If you haven’t visited a Buick dealer in a bit, you might be a little surprised at the vehicles General Motors’ luxury-car division has in its lineup.
The big, bloated soft-riding Buick road monsters of the past have given way to smaller cars with cleaner designs, sharper performance, greater comfort, better handling, and, most importantly, higher quality and more value for the dollar.
Buick has received a complete make-over in the last two years. And now many of its cars are real headturners. It’s as if Buick visited Jenny Craig; the GM division went in as Nell Carter and came out looking like Whitney Houston.
Let’s say you would like a luxurious, sporty sedan – one that doesn’t punish you with a stiff ride, and one that doesn’t resemble some outrageous race car. Also, you’d like to keep the price in the mid-$20s. You would be hard pressed to find a similar-size vehicle with the same level of equipment and performance as the Buick Regal GS, this week’s test car.
The supercharged sedan is a quick, refined, smooth-riding mid-size car aimed at middle-aged drivers who like civilized performance.
The Regal is the Buick that carries the performance torch for the brand. Starting back in 1978 when Buick offered a turbocharged V-6 Regal, there have been some impressive performance-oriented Regals through the years, including the now-classic Grand National and GNX models of the mid-’80s.
With its powerful supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 engine, there is no doubt the new Regal GS is worthy of the name. Rated at a robust 240 horsepower, the engine in the Regal GS delivers ample thrust when your right foot presses the accelerator. But the power is delivered in traditional Buick fashion – quietly and with finesse.
The engine makes barely a whisper as the supercharger blasts a denser mix of fuel and air into the engine. The Regal GS is reasonably quick from a stop, but it really delivers strong acceleration from 20 mph all the way to about 80 mph. The front wheels, which drive the car, exhibit no trace of torque steer, a slight pulling to the left or right. This is a common malady exhibited by high-performance front-wheel-drive cars, but it is undetectable on the Regal.
The Regal is outfitted with GM’s heavy-duty 4T65E electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission – perhaps the best automatic gearbox in any car. The driver can press a button on the shifter that changes the shift timing to the performance mode. This makes the shifts a bit more abrupt, because the engine revs slightly higher before each gear change. In combined city/highway driving, our test car returned 22 1/2 miles per gallon, not bad for a high-performance machine.
All Regals are built with a very compliant four-wheel independent suspension system. Extreme body rigidity is perhaps the greatest reason the suspension system works so well. Buick’s engineers stiffened the Regal’s bod y by about 40 percent over the1996 model. Many of the body panels now are larger, one-piece components, which eliminates many welds and seams. That, in turn, reduces rattles and squeaks and enhances the stiffness of the body.
You can feel how well Buick did if you drive the Regal over a rough road, such as a brick-paved street or a dirt road. The suspension system absorbs the energy of the bumps without transferring any of the jarring through the steering wheel or to the interior. In other words, the Regal remains poised, easy to control and very quiet when the going gets rough.
Although the suspension is softer than you might expect in a sporty sedan, the Regal competently handled cornering chores. There was a slight bit of body roll when I took a curve quickly, but not enough to have much of an impact on the stability of the car. The power-assisted rack-and pinion steering system worked smoothly but felt somewhat heavy. However, the power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes were excellent. The anti-lock system engaged smoothly and worked quietly without much pulsing in the pedal.
FIT AND FINISH
Buick and the rest of GM suffered during the last 20 years because the company’s interior designers didn’t get the details right. Seats were uncomfortable; dashes were ugly; ergonomics were bad. The Regal is further proof that GM’s interior decorators learned from their mistakes. If your idea of a smartly designed interior includes things such as stylish gauges, excellent seats, easy-to-reach and use controls, good visibility and tasteful trim, you’ll like the Regal.
Although the Regal comes with some high-tech items, such as a dual zone air conditioner, sophisticated radio and programmable door locks, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to learn how these things work. In fact, the Regal is one of those cars in which you immediately feel at home. The interior, with its faux wood trim, has a warm ambience. You settle into the leather-covered driver’s bucket seat and feel comfortable with the size and layout of the interior.
Because the new Regal rides on a slightly longer wheelbase than last year’s car, the interior is a bit bigger, offering more head, leg and foot room, front and rear. I found the dimensions of the new car to be excellent. It’s neither too big nor too small. Four adults can fit inside comfortably, though there’s room for a fifth.
As you would expect from Buick, the Regal GS has nearly every power accessory, such as power seats, mirrors, windows, door locks, cruise control and rear defroster. A secondary set of controls for the radio is located on the steering wheel, so changing stations or volume is as simple as moving a finger.
The new Regal is a solid mid-size entry-level luxury car that offers more horsepower and equipment than you’ll find on most imported entry-level sporty luxury sedans.
Along with the new Century, LeSabre and Riviera, the 1997 1/2 Regal should prove to be a solid competitor, one you would be hard-pressed to fault.
Specifications: Base price: $22,945. Safety: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, side-impact protection, front and rear crumple zones. Price as tested: $25,630. EPA rating: 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway. Incentives: None.
Truett’s tip: The all-new Regal is the best one yet. It offers an excellent combination of room, performance, luxury features and style for a very attractive price.