L.A. Auto Show: 2011 Buick Regal North American debut
It's no secret that Buick has an explicit desire to lure away potential buyers of the Lexus ES 350 and instead swaddle their hindquarters with some American-made comfort in the form of Buick's 2010 LaCrosse. In fact, the very first words Mr. Voiceover utters in this TV spot are: "It's not the new Lexus," and nearly every other spot you'll find mentions the Lexus ES 350 by name.
So one has to wonder whether is was providence or acute negotiating tactics that positioned this year's Buick exhibit so that the brand's latest model, the 2011 Regal, made its North American debut looking directly at its future competitors like the Acura TSX and Volkswagen Passat CC.
Regardless, Buick makes it clear it's pinning on this Regal its hopes of turning the brand's image away from septuagenarians wearing three pairs of bifocals to read this sentence, and toward people to whom words like "turbo" and "manual transmission" mean something.
Available in the second quarter of 2010, the Regal is essentially GM's Opel Insignia, a popular little ditty with the European press that won the 2009 European Car of the Year. It's also been on sale in China, a market into which Buick and to a greater extent GM, have been making an aggressive push. Perhaps a reflection of that push, Buick says the Chinese iteration has sold 64,000 units in the year it's been on the market.The Regal will be offered with one of two engines. The base is a 2.4-liter Ecotech four-cylinder putting out 182 hp and, when paired to the standard six-speed auto tranny, should achieve a claimed highway mileage of 30 miles per gallon.
Standard Buick fare, you're yawning. GM is aware. Which is why it will also offer its 2.0-liter Ecotech turbocharged four good for 220 hp in late summer of 2010, as well as a six-speed manual transmission.
Further enhancing the car's performance cred ... wait for the alphabet soup ... is something Buick calls IDCS or Interactive Drive Control System. It's a computerized system offered only on turbo variants whereby the driver can select from three settings: normal (you're driving to work), tour (Grandpa is driving to a game of bridge) and sport (teenager is driving to a place to be determined at the end of his text message). Regardless of the setting, the system continuously evaluates a laundry list of data points and can adapt to road conditions and driving style accordingly.
The styling of the Regal is handsome yet careful not to offend anyone. With literally billions of potential customers worldwide, one can understand Buick's reasoning. The rounded greenhouse offers hints of a four-door coupe along the lines of VW's CC, though GM executive Jim Federico says the Regal design was nearly complete when Buick saw the first images of the CC. "We felt really good about our design," when compared to VW's direction, Federico said. According to him, GM was hoping for something more sporty with fewer sharp edges, whereas the CC headed in a more formal direction.
Though Buick wouldn't disclose pricing for the 2011 Regal, Craig Bierley, Buick's product marketing director, pointedly said that the company would position the car as "a premium sedan without the premium price." The 2010 Lacrosse starts at about $27,000, so don't be surprised if the Regal enters at or just below that mark.
-- David Undercoffler
Photos: David Undercoffler / Los Angeles Times