1990 Buick Regal

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chicagotribune.com
When they came out in 1988, the trio of GM-10 or W-body front-wheel-drive midsize cars at General Motors Corp. were saddled with a couple of problems.

For starters, the 2.8-liter engine was underpowered. It may not have been your father`s Oldsmobile, as one wag put it, but it was his engine.

The other criticism was that the Olds Cutlass, Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick Regal looked alike. The Chevrolet Lumina that arrived several months later obviously sprung from the GM-10 mold, too.

For `90 the coupes have been joined by four-door sedans. With the sedans, GM is trying toright the second wrong; there`s just enough styling difference among the GM divisions so the sedans don`t look like clones.

The W-body sedans are a sore point at GM. You may recall the automaker insisted that consumers wanted coupes, not sedans. GM said it expected that 60 percent of all midsize car buyers would demand coupes and 40 percent sedans. So GM opted to take on the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable sedans with its W- body coupes. GM found 60 percent of the buyers wanted sedans, only 40 percent coupes.

The GM divisions also chose to set their cars apart from one another through a choice of engines. Chevy offers a 110-horsepower, 2.5-liter, 4- cylinder and a 135-h.p., 3.1-liter, V-6 in Lumina; Olds offers the 3.1 and a 160- and 180-h.p. 2.3-liter 4-cylinder Quad Four engine in the Cutlass Supreme. Pontiac offers the 3.1 and the 160 h.p. Quad Four in its Grand Prix. Buick offers the 3.1 in its coupe. It doesn`t offer a W-body sedan until after the first of the year. When the Regal sedan appears, however, it will offer the 3.1 as well as a 3.8 liter, 170 h.p., V-6. The Regal coupe will get the optional 3.8, too.

Though the last of the W-body sedans to arrive on the scene, Regal will have a distinct advantage with the optional 3.8-liter V-6. Olds has the most powerful engine in the midsize lineup in the 180 h.p. Quad Four. But for now the Quad Four is only teamed with a 5-speed manual transmission, not the trans of choice for most luxury car buyers.

And psychologically, a number of midsize buyers don`t want a 4-cylinder engine even if it develops 200 h.p.

Buick says it will begin offering the new Regal sedan after the first of the year but won`t give a specific date. The dealership unveiling might not be until March.

We had the chance to briefly drive the top-of-the-line Buick Regal Limited with the 3.8-liter, V-6 in Detroit. The car was a preproduction model, meaning it had a few bugs such as a speedometer that pulled up lame and a mushy brake pedal.

But the 3.8-liter V-6 that was center of attention. The 3.8 offers a noticeable difference from the 3.1-liter V-6 in performance and quiet operation.

It`s not a rocket. It isn`t intended to be. There are other engines in the works for the near future that will develop even more power than the 3.8 in Regal. B ut the 3.8 at least signifies that the GM division is aware that consumers expect a bit more oomph from the car.

With Ford adding a 3.8-liter 140 h.p. V-6 to the Taurus for 1990 (Autos, Nov. 27), GM had to respond with something other than a Quad Four.

The 3.8 leaves the light with less effort than the 3.1. Even teamed with 4-speed automatic with overdrive, the reaction time is quicker than with the 3.1 when you press the pedal hard.

Is the 3.8 the ideal engine for the new sedan? Probably not. We`d still like about 20 more horses or about 200 pounds trimmed from the Regal`s 3,200- pound girth. But the 3.8 is still a welcome addition to the lineup.

Complementing the 3.8 is Regal`s standard dynaride suspension, which combines the firmness of a sports coupe with the softness of a luxury sedan. It means you get road feel without harshness and minimum body roll or lean in turns or corners.

Antilock brakes will be an estimated $900-plus opti on.

The Regal Limited we drove is built on 107.5-inch wheelbase and is 194.6 inches long. The dimensions meant very good interior room, thanks in part to some tricks of the trade. Up front, for example, the power mirror and window controls are in a pod ahead of the armrest.

That meant Buick could use a thinner armrest to give the driver more lateral room. It also meant not having to grapple to get at the seat belt holder that typically gets caught between the armrest and lower seat in the coupe.

In back, you can wear a 10-gallon hat and have ample head room. But the inches gained to keep your dome from scraping the ceiling meant sacrificing them on the bottom-your bottom-because the seat rests just about on the floor. It gives you the feeling of sitting on a kitchen chair with the legs cut off. What you gain in head room, you give up in long-distance comfort from the seat bottom. As in all GM-10 cars, the seat bottom is cut short, which robs you of thigh support.

Items you`ll appreciate when the Regal sedan bows include radio controls in the steering wheel-including an on/off button lacking in other GM cars; a cupholder in the center console and glove box; and a coin holder in the glove box door.

The trunk release knob also is hidden in the glove box, but the button is out of reach of the driver. We had to unbuckle the lap/shoulder belts and slide over to use that button.

The inside hood release lever is under the dash to the left of the driver`s seat in an easy to reach and use location. When you pop the light spring-held hood, all the spark plugs stare up at you for easy replacement. The oil filter, however, is buried in the back and lower bottom of the block. The dash is uncluttered, with just enough controls to make for simple to understand usage. Another nice touch: The ashtrays are hidden in the rear cabin sidewalls. They spin out for use and spin back flush into the wall when not used. The trunk is huge, if not deep, and goes under the rear seat for some added cargo room.

The Regal sedan will be offered in Custom, Limited and Gran Sport models. Standard equipment in the Limited will include power brakes and steering, power windows/door locks/mirrors, 4-speed automatic with overdrive, air conditioning, four-wheel independent suspension, all-season steel belted radial ply tires, AM/FM stereo with digital clock, tilt steering wheel, bumper guards, rear seat reading lamps, bodyside moldings, stainless steel exhaust, side window defoggers and tinted glass.

The Regal coupe starts at $15,200 to $15,800, but there`s no price on the sedan. We suspect the Regal sedan will be priced slightly higher than the Olds Cutlass Supreme sedan which, starts at $14,500 for the base model, $16,100 for the SL and $17,900 for the top-of-the-line International.

>> 1990 Bu ick Regal Limited Sedan Wheelbase: 107.5 inches. Length: 194.6 inches. Engine: 3.1 liter, 135 h.p. V-6; 3.8 liter, 170 h.p. V-6 optional. Transmission: 4-speed automatic overdrive. Fuel economy: 19/30 m.p.g. for 3.1; 19/28 m.p.g. for 3.8. Base price: $15,000-$19,000, estimated. Strong point: Optional 3.8 V-6 power. Weak point: Needs rear seat redesign. >>

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