Test Drive: Buick Regal

San Diego ? It was not too many years ago, that Buick was more associated with older, more conservative drivers.? The last couple of years, new models like the Enclave and LaCrosse have started to change that perception and with the recent rollout of the Regal, it throws open the door?Buick is America?s new driver?s brand.

After four hours and two hundred miles in the new Buick Regal, I am a believer; this is a completely new kind of Buick — quick, agile, responsive and fun to drive.

Rather than building a bunch of different cars off the same platform for the world market, GM leaders like Jim Federico, Global Vehicle Line Executive & Global Vehicle Chief Engineer for Full?and Midsize Cars, have perfected one car.? It is called the Opel Insignia in Europe, the Regal in China, and now the Regal in North America.? All the cars have the same engineering elements but models, names and cosmetics may change slightly from country to country.

This sort of model sharing used to be frowned upon in the past when one vehicle was used for two or three brands, often sold side by side, but when it is done on a worldwide basis, it makes perfect sense, especially when the car is as great as the new Regal.

Developed initially in Germany as the Open Insignia, it became the 2009 European Car of the Year, it won 31 prestigious awards and became the best-selling midsize sedan in Europe.? After that successful start, the Regal is coming to America.? Early Regal models are being imported from Germany, but North American production will start in the first quarter of 2011, in GM?s Oshawa, Ontario plant.

With its coupe-like roofline, sculptured sides and signature waterfall grille, the Regal gets high marks for styling.? The interior is exceptional, too, with an attractive user-friendly instrument panel, highly bolstered seats and quality materials.

Not too many years ago, the thought of a four-cylinder Buick was about as foreign as a V-8 powered Volkswagen Bug, however, the Regal follows the Buick LaCrosse down the four-banger road, and it works great.? The standard Regal engine is a 182-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder that turns 8.5-second 0 to 60 mph times and a fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.? The 220-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder option is about a second faster and about one mpg less in fuel economy. ?The turbocharged engine will not be available to dealers until the fourth quarter of 2010, however.

Both engines are equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting linkage.?? A six-speed manual transmission will be available after the turbo model is released.

With its MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension, the Regal is one of the better handling front-drive sedans I?ve driven recently.? I was especially impressed by the turbocharged version equipped with the optional Interactive Drive Control System (IDCS). ?The driver pushes a button to change the suspension between Normal, Tour or Sport settings.? The system continually monitors the driving style and road conditions then electronically adjusts shock dampers in milliseconds the best setting based on the driver selection.

The Regal is a no-compromise class act that will change the way drivers think about Buick.

In January, Buick debuted the Regal GS showcar and in May, they announced plans to build that performance version.? Although details and timing have not been announced, the GS is expected to have about 255 hp, with all-wheel drive, Brembo brakes, a special body treatment and sportier interior. ?The GS is expected to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in under six seconds.

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