Less than a week after General Motors announced its decision to retain full ownership of Opel, we're getting our first close look at the European brand's best contribution yet to our market -- the 2011 Buick Regal.
The Regal, which makes its U.S. debut today in Los Angeles, has already been on the market for about a year in Europe as the award-winning Opel Insignia. Both in the United States and in China -- Buick's primary market these days -- the Regal slots under the LaCrosse. It rides on the same basic platform but sees its wheelbase trimmed by four inches and is six inches shorter overall. The Regal will feature only direct-injected four-cylinder engines, launching in spring 2010 with a 182-hp, 2.4-liter and becoming available shortly thereafter with a 220-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter. For now, both engines will be paired with only a six-speed automatic, but a manual transmission is likely on its way, as is a hybrid version. Other options, including all-wheel drive and even a turbo V-6 are feasible, since they're available in Europe, but will make their way here only if the volume justifies the cost. Buick has not yet provided any pricing, but company officials name the Volkswagen Passat and the Acura TSX as key competitors.
Changes for the U.S. market are few, as the car was designed from the outset with the intention of selling it here (although everyone thought it would be through Saturn dealers as the next Aura). Under the skin, there are slight changes in suspension tuning -- only to match the U.S.-spec tires, we're assured. There's also a bit more structural reinforcement in the B-pillars to meet U.S. side-impact requirements. Production will start at Opel's Rüsselsheim, Germany plant before eventually moving stateside.
Despite its European bona fides, the Regal doesn't come across as an imported afterthought, as have past American Opels like the Saturn Astra and the Cadillac Catera. Interior controls are easy to decipher and are similar to what is on the LaCrosse's well-crafted cabin. Some dash materials were cheaper than we'd expected, but we'll have to see the production version and the suggested retail price before we cast our final verdict.
There's also plenty of exterior style to attract American consumers' attention, with bulging fenders, a steeply raked roofline, and short overhangs. Opel designers were almost certainly not trying to channel Harley Earl with the car's sweeping side creases, but the Regal nevertheless makes for a convincing Buick even though it has received precious few cosmetic changes in its transatlantic journey.
Perhaps the best news regarding the Regal is that with GM firmly in the driver's seat at Opel, it won't be left to rot on our shores. Although GM would technically have maintained its connection to Opel's significant engineering resources under a deal with Magna, it's hard to imagine that the new owners would have given as much thought to the North American market -- or to Regal updates.
Now the Regal's future will be determined solely by its success. That success will depend largely on Buick's ability to attract younger, more affluent mid-size-car buyers and, of course, on how well the car drives. We'll have some more insight on the last matter when we preview the car on the road next week. Stay tuned.