2013 Buick Regal Turbo - Three Words Improbably Together Again
Yes, We Know This is a Regal GS, But Damn - It Looks Good!
My father in law loves to recollect the day his son bought a new 1987 Buick Grand National. As they were looking over the GN in the driveway, the elderly neighbor strolled over to congratulate Carl on his purchase of a “nice sensible Buick.” They didn’t have the heart to tell the kindly old woman that the “sensible” black Buick was, in fact, a turbocharged road-rocket capable of 0-60 in under 5 seconds and a 13 second quarter mile.
And so it often goes with Buick. Car enthusiasts know Buick’s performance reputation, earned by such potent cars as the Riviera, GS400, GS455, Stage I, Grand National and GNX. But for most folks, Buick is often the brand associated with stodge - floppy dynamics, conservative style and near-Cadillac luxury.
After the demise of the 1987 Grand National, Buick’s performance image withered - seemingly never to return. But then came a few “fortunate” circumstances for the brand; emergence of China as a consumer-driven global economic powerhouse and the 2008 American sub-prime lending crisis that ultimately caused GM to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Oddly, China is crazy about Buicks, an affinity that traces its origins to 1929 when Buick first established a sales office in Shanghai. By 1930, nearly 1 in six cars in China were Buicks, and they were the car of choice for Chinese dignitaries like Premier Zhou En lai and Pu Yi, the last Chinese Emperor. As China’s middle and upper class grew – so did demand for foreign prestige products, Buick included. GM now designs, manufactures and sells nearly 500,000 Buicks a year in China.
Stateside, GM’s bankruptcy was forcing wrenching decisions that tore at the very heart of Alfred Sloan's quasi-religious brand segmentation strategy. After evaluating current brand performance and future prognosis - Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn and Saab were shuttered. Buick’s strong sales and brand equity in China, a strategic growth market, was what ultimately saved it.
Suddenly, Buick was thrust into an unlikely and prominent role - a GM growth platform. With it came new investment in design, engineering, product and celebrity marketing.
In 2007, we enjoyed a few weeks with a Northstar V8 powered Buick Lucerne, and we really liked it. It seemed to signify a resurgence of true product focus at Buick.
Jake and Elwood Are Getting the Band Back Together
The Enclave, LaCrosse, Encore, Verano and Regal are the tangible manifestations of the new Buick, and each are pretty darned good vehicles. But we’re Gyrheads, and SUVs and luxury cars aren’t our bag. Entering the Buick showroom we make a automatic beeline for the Regal.
The Buick sales staff is clearly very proud of their product set. Finally, Buick has given the dealer network some competitive product to sell – and you can tell that the sales people take deserved pride in demonstrating the features. It is nice to be on a winning team!
The Regal is based on the Epsilon platform and much of the engineering came from Opel where the Epsilon platform is sold as the Insignia. Regal comes in 2 turbo trims – the Regal T with 220 horsepower and the 270 horsepower Regal GS. The Turbo comes in three trim levels, Turbo Premium I, II and III. Pricing starts at $31,530 and tops at $34,110 for the Turbo Premium III.
Since 1985, the words Buick and Turbo have gone together like Laverne & Shirley, Peas & Carrots and Jake & Elwood. With the Regal Turbo, performance is again a very big part of the Buick picture. While it may be a 4-cylinder with front wheel drive, the Regal is available with a six-speed manual transmission and this alone is enough to get our rapt attention.
Shiftus Manualis Is a Non-Native (But Welcome) Species in a Buick
Styling: The Opel Insignia was a fine place for Buick to start, as it is a solid, well-engineered midsize platform. The Buick stylists hit an absolute grand slam with the Regal design. The waterfall grille and subtle hood vents convey proper “Buickness”, and it is a trim, sophisticated car with positively gorgeous lines – particularly in GS trim. The GS 19 inch rims are stunning – easily among the most beautiful we’ve seen this year.
Cast Aluminum Artwork
Interior: The Regal T interior is a pretty nice place to hang out, with leather seats, steering wheel, shift knob and door panels. The seats are comfortable and supportive and the side bolsters are pretty effective. Fit and finish is very high – with consistent gaps and good component fit. The dash design gets mixed scores though. In dark gray, it’s a bit somber and drab – though we appreciated the lack of gaudy faux-wood trim. We also liked the analog instrument dials and digital trip display. But like so many contemporary vehicles the center stack is a hot mess - with dozens of similar appearing and cryptically labeled buttons. It is very hard to quickly operate the Regal’s climate and audio controls while driving.
Interior Design is Stylish and Functional but a Sea of Buttons
The 7” Intellilink touch screen controls entertainment, navigation and web options. The display is deeply recessed into the dash – and accessing the correct icons requires too much of the driver’s attention. Buick isn’t the only offender, as we had similar user interface issues with MyFordTouch and Cadillac CUE.
The major shortcoming in the Regal interior was rear headroom. The coupe roofline and sunroof both severely limit headroom, and passengers taller than 6 feet will feel a bit claustrophobic.
Engine and Driveline: The Ecotec 2.0 litre I-4 uses light pressure turbocharging and variable valve timing to serve up an unstressed, un-dramatic 220 horsepower and 260 lb/ft of torque. Like most modern turbo VVT engines, the Regal has a very flat and linear torque curve, with maximum torque peaking at a low 2,000 RPM.
2.0 Litre Ecotec Turbo Makes Big Torque But a Pipsqueak Sound
This prodigious torque allows the Regal to step off the line cleanly with minimal clutch slip. The Regal pulls nicely through the gears and the power delivery is linear and consistent. 0-60 comes up in a bit under 7 seconds, and the quarter mile in the high 15’s. You’ll swear that the Regal has a far larger V6 engine due to the un-peaky power delivery. We only wish it had a more dramatic and pleasing soundtrack – all you can hear is a distant hum, due to Buick’s considerable and very effective efforts at sound proofing the body structure.
The clutch pedal is smooth and the take up is progressive. As with the Cadillac ATS, we didn’t think much of the Regal’s shifter. It is not particularly precise or pleasing in feel. Buick is rightly proud that the Regal has a manual transmission option – but anyone ordering a Regal with a six-speed is likely to be a hardcore sports sedan enthusiast. They’ll have cross shopped BMW or Audi and they will expect a faultless shifter.
Ride and Handling: The Regal has a firm, comfortable ride and the steering has good effort and feedback. Under acceleration, torque steer is minimal. Over bumps the Regal feels solid and planted with none of the traditional Buick jiggle and quiver. The Regal is a heavy car, at nearly 3,800 lbs. This weight hinders the ultimate handling limits, and to be truly competitive it’d be nice to see a Regal curb weight somewhere around 3,400 lbs.
Overall, the Buick Regal Turbo is a lovely automobile and earns a solid B+ grade. It has exceptional style, high levels of fit/finish and generous standard equipment. It is quick, competent and smooth. Only a mediocre shifter, uninspiring engine soundtrack and fussy dash controls keep it from being a superstar. Not since our 1987 Grand National have we been quite so taken with a Buick, and we eagerly await seat time in a GS version.
It seems that China and economic crisis have been good for Buick!
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