Los Angeles Times's view

The 1997 1/2 Buick Regal GS brings final evidence of General Motors’ screaming need for a vice president in charge of nits and bits, with a minor in odds and sods.

Consider the General’s past, and its development of enormous successes: Overhead valves were an early Buick hallmark. Cadillac gave us V-8 engines. Oldsmobile delivered front-wheel drive.

Synchromesh gears and automatic transmissions, electric lights and starters. Steel tops. Independent suspensions. Balanced crankshafts, all-weather paint and buying cars on credit. All pioneered or perfected by GM. Plus Cadillac fins and the Chevrolet Corvette.

Now, go figure GM’s present and the company’s staggering facility for signing off on dumb, irritating little things that seem rooted in a logic lower than Mike Tyson’s.

Starting many GM cars usually imprisons the occupants, and doors will not unlock if the engine is running. Keys grate into locks that don’t seem made for them. Power seats and mirrors are adjusted by approximations with the smoothness of a bad case of hiccups. Foot-activated parking brakes will not release when the car is put into gear.

And it is still child’s play to lock your keys inside a GM vehicle, generally no fun for the child left playing inside.


Which brings us to the dumbs of the 1997 1/2 Buick Regal GS.

For openers, what is this 1997.5 all about?

Granted, the Regal dawdled into the model year and wasn’t available until this spring. But there was a 1996 Regal. The nameplate has been around for 24 years, and chances are there will be a 1998 Regal. Most will agree this car could have snuck onto our streets two days after Christmas and still be dubbed a 1997 or a 1998 Buick Regal without pickets ringing the White House.

(As an aside, Car &Driver magazine appears to be equally confused by this designation of model years by fractions. Its review of the Regal GS didn’t mention the year at all.)

Back to the Regal’s cooties.

* There’s the usual cluster of remote radio controls on steering wheel spokes. But they are micro-sensitive and raised, not recessed. A passing cuff link, any brushing by a hand engaged in basic, even gentle steering maneuvers, will change radio stations–and in a nanosecond, your traffic report has become salsa.

* The buttons are permanently backlighted, although the huge majority of radio listening and station switching is done during daylight hours. So the only real purpose of constant lighting seems to be a matter of overheating the buttons. Oh, mebbe not enough to toast a bagel, but certainly warm enough to be noticed on a July afternoon in Arizona.

* Then there’s the knuckle-munching, nail-blackening ashtray. It is hinged like an overhead garage door, mounted low in the center console, and safe operation, unbelievably, requires two hands.

To open, press a finger at the top of the lid while slipping a second finger on the bottom edge and lifting the flap. One slip and the lid bites. It is further booby-trapped by sharp edges that will imperil several cuticles at once. One unreliable report holds that such difficulties in opening this and other GM ashtrays (including one on the vaunted Corvette) are endorsed by the American Cancer Society.

We plead guilty, of course, to the charge of being precisian. Still, sadly, these are infuriating flaws from a venerable company with enough heritage, funding, buyer loyalty, marketing opportunity and design talent to have the imports sucking air.

Worse, they mar a car such as the Regal GS that–despite sober, external styling reminiscent of several others in the GM family–is a very classy mid-size with serious performance credentials.


For enthusiasts who want to gallop and gallivant among the quick and high spirited, $23,000 for a supercharged sedan that rips from 0 to 60 mph in under seven seconds is a blessed bargain. For buyers interested in the value of more sedate stuff, even entry-level Regals stickered at $20,545 will be delivered with air-conditioning, anti-lock brakes, anti-theft system, traction control, power steering, keyless entry and cruise control as standard equipment.

In typical GM fashion, the Regal is a mongrel built on the Century chassis that Buick shares with Pontiac’s Grand Prix. Two Regals will be offered, the base LS with a 195-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6(from Buick’s LeSabre and the new Oldsmobile Intrigue) and the GS with the blown 3.8-liter (transplanted from Buick’s Riviera) that delivers 240 horsepower.

It has a longer wheelbase and wider track than Regals of yore, for two major advantages–flatter handling with less float, and increased cubic footage for passengers and Samsonite carry-ons.

Despite its rich helping of horsepower, think only in terms of straight and level motoring with occasional squirts of speed aimed at gaps in traffic. For despite its bucket seats, console-mounted shifter and leather-wrapped steering wheel, this remains a Buick addressing those young of heart but older in arteries.

You don’t sling a Regal GS around against a Bimmer; but at stop lights alongside Accord, Camry and Taurus owners, you should be able to sneer with intent to commit much mischief. Although you might like to cover that AARP decal in your rear window.

The GS interior–with the exception of those thermal radio buttons and that Ashtray Made In Transylvania–is roomy, comfortable and quite handsome. Puckered leather in the door panels and along seat seams–plus faux wood surrounds for gearshift and power window controls–adds a warmer, richer, clubbier feel to time spent at the wheel.

Inside comforts. Outside lines. Muscular mechanicals and usually affordable. General Motors and the domestic automobile industry feeds our mainstream transportation needs well.

But it really is time they started sweating the little stuff.

1997 1/2 Buick Regal GS

The Good: Ribald engine with supercharged power for superb acceleration. Comfortable, quality interior. Well-priced and well-equipped.

The Bad: Several bits of inexplicable nonsense. Still a family sedan far from being a sports sedan.

The Ugly: The ashtray and fingertips it swallows.

Cost Base: $22,945. (Includes dual air bags, four-speed automatic transmission, dual climate controls, power steering, anti-lock brakes, power windows and mirrors, leather seating surfaces, traction controls, premium sound system, 16-inch aluminum wheels, driver information center, etc.) As tested: $24,500, estimated. (Adds12-disc CD player, heated power seats, dual automatic air, steering wheel radio controls, etc.)

Engine 3.8-liter, 12-valve, supercharged V-6, developing 240 horsepower.

Type Front-engine, front-drive, five-passenger sedan.

Performance 0-60 mph, as tested, 6.8 seconds. Top speed, electronically governed, 108 mph. Fuel consumption, EPA city and highway, 18 and 28 mpg.

Curb Weight 3,520 pounds.

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