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2011 Buick Regal gears up style without sacrificing power

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2011 Buick Regal gears up style without sacrificing power

In Europe, Audis and BMWs are nothing special. Taxi drivers pick up passengers in Mercedes-Benz sedans. Germans don't get excited about German engineering; to them, it's just engineering. Kind of like Chinese food in Shanghai -- it's just food. But when a German car stamps its passport at Ellis Island and arrives stateside, it can become an American dream machine. The same thing should happen with the 2011 Buick Regal.

When it arrived at U.S. customs, officers searched over its elegant midsize body, sat in the outright luxurious interior and then told the Regal to head over to the secondary screening. Obviously, they doubted its papers; it couldn't be a Buick.

Upon further investigation, customs learned the Regal isn't a Buick but rather an Opel Insigna, the 2009 European Car of the Year. But that name just sounds too European for some Americans (both words start with vowels!). But this Opel by any other name is still fantastic.

The Insigna is a smartly created vehicle, designed from the very beginning to be sold around the world. Its German roots stretch across the Atlantic Ocean as well as Asia, where in China, it's sold as the Regal.

It may have two names on its passport, but that doesn't change how impressive this car is from bumper to bumper, interior to exterior.

Just look at it: Standing there, ready to roll and hit American highways.

The wide stance and beautifully arching roof give it a much more athletic demeanor. Its front end is slightly lower than its back, and that helps it look as if it's ready to jump. Add to that the 18-inch wheels jammed into the wheel wells, the steep windshield, the sweeping headlights and splashes of chrome, and you've got a car people will notice. They may see the traditional Buick waterfall grille and underestimate it, but they shouldn't.

Lean engine retains muscle

There's nothing traditional about this Buick. It may carry the Regal name but its taut ride and crisp handling are nothing like the ginormous Regals that floated down highways like lumbering dinosaurs years ago. There will not be any V-8 muscle for this Regal. There won't even be a V-6 in its lineup. How Eco-pean.

Losing those big engines means the car can be engineered (by some Germans, perhaps?) smaller and lighter. The Regal, however, tips the scale at 3,600 pounds, which is a few hundred pounds more than most midsize cars.

The Regal CXL comes with a 2.4-liter Ecotech four-cylinder engine with direct injection that produces 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. That's more than enough gusto to get you rolling through all of the daily tasks. You can easily merge onto the highway or zip around town in style. The six-speed automatic transmission is extremely smooth and decisive -- quickly adjusting to your needs. It's also very efficient, allowing the Regal to hit 20 mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway.

I had wondered if the car's weight and small four-cylinder was going to hinder its performance, but found myself pleasantly surprised.

The hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering provides excellent feedback and return to center. Push the Regal into a corner and you'll feel a well-balanced car through the entire turn. The independent suspension gobbles up bumps and keeps the car level with little body roll even on hard turns.

While it may have the ability to tear around corners, the Regal excels most on the open highway. The ride is extremely smooth and quieter than a church on Tuesday.

Interior resets the bar

Inside, the Regal is stunning. Everything about it says luxury and it comes with all of the appointments a consumer could want.

Following the success of the opulent LaCrosse interior, the Regal moves Buick even further ahead. There's a serene calmness inside the cabin that relaxes driver and passenger. There's a host of standard features. From the seven-speaker stereo system to satellite radio to remote keyless entrance and steering wheel controls, the Regal provides any owner with lots of features for a single entry price.

You can sit comfortably with the 12-way power adjustable heated leather driver's seat -- and the front passenger gets the same treatment.

There's a sense of craftsmanship throughout the cabin. The gentle curve of the dash and touches of chrome accents help everyone appreciate it. The center console moves all the way to the front to provide storage for everyone.

And everyone is comfortable no matter where they sit. Moreover there's a sense of luxury throughout the car.

More affordable luxury

Buick does fall into a precarious position as a "premium car" in between the volume brands and the established luxury brands.

But this Buick is really a European sports sedan from the beginning. It offers more features and style than the mainstream brands and at a much more affordable price than the luxury performance cars hailing from Germany. With a starting price of $26,995, the Regal is thousands of dollars less than the European and Asian luxury competition

That should put the Regal right in the middle for consumers looking for something more than the main brand midsize vehicles, such as the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but don't want to spend Acura TSX or BMW 3 Series kind of money.

Luxury doesn't have to sacrifice performance and performance doesn't have to eschew luxury. The two can live well together. Buick just turns a European tradition on its head by taking the best of what Europe has to offer and putting an American face on it.

This country used to be the big melting pot -- though that may have become politically incorrect to call it -- and the Regal has gotten approval to cross the border.

If you want a well-priced European sedan that denotes luxury, offers performance and is affordable, the Buick Regal is it.

And just wait until later this year, during the last quarter, when the 220-horsepower turbo-charged Regal arrives in America. Yet another reason to open our borders.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100902/OPINION03/9020365/1148/auto01/2011-Buick-Regal-gears-up-style-without-sacrificing-power#ixzz0yNR5ikUI

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