thinking!

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That interior blows the TSX's out of the park. It's gorgeous, luxurious, and everything about this car screams New Buick to me. I was upset that I wasn't going to be able to handle buying a new LaCrosse and didn't want to settle for the older one, but this (depending on pricing), should be right up my alley.

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Paulie, I haven't seen it in person and neither have you. Maybe the design blows the TSX's out of the water, but I wouldn't make such a proclamation until seeing/feeling the materials in person. The TSX has GREAT material quality.

Edited by Croc
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Paulie, I haven't seen it in person and neither have you. Maybe the design blows the TSX's out of the water, but I wouldn't make such a proclamation until seeing/feeling the materials in person. The TSX has GREAT material quality.

I was discussing overall design. The TSX is so bland, monochromatic, etc. IMO, this has a lot going on... chrome/silver accents, wood, two shades in the brown family, etc. I realize that the ebony version looks just as stark as the TSX, but you can't get the TSX in a neutral color anymore, as far as I know of.

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The interior colors like this put me in the frame of mind of some of the nicer Bently or Italian type interiors of the past.

It has a very rich look to it, I'll admit. When I first saw the "cashmere" color in the Lucerne, I was impressed because it was anything but "tan/beige", it had a very warm, inviting color to it--very creamy and rich.

I'm not a fan of "gray" on interiors... I've seen way too many of them in the past decade, so I'm done with them in modern cars. Example, my friend has a red C240 Wagon, and the interior is light gray. There's dark wood, but man, the interior looks so cold to me. Ebony I love for sportiness, but sometimes (as in the ebony interior pics of the Regal), it can get too monochromatic and dark for me. I admit, the piano black is nice, and yes, I'd have to see it in person, but it's not my idea of "warm", but more it reminds me of sportiness.

I'm hoping for some creative "ambient lighting" like there is in the LaCrosse. If not, I still like the interior enough--although I will have to reserve final judgment until I see it in person.

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That interior blows the TSX's out of the park. It's gorgeous, luxurious, and everything about this car screams New Buick to me.

Bingo!

Chris

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ag_09tsx_intright.jpg

2011-buick-regal-center-stack.jpg

Okay, so apparently you can get the TSX in a neutral color, but no wood.

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"Buickized" insignia explains the rear foglight.

Very positive review. Hopefully this will be a winner.

That fog light most likely will only be for 15 months while production is in Germany, after that production moves to North America, so you will be able to tell which cars were built where ...

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I was discussing overall design. The TSX is so bland, monochromatic, etc. IMO, this has a lot going on... chrome/silver accents, wood, two shades in the brown family, etc. I realize that the ebony version looks just as stark as the TSX, but you can't get the TSX in a neutral color anymore, as far as I know of.

even though its just a honda, i (gulp) like (cough) the TSX's interior. it is 'techie' and 'cold' though. the tsx interior is what the honda interiors USED to be. i typically hate Japanese cars but the TSX is one car I could be happy with. the problem with the TSX is i think its kind of spendy now, and the four cylinder stick isn't exactly lightning fast. even with its exterior ugliness, if someone put a gun to my head, i would drive one. if you caught me on the right day, I might even tell you i would take the TSX before I took the VW CC.

this is the beauty of the new Regal. You can compare it to these cars and it seems to meld a little of both. It has some obvious German influence as its an Opel, and yet there is a dynamic in the interior sort of like the TSX that makes it a little more lively than the CC's very nice but quite clinical interior.

This is a nice problem to have.

Here's the deal......I want to see how the new 9-5 turns out as well. Will there be any Saab dealers left to buy one? LOL

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just so those nice semi shiny metal accents on the door pull and shifter trim aren't changed to grey painted matte plastic when it starts getting made in oshawa.....

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make you a deal. let's both get one and then meet up and compare. !

Deal ;)

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just so those nice semi shiny metal accents on the door pull and shifter trim aren't changed to grey painted matte plastic when it starts getting made in oshawa.....

The other "Euro" GM product to be made in North America is the VUE... and that's actually still somewhat Opel-feeling inside, compared to the cheapness of the N.A. AURA.

Antara:

0609_z+2007_opel_antara+interior.jpg

The brushed metal trim remained, as did the lovely Opel turn signal stalks, window switches, headlight knob, and soft touch plastics.

Edited by pow
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even though its just a honda, i (gulp) like (cough) the TSX's interior. it is 'techie' and 'cold' though. the tsx interior is what the honda interiors USED to be. i typically hate Japanese cars but the TSX is one car I could be happy with. the problem with the TSX is i think its kind of spendy now, and the four cylinder stick isn't exactly lightning fast. even with its exterior ugliness, if someone put a gun to my head, i would drive one. if you caught me on the right day, I might even tell you i would take the TSX before I took the VW CC.

this is the beauty of the new Regal. You can compare it to these cars and it seems to meld a little of both. It has some obvious German influence as its an Opel, and yet there is a dynamic in the interior sort of like the TSX that makes it a little more lively than the CC's very nice but quite clinical interior.

This is a nice problem to have.

Here's the deal......I want to see how the new 9-5 turns out as well. Will there be any Saab dealers left to buy one? LOL

TSX wagon coming soon, by the way...

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That fog light most likely will only be for 15 months while production is in Germany, after that production moves to North America, so you will be able to tell which cars were built where ...

I really hope the rear fog light doesn't come to America on Buicks... its bad enough that a handful of cars that already have them here. Since stupid drivers don't know that they shouldn't use their fog lights when there is no fog, they leave them on... partially blinding drivers to the rear, or in the case of cars with two rear fog lights, they look like the driver is riding the brake.

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The other "Euro" GM product to be made in North America is the VUE... and that's actually still somewhat Opel-feeling inside, compared to the cheapness of the N.A. AURA.

Antara:

0609_z+2007_opel_antara+interior.jpg

The brushed metal trim remained, as did the lovely Opel turn signal stalks, window switches, headlight knob, and soft touch plastics.

The center stack changes made to house the black-tie radio ruined the design, though.

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Paulie, I haven't seen it in person and neither have you. Maybe the design blows the TSX's out of the water, but I wouldn't make such a proclamation until seeing/feeling the materials in person. The TSX has GREAT material quality.

I like the Insignia better than your TSX (our Honda Accord), but it is a matter of personal taste. Materials-wise, about the same, but my opinion is based on looking at the Insignia from outside and I don't know if the Acura had a materials upgrade from the Honda Accord they sell here.

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I really hope the rear fog light doesn't come to America on Buicks... its bad enough that a handful of cars that already have them here. Since stupid drivers don't know that they shouldn't use their fog lights when there is no fog, they leave them on... partially blinding drivers to the rear, or in the case of cars with two rear fog lights, they look like the driver is riding the brake.

On the Grand Prix, they are "Driving Lights" and if I don't leave them on, the headlights suck so much that I wouldn't be able to see anything.

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"Buickized" insignia explains the rear foglight.

Very positive review. Hopefully this will be a winner.

2011-buick-regal-rear.jpg

Where exactly is this rear foglight you are all seeing? I'm lost here!!

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