2012 Buick Regal eAssistPosted on February 22nd, 2012
Hybrid five-passenger sport sedan
By Nina Russin
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Buick’s transformation is General Motors’ most significant accomplishment following the restructure. Ten years ago, who could have imagined that the brand which once pinned its hopes on a tepid remake of the Roadmaster would re-enter the market with a sport sedan designed on two continents and validated in Europe?
But that’s exactly what happened. The new Buick Regal, with an available turbocharged engine is poised for combat against European and Asian luxury brands which members of its upscale target market might cross-shop. In short, Buick product planners are taking names and leaving no prisoners.
For 2012, Buick ups the ante by adding a mild hybrid to the Regal line-up. An electric motor, lithium-ion battery and regenerative braking technology stretch gas mileage for the base 2.4-liter engine by up to 25 percent. Average fuel economy is 29 miles-per-gallon according to EPA estimates. In my 100-mile test drive, I averaged slightly better: 30.1 miles-per-gallon
Base price is $34,470, excluding the $860 delivery charge. The eAssist package, which includes 17-inch alloy wheels with low rolling resistance tires, adds $2000. Buyers save $50 on the model by eliminating redundant turn signal indicators on the outside mirrors.
New infotainment technology developed by Chevrolet enables drivers to access Pandora and Stitcher using their smart phones. Chevrolet MyLink comes with a unique color touchscreen display, streaming Bluetooth audio, satellite radio, and available navigation with real-time weather and traffic updates. The navigation-enabled version costs $1145.
A power sunroof adds $1000 to the MSRP, bringing the price as tested to $34,470.
Enhanced low-end torque boosts in-town performance
In addition to extending gas mileage, electric motors enhance low-end power in hybrid cars. Drivers who regularly battle traffic merging out of toll-booths and off entrance ramps will appreciate the difference 79 foot-pounds of torque from the electric motor adds to the Regal’s four-cylinder engine.
The 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated four cylinder engine produces 182 horsepower and 172 foot-pounds of torque. The electric motor brings the eAssist model up to 197 net horsepower, with an impressive 251 foot-pounds of torque.
Engineers were able to keep weight gain from the lithium-ion battery pack to a minimum. The difference between curb weights for the Regal eAssist and non-hybrid models is a scant 18 pounds. The only down side to the hybrid is reduced trunk space, due to the battery pack’s positioning behind the second-row seats.
During my week-long test drive I covered parts of Phoenix Arizona’s downtown area, as well as some faster surface roads in outlying suburban areas. Highway driving included freeways throughout the metro area and a stretch of the I-10 which goes through the Gila River Indian Community south of town.
For buyers wanting a midsized sedan with better-than-average fuel economy, the Regal with eAssist should make the consideration list. While power and performance lag behind the sportier turbocharged Regal, the hybrid has plenty on both the top and bottom ends to satisfy the daily commuter and make longer road trips enjoyable.
As with most hybrids, the gasoline engine automatically cuts out when the car comes to a stop, and restarts as soon as the driver depresses the gas pedal. An eco-mode provides for longer engine-off periods when the driver is using the air conditioner. The hybrid system will also shut the gas engine off during low-load conditions such as deceleration.
Drivers wanting more aggressive performance can manually select gears on the six-speed automatic transmission: a feature which hybrids with continuously-variable transmissions lack.
One feature I was surprised to find the test car lacking is a rearview camera. With companies such as Kia making rearview cameras standard on their least expensive models, this valuable safety feature is become an industry standard.
Visibility to the front and sides of the sedan is quite good. I had no problems monitoring traffic in the adjacent lanes while driving on the freeway.
At night, standard high-intensity discharge headlamps provide brighter, longer beams of light than conventional halogen beams. Standard daytime running lamps make the car more visible on winding roads.
An electric power rack-and-pinion steering system is well-tuned to the chassis, with ample assist for maneuvering through crowded parking lots at low speeds, and positive on-center response on the highway. A fully-independent four-wheel suspension offers a compliant, but not mushy ride. Stabilizer bars on both axles keep the chassis flat in the corners.
Slightly smaller wheels and tires on the hybrid maintain ample contact patches with the ground for good high-speed performance. My guess is that downsizing the wheels was one of the ways engineers prevented weight gain on the hybrid sedan. Aerodynamic enhancements under the chassis contribute to fuel economy gains, especially at higher speeds.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the sedan in a firm, linear fashion. I noticed some variations in brake pedal feel when braking at lower speeds, which I assume is due to the regenerative braking system. The brakes can seem to grab slightly before the car comes to a complete stop.
Inside, the Buick Regal includes all of the amenities buyers demand in a luxury car as well as a few they might not expect. Keyless entry and ignition allows the driver to enter and start the car without removing the key fob from his pocket. A control on the key fob also fires the ignition remotely, should the driver want to cool the interior down on an especially warm day.
An eight-way adjustable driver’s seat with four-way lumbar control provides plenty of lower back support for long road trips. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag, and a clear forward view. Redundant controls enable the driver to change audio channels, use the Bluetooth interface or engage the cruise control with a minimum of distraction.
A digital screen in the gauge cluster gives the driver instant and average fuel economy, driving range, turn-by-turn directions which can be downloaded from the standard OnStar system, and trip meter readings. Both the gauge cluster and center stack displays are easy to read in bright sunlight.
Dual-zone climate controls and heated front seats keep the driver and front passenger comfortable in temperature extremes. The optional power sunroof brightens up the sedan’s interior on sunny days.
The standard harman/kardon audio system provides excellent sound quality to help passengers enjoy a myriad of music options. A USB port in the center console bin interfaces with MP3 players, while multiple 12-volt power outlets enable passengers to recharge cell phones on the go. A 120-volt outlet behind the center console bin makes it possible to plug in games or a computer.
Second-row seats in the outboard position have adequate head and legroom for average sized adults. Most legroom in the center position is taken up by a tall floor tunnel and the center console bin.
All passengers have ample access to cup and bottle holders.
The trunk has enough room for the weekly groceries and small luggage. Buyers wanting to carry bicycles on a regular basis will be better served with the Buick Enclave crossover vehicle.
The Buick Regal comes standard with six airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control, daytime running lamps and a six-month complimentary subscription to OnStar, which automatically notifies emergency personnel in the event of a collision. OnStar can also locate stolen vehicles and cut off the fuel, to stop thieves in their tracks.
Buick builds the Regal sedan at its Oshawa, Ontario Canada assembly plant.
Likes: A stylish five-passenger sedan with satisfying performance and exceptional fuel economy. With fuel prices once again on the rise, 36 mile-per-gallon highway gas mileage should be music to prospective buyers’ ears.
Dislike: Lack of trunk space.
Model: Regal premium sedan with eAssist
Base price: $29,515
As tested: $34,470
Horsepower: 182 Hp @ 6700 rpm
Torque: 172 foot-pounds @ 4900 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 25/36 mpg city/highway
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