Buick Regal CXL car reviews

2011 Buick Regal CXL

2010 Buick LaCrosse cars

Personality Sport luxury car with economy driveline (turbo may differ)
Why we’d buy it Quiet, luxurious, quick with turbo, huge trunk
Why we wouldn’t City mileage, control confusion, spongy driveline, hard seats
EPA gas mileage 19 city, 30 highway

The new Buick Regal takes its aim at (other) German midsize cars with its quiet, high-tech near-luxury sedan, which couples high tech with a seemingly unbreakable grip on the pavement.

The Regal sticks to the pavement as though it fit into grooves, capable of leaving the driver’s stomach behind on sharp turns, and feeling stable and under control at high speeds and around hard turns alike.

Accelerating with a turn from rough highway ramps, the Regal stayed firmly planted and went exactly where it was pointed, with no shuddering or other obvious indications that Stabilitrak had been activated.

Without a turbocharger, the powertrain—mainly the transmission— doesn’t quite match the promise of the styling and price. The 182-horsepower direct-injected four-cylinder is not quite enough for a sport-luxury car weighing 3,600 pounds. Perhaps if a manual transmission was available, it would be a different story.

For drivers who find 182 hp and 172 lb-ft insufficient to push around 3,600 pounds, there is a turbocharged 2-liter engine, rated at 220 hp, 258 lb-ft, a major improvement in torque which should make all the difference, especially if the transmission is more power-tuned.

The automatic transmission with the base engine is tuned for comfort, and there is a time lag before the engine can have an impact. Even when using the manumatic mode — easily accessed by pushing the shifter to the left, and then intuitively moving it up and down — the transmission routinely hesitated (shall we say, “moved regally”) before cutting torque and making a slow downshift.

As with some other luxury cars, the pursuit of cushioned luxury hurts the fun and feel, and is annoying to those who prefer a more direct-feeling connection. It sometimes feels like driving through a sponge or rubber band; the transmission prefers high gears to cut noise and raise efficiency, but at low engine speeds there is little torque, so pushing the gas does little until there is either a downshift or the engine revs up to higher speeds (which can be quite rapid). The end result is that you have acceleration but it's not on tap; once rolling, hit the gas, count to three, and then you shoot forward. The cushioning in this case is taken too far; a firmer transmission would feel better.

2011 Buick Regal car review

While the engine revved happily once in the right gear, getting to that gear took some time. At 65 mph, the car cruises at 1,800 rpm, and the transmission keeps the engine at around 1,000-1,500 rpm when it can. Oddly, the Regal felt as though it was dragging when coasting around town, though the transmission was clearly in the highest possible gear.

Acceleration is strong on sprints (starting in first gear), with no torque steer on the base model. The suspension soaked up harshness but did not provide the level of cushioning required to make driving dull; that was well balanced.

The Regal is quiet at idle, quiet at running speeds, quiet on the highway. Wind and road noise have just about been banished, though the high-tech engine sounds come through under hard acceleration. There are no subsonic booms on bumps, either.

Buick Regal car

Gas mileage is similar with both engines (19/30 or 18/30), and both are listed as taking regular gas; we found the EPA figures to be optimistic even in gentle driving. That’s the 3,600 pounds again.

Some say the exterior is elegant; others say it was laid on with a trowel; but few would disagree that replacing the Buick grille with a BMW one would fool Chris Bangle himself, at least from the front three-quarters view.

The interior is a high-tech interpretation of luxury, with careful use of a shiny dark plastic substituting for woodgrain. Seats were firm and supportive, but not uncomfortable, in both front and rear. Storage spaces included molded map pockets on all four doors, leather map pockets on the back of the front seats, small bins in front and rear (the front one equipped with a DC power outlet, cigarette lighter-style outlet, and USB port; the rear one being larger but shallow), cupholders with a sliding cover, and a Toyota-style compartment on the left side of the wheel.

regal dashboard

The gauges, outlined in chrome, have chronometer-like markings. The 160 mph speedometer is an affectation, leaving little space for the speeds 90% of drivers will never exceed, but unlike some similar speedometers it wasn't hard to track our speed (it was harder than it needed to be, and the small sweep of the needle masked acceleration).

A large display for the trip computer sits between the gauges, showing distance, average speed, gas mileage, distance to empty, or oil life. It only displays one item per screen (e.g. gas mileage), leaving lots of empty space; the gear and compass heading are always shown (D for automatic, M1-M6 for manumatic). Turning down the rheostat (which looks like a knob but acts like an up/down switch) dims the center display faster than the backlighting, leaving the less intrusive and more necessary backlights stronger — we’ve been waiting for a long time for them to do that.

The center display is used for the turn-by-turn navigation system, which dispenses with maps and entry systems, leaving the radio controls unmolested; to operate it, you call OnStar, tell them where you want to go, and they program the route and send it to your car, wirelessly. The system is smart enough to understand when you miss a turn, just like a "real" nav system; usually it works well and is far less distracting than a map-based system, but you do need to pay an annual fee (which is cheaper than buying a typical built in nav system if you keep the car for five years). This type of system kills some of the "car clutter" which makes it harder to control things.

The oil life indicator is a standard GM technology that should have gained some national recognition for the huge amount of oil it may save over time by extending oil change intervals from every 3,000 miles to every 6,000 to 10,000 miles without, according to GM, any damage to the engine.

At night, all the controls, including those on the steering wheel, are backlit, not just a select few; subtle backlighting also illuminates the center stack, door release, and door pull area.

cruise buttonsSome controls are more puzzling than effective, and often the ergonomics are poor. There are unusual and odd-feeling cruise control buttons (one must be pushed on the lower portion, the other must be pushed on the upper portion), with an odd-feeling, unusual up/down wheel replacing the coast and resume buttons; and you must push the wheel down to coast/set to start the system.

The trip computer control sits on the turn signal stalk, and uses the same hardware that the GMC Terrain uses for headlights. It's an odd place for it, but one can get used to it far more quickly than the needlessly quirky and “ergonomics be damned” cruise control. Meanwhile, one stalk you'd expect to be on the left is on the right — the wiper/washer controls.

The stereo controls are sensible and easy to figure out, with buttons large enough to be operated with gloves on, and two large, real knobs for tuning, selection, volume, and on/off. The climate control system is harder to operate with gloves, though it is still possible. The fan control is an up/down, and there is no bilevel option, but the vents seem fairly easy to manipulate. The Regal heats up quickly from cold, and heat from the engine seems to come up as quickly as heat from the seats (which, paradoxically, somewhat slow).

And then there's the electric parking brake. You have to have your foot on the regular brake to do anything, and then you lift a little switch between the seats to activate the brake and push to release; it takes more time than the manual system. We understand why a power emergency brake is handy for the many drivers who refuse to pull up a handbrake all the way, but really, is it worth the effort and nuisance over a foot-operated emergency brake?

The car preferences panel, integrated into the stereo screen, is well designed; the system controls preferences such as lighting, locking, climate control preferences, and the like, broken into categories. One nice feature is being able to turn off the lockout protection; it also lets you decide whether to leave the a/c on or off by default (or stay with the last position), keep the automatic fan to low, medium, or high ranges, and, in short, customize the car to your desires. What we’d also have liked to see is a sport mode for the transmission, but that would presumably require more certifications with the EPA.


The stereo has three settings for speed-controlled volume; the Regal has little wind or engine noise, but it's still a handy feature, which probably should have been retuned for more moderate effects. The stereo itself has decent sound, not great, but not bad, without the over-boomy bass that becomes annoying when listening to voices.

In addition to the standard daytime running lights, GM makes most of its new cars stick to automatic headlight operation as an unchangeable default, so that you have four choices: switch to no lights each time you drive, switch to driving lights, or put the headlights on manually. When the headlights or parking lights are on, a green warning light appears; this is in contrast to the GM models which have an identical light to tell you that the headlights are off. Overall, we have no idea why GM continues to waste money on a socket and bulb in every car to tell us something no other automaker thinks we need a warning for. Or even, dare we say it, a headlight knob that let us choose manual operation — and remembered the choice. In short, GM retains its headlight schizophrenia.

Regal car interior

On the lighter side, unlike many cars, there are indications both that the cruise is on, and that a speed is locked in. The light glows green to say cruise is on; white to say it is active and engaged.

The interior is generously sized, with good headroom and comfort in front and plenty of legroom for front and rear passengers; the trunk is surprisingly large, with over 14 cubic feet of space, and the driver’s seat goes all the way back, so drivers with time on their hands can sit and type out reviews on their computers. The only downside is lack of head room in back; at 5’11” our primary tester could not lean against the seat back. Visibility is good overall, with brighter than usual backup lights.

The Buick Regal is priced as a near-luxury model: the base price is $26,995, with the turbo model adding $2,500 (and worth the extra price). Standard features are 18 inch aluminum wheels, leather front heated seats, fog lamps, leather-wrapped tilt/telescope wheel with audio control, six-speed automatic, 12-way power driver seat, wireless phone, USB port, floor mats and trunk net, express up/down windows, seven-speaker satellite stereo, OnStar, and electric parking brake. Turbo models add dual exhaust with bright tips, AC outlet, and rear park assist.

2011 Buick

Our test car clocked in at $29,785 including destination — ironically, more than the turbo model. It had a single option, the RL5 option package. That added a front passenger 12-way power seat adjuster, AC outlet (facing the back seats and unswitched, not a good combination for parents), rear parking assistance, power sunroof, rear seat mounted side airbags, and premium nine-speaker stereo.

The Buick Regal uses an American engine and Chinese transmission, and is built in Germany. Just 21% of the car is made in the United States; 40% is made in Germany, and it is assembled by Opel, GM’s European subsidiary.

The Buick Regal offers potential BMW buyers with a viable alternative: a car with a surprisingly comfortable ride, using the BMW 3-series styling (though with substantially more room), and superior-to-most-cars cornering. While it may not be up to BMW specs in cornering, power, or stick-shift availability, the Regal is quite capable enough of meeting the demands of the overwhelming majority of drivers, and the compromises allow for expert damping of road imperfections and excellent noise reduction. The car feels more “alive” and connected than most Lexus cars, without sacrificing cushioning or sound insulation. The downsides are the odd controls, “rubber band” effect in the drivetrain, and the lack of a manual transmission for those who want the greater connection to driving that it brings.