The Buick Regal, a charming and convincing midsize sports sedan, was introduced five years ago. Regal is available with all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive, and an inexpensive 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a more powerful but efficient 2.0-liter turbocharged engine.
Regal delivers refined performance, taut handling and ride, and athletic looks. With leather seats standard, it can hold its own against some luxury cars, at least with the turbocharged version of its four-cylinder engine. The Regal has the feel of a German sedan, maybe because it basically is a German sedan, based on GM Europe’s Opel Insignia.
The base engine, which keeps the price down, is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making an adequate but uninspiring 182 horsepower, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The base Regal compares well with cars like the Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Altima.
More interesting is the twin-scroll turbo with direct injection. It’s a smaller and more compact engine, a 2.0-liter making 259 horsepower and a strong 295 pound-feet of torque. It’s got a sweet growl, as it squirts from zero to sixty in less than seven seconds. The six-speed automatic lacks paddle shifters, however.
All-wheel drive comes with a different rear suspension and an electronic limited-slip differential that divides traction between the left and right rear wheels.
The Regal is considered a five-seater, but because it’s small for a midsize sedan (bigger than a Ford Focus but smaller than a Fusion), three full-sized adults in the back seat is a squeeze. Five is a crowd, it’s more comfortable with four.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 19/30 mpg City/Highway, or 23 mpg Combined. Sonata and Altima get much better. Regal’s upgrade 2.0 turbocharged engine, with 77 more horsepower, actually gets better fuel mileage, no matter that it’s not terribly significant: 21/29 mpg City/Highway, or 24 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops fuel mileage by two miles per gallon.
The NHTSA gives the Regal five stars overall for crashworthiness, while the IIHS gives it Good ratings, with Superior for frontal crash prevention when the Regal is equipped with its available forward-collision and automatic braking system. More safety options include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and lane-departure warning.
The 2017 Buick Regal ($27,065) comes standard with leather seats, power windows and doors, rearview camera, cruise control, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, sound system with XM radio, and infotainment with Bluetooth. Regal comes standard with front-wheel drive and the 2.4-liter engine. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Regal Sport Touring ($28,615) upgrades to the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. All-wheel drive is available ($31,465).
One of the reasons the Regal has been a success is its sleek and composed shape, with clean and distinct sheetmetal, namely the stamped swoosh along its sides. The styling remains fresh after five years. It’s Buick’s most athletic looking car (although the Verano might be its most athletic handling car). Still, it hasn’t abandoned its roots, even if it has abandoned its portholes. And it’s avoided the messy styling of some of its GM siblings, such as the Chevy Volt and Cruze.
The traditional waterfall grille remains, tweaked for 2017, along with LED wings in the headlamps. The big and blingy 19- and even 20-inch wheels are also new for the times. They add nothing to the classiness of the car.
The Regal GS gets some exclusive touches, including vertical air intakes in the nose, and changes to the back end consisting of a small spoiler and exhaust tips.
The cabin of the Regal might not be regal, but it is stylish and European-like. The leather upholstery and two-tone trim, on the Premium and GS models, is handsome and subdued. The door panels are touched by sweeping lines and satin metallic trim that suggest upscale. Other choices in trims include piano-black plastic or a dark wood called Kibo.
The standard leather seats have good bolstering, although the seat bottom cushions are a bit flat. The GS gets more supportive sport seats. Headroom and legroom in front are good, but legroom in the rear is tight, just 37 inches; that’s about the same as the Honda Accord, but the rear cushions in the Regal somehow seem to suck up space. Headroom in the rear can be pressing on tall passengers, but it’s no less than the larger Volkswagen Passat.
On every model, the controls are fairly intuitive, with smooth integration of the buttons, screens and new technology. The low instrument panel holds crisp gauges with LED lighting, while the centerstack is framed with more high-quality trim. An available 8.0-inch LCD touchscreen dominates the dash, while a 4.2-inch screen between the gauges displays information from the available navigation, phone, audio systems. On the Regal GS, the LCD screen can be changed for different driving modes.
Buick recently upgraded its IntelliLink infotainment system to a simpler and brighter interface from Cadillac’s CUE, without its haptic feedback. It can select 60 favorite apps and store 1000 contacts, as well as integrate smartphone streaming audio and command the nav system by voice. The package features a Bose sound system.
Also available with the Regal is 4G LTE connectivity via OnStar, and WiFi capability.
Trunk space in the regal isn’t great, at 14.3 cubic feet. That’s one full suitcase less than the 20-cubic-foot trunk in the Ford Taurus.
The base Regal with the 2.4-liter engine is the one you’ll find in rental car fleets. Its power is adequate, but it gets overwhelmed when asked to go much farther than the grocery store.
The easy-revving 2.0 turbo is another story. Composed and quick, it’s almost a twin to the engine in the Cadillac ATS, with its 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, 90 percent of which comes at a super-low 1700 rpm. Its growl is sweet, if muted.
The ride in the Regal Turbo has the muted damping of a good German sedan, with handling that’s responsive enough, while tempered with a fair amount of lean. Its electric power steering isn’t too heavy, while the ratio isn’t too quick. The 6-speed automatic shifts as well as the suspension rides.
The all-wheel drive uses a different rear suspension along with the limited-slip differential at the rear wheels. The AWD system can send 90 percent of the torque to the rear wheels, for stability on bouncy pavement, as well as all-weather traction.
But it’s the Regal GS that excites us. If only every GM car had ride this absorbent, and handling this precise, not to mention the big brakes. The suspension is lower, with heavier front struts and 19-inch wheels with all-season tires; 20-inch summer tires are available, for maximum grip. The cornering might not match a BMW or Cadillac sports sedan, but neither does the GS deliver the heavy steering and extreme-quick throttle response of some sports sedans.
The three-mode Interactive Drive Control changes the responsiveness of its adaptive dampers, throttle, transmission and steering. Touring mode is soft enough for around-town driving, while still offering sharper handling than the Turbo. Sport mode makes the GS firmer, but it’s not unreasonable.
The Regal GS holds its own in the sports sedan world, bravo Buick. With a sweet-revving 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged direction-injection engine borrowed from Cadillac, a chassis and suspension borrowed from Opel in Germany, and great styling borrowed from its past, it’s hard to go wrong.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with staff reports by The Car Connection.