Goldilocks never had it so hard.
At $27-$35 grand, the new Buick Regal has managed to squeeze itself between two very formidable bowls of porridge.
On one side of the table lies the premium sedan. These big four-doors, like the Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, and Nissan Maxima, tend toward bold styling and powerful V6 or V8 engines.
On the other side lay small luxury cars, like the Acura TSX, Audi A3, and Volvo S40. These offer lighter fare: zippy handling, premium appointments, and an extra helping of cachet.
The Regal, with its generous size, stylish cabin, and thrifty engines, attempts to bridge these two segments. But with buyers so clearly divided, the risk is that this Buick may only appeal to a few picky eaters.
On the plus side, the Buick offers a whisper quiet cabin that makes highway miles evaporate around you. Grab hold of the Regal’s chunky steering wheel and you’ll swear that the silky smooth leather was stolen from a Lexus.
Entertainment and technology options abound, too, with a USB port for music, Bluetooth connectivity for phones, and optional sonar assist or backup camera for tight parking maneuvers. At night, the mood lighting glows a sophisticated phosphor blue.
The trunk is enormous, as well. If you can’t fit a week’s worth of vacationing in there, I suggest you book passage on a cargo ship for your next adventure.
But given the Regal’s premium mission, I was disappointed to find such obvious cost-cutting inside the cabin. Many panels and buttons had rough, unfinished edges and the faux wood and aluminum appliques looked unconvincing in person.
At the Regal’s base price of $26,245, these trespasses would be entirely forgivable. But at the $29,980 that my optioned up CXL test car demanded, I felt somewhat cheated.
As if to make amends for the sticker shock, the Regal CXL comes powered by a modern 2.4-liter EcoTec four-cylinder engine that knocks out a frugal 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
Key to this miserly MPG is a 6-speed automatic transmission that allows the engine to sip regular unleaded while humming quietly near idle.
The transmission is eager to upshift, though, and it takes a determined right foot to elicit a downshift for faster acceleration. And with only 182-horsepower on tap, you’ll need those lower gears frequently. Zero to sixty takes a leisurely nine seconds.
Blame all those heavy sound-deadening materials for the relaxed pace. The Regal may be as quiet as a library, but at 3,600 pounds it also weighs nearly as much as one.
Speed demons should opt for the Regal’s optional 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, which boosts output to 220-horsepower at a $2,500 hit to your bottom line. Fuel economy remains respectable at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway.
Fortunately, the hushed cabin and thrifty base engine makes the Regal a great highway car. I found it a smooth and confident cruiser, though the “performance-tuned” suspension did hop a bit more than I’d prefer over expansion joints.
All things considered, the 2011 Regal falls into an interesting niche. It’s nicer than a mid-range family sedan, more affordable than a luxury car, and more efficient than a big four-door.
If there’s a problem to be found with this Buick, it’s that thirty grand opens up a lot of possibilities in today’s market. The Regal’s price invites you to make a lot of tough comparisons and only you can decide if this stealthy cruiser is too hot, too cold, or just right for your palate.