With the abrupt demise in 2009 of half of GM’s divisions (in my opinion, a deeply logical and long overdue move—albeit a painful one—for which GM’s government overseers get zero credit), Buick suddenly had room to expand its footprint a bit. This is a good thing because a medium and a large sedan plus an SUV does not a healthy lineup make. So, the addition of a smaller, sportier sedan like the Regal strikes me as an entirely positive move.
I also support the notion of an all-four-cylinder engine lineup—normally aspirated, turbo, high-output turbo—which helps draw a distinction with the LaCrosse and also strikes a note of efficiency and modernity (as it does for the Audi A4 and the Hyundai Sonata). Speaking of the A4, that car has long been a favorite of mine, as was the original Acura TSX, both of which laid out a template that this Buick now follows, in that they were but smaller and more expensive than their mainstream competition.
So this car should be right up my alley. But after spending a week with a normally aspirated Regal CXL, I find that it leaves me a little cold. A car like the Regal needs to make a case for itself on the intangibles, and there isn’t enough here that is special. The styling—purely subjective, granted—I find generically attractive, but it doesn’t really stand out in any way. The interior, with standard leather, has no glaring missteps (the logic of the optional multi-function screen is a little odd, but one gets used to it) but the overall impression isn’t any more upscale than the mainstream mid-size sedans’ upper trim levels.
It’s the same with the dynamics. The 2.4-liter, direct-injected four makes an impressive 182 hp, which is enough to move this midsize along. (This engine is far better suited to this car than it is in the larger LaCrosse.) It also gets pretty good gas mileage, at 30 mpg highway. However, I do wish it sounded happier in its work. This is not an engine that goads the driver into wringing out every last rpm. Similarly, the chassis is very capable, but you’re not really encouraged to discover its abilities, mostly because the steering is rather lifeless and disconnected.
The overall feeling that I get from this car is a little too Saturn Aura—which was to be its role originally (at least in the USA; it’s first iteration was as the Opel Insignia).
There is, however, more to the Regal than just this CXL. The CXL turbo, with 220 hp and an optional six-speed manual, is just coming out now (the manual a bit later). Then there’s the GS, with 255 hp, 295 pound-feet of torque and a six-speed stick exclusively, which is on tap for 2012. The GS, though, was also supposed to have all-wheel drive, which would have nicely capped off that drivetrain, but that’s now been dropped. Oh, and also for 2012 a cheaper base model below the CXL is planned, which seems like entirely the wrong way to go.