A gamut that runs more mild than wild

Warren Brown
Columnist October 21, 2011

It was a good car, but something less than the “high-performance variant” of the Buick Regal promised for market delivery in the spring of 2012. That will be the overtly sporty Regal GS, with which I had a brief flirtation. I spent most of my time in the 2012 Buick Regal Premium 3 Turbo sedan. There was some disappointment in that. But my chagrin faded quickly.

The problems were styling and horsepower envy. The Regal GS looks the way a sports car should look. Front-end styling is aggressive, with multiple air-intake snouts. The car looks snarly — a cosmetic boast, but one supported by the muscle of its gasoline-direct-injection turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine (270 horsepower, 295 foot-pounds of torque).

Warren Brown is a columnist who writes about autos for The Washington Post. View Archive

The Regal Turbo, by comparison, looks more like a nice, stately midsize family sedan — a suitable car for a middle-income family still gainfully employed. It is robustly competent yet modest in performance — the result of compromise between automotive engineers for whom too much horsepower is never enough and corporate policy wonks responsible for placating government regulators who are demanding better new-car fuel economy.

The trick is to do both without alienating consumers who usually demand more horsepower than they’ll ever use or need, as long as the price is right at the pump. The Regal Turbo delivers an acceptable, competent drive with its gasoline-direct-injection turbocharged in-line four-cylinder engine (220 horsepower, 260 foot-pounds of torque).

After an all-too-short flirtation with the Regal GS and a one-week long-drive affair with the Regal Turbo, my take is that both iterations of the Regal perform well enough to find happy homes with their target audience — educated married couples with children and high-five-figure paychecks; independent-minded people, 30 to 45 years old, who are allergic to extremes but enjoy an occasional trip to the edge.

The “high-performance variant” Regal GS is likely to take edge-seeking independents in the direction they desire. But it will do nothing to sway those self-described hard-core automotive enthusiasts for whom maximum horsepower is God — people who think that anyone who suggests the need for something less is an infidel.

Already, the enthusiasts are busy dismissing both the Regal GS and Regal Turbo in a market where, they say, at least 300 horsepower in a mid-size family sedan is desirable.

It is rank silliness, the kind in which reasonable compromise is too often dismissed as capitulation, a betrayal of some ideal that is realistically unsustainable in a world of physical and regulatory limits.

But I bloviate . . .

The truth is that the Regal GS and Turbo, both front-wheel-drive sedans equipped with six-speed manual transmissions, are excellent cars. Exterior and interior styling, beneficially influenced by designers in the German-based Opel subsidiary of General Motors, is stunningly attractive. Overall craftsmanship — the quality of the materials used and the way in which those pieces are put together — is excellent.

Both cars feel solid, richer than their north-of-$30,000 base price tags. You’ll pay $1,915 more for the extra horsepower in the Regal GS, which has a base price of $34,450, compared with a base sticker of $32,535 for the Regal Turbo.

Is the higher cost of the Regal GS worth it?

That is a difficult question to answer, as troublesome as pricing one piece of art against another, or one timepiece against another. The edgy independents probably won’t mind paying the extra bucks for the Regal GS’s snazzier styling and extra oomph, augmented by the standard installation of Buick’s Interactive Drive Control system, which offers “standard,” “sport” and “GS” driving modes with progressively tighter steering and suspension responses.

But the turbo for the rest of us, the Regal Turbo, is no slouch. It, too, offers interactive drive control with “standard,” “tour” or “sports” settings with a similar progressive tightening of suspension and steering responses.

Both cars run well in mountain-level elevations, where their forced-air engines and manual transmissions are much appreciated. Neither car, at 27 miles per gallon on the highway consuming recommended premium gasoline, is anybody’s fuel champion. But both run and handle so nicely and feel so good on roads high and low, I am willing to forgive that, for now.

Bottom line: It’s hard to go wrong with either the Regal GS or the Regal Turbo. In fact, depending on your appetite for horsepower, or the lack thereof, it is hard to go wrong with any of the cars in the Buick Regal lineup. All are well-crafted, well-styled, comfortable-to-drive pieces, worthy competitors with Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat and Hyundai Sonata models.

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