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Coming of Age

The 2011 Buick Regal

I’m sure by now you’ve enough Buick/old guy jokes. And back when they were dreamt up, many of them were true. I used to work at a Buick dealership, so I heard ‘em all. Where many other brands had movie rooms and/or play areas for customers’ kids, we had a closet in which we kept a couple of walkers and wheel-chairs because—well, because you just never knew when one of your regular customers might need one. No joke.

Looking back: The first Buick Regal, 1973
The 2011 Opel Insignia

That all started to change a few years back with the introduction of the Rendezvous SUV, followed by the Enclave luxury crossover. These vehicles were bringing a younger crowd into the showroom. And, more importantly, they were buying. Then last year, Buick totally redid the mid-sized LaCrosse, making it into a more luxurious car which brought in many import drivers. Not to mention the fact that the automotive press (usually very critical of domestic cars) was favorably comparing it to—gasp!—Lexus!

Now, in my mind anyway, comes the most important piece of the puzzle. The piece which just may find the grandchild of some old Park Avenue’s owner showing up in Gramps’ driveway to show him HIS new Buick. And it’ll be a Regal. Gramps might not get it, but that doesn’t matter. Junior just got himself a Buick he can show-off without his friends wondering if he was nuts.

The 2011 Buick Regal CXL, which I tested recently at Cappellino’s Towne Buick in Williamsville, was hardly recognizable as a Buick to this former Buick salesman. Okay, there’s an ulterior reason here: this Buick…is an Opel (ironic, as back in the 1960s and 1970s Buick dealers sold imported Opels); and if Saturn hadn’t been given the axe by General Motors last year, this would have been the new Saturn Aura. That takes absolutely nothing away from the fact that it fits right in with Buick’s plan to revamp its lineup to appeal to a younger crowd. In Germany, where the 2011 Regal is built at Opel’s Russelsheim assembly plant, and all over Europe (and China for that matter, where Buick is huge), the Opel Insignia has been a hit with buyers and critics alike. (It was the 2009 European Car of the Year.) I see no reason for the enthusiasm not to carry over to the North American market.

My test car was a Quicksilver CXL with the RL6 package. That’s the top o’the line which adds a sunroof, nine-speaker Harmon-Kardon audio system, rear-seat thorax air bags (which I didn’t even know existed!), voice-activated nav system, 120v power outlet, rear parking assist, and 12-way power passenger seat (which matches the driver’s setup). All Regals come with a 2.4-liter VVT 4-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic, Stabilitrak w/traction control, heated leather, Bluetooth, fog lamps, auto dual-zone HVAC…I could go on and on. Let’s just say, at the $31,780 sticker price, you get one heckuva fully-equipped European sports sedan (pricing starts at $26,245). Its interior is comfy, roomy, and very attractive with its stitched leather. I sat in both the front and rear seats and fit all of my six-feet in with ease. Driving? I found it to be very un-Buick-like on the road. That’s a good thing. After sales rep Brian Cappellino handed me the keys I was off to the back-roads of northern Erie County. Twisty roads which the Regal seemed built for. The steering is very responsive in the curves, while showing almost no lean. On the open road, the four-cylinder engine doesn’t lack for power, and has a nice exhaust note to boot. But if that’s not enough, soon a turbo will be available, along with a manual transmission (gosh, what will Gramps think?). Right around that point, manufacturing for the North American market will shift to a plant in Canada.

Which should satisfy buyers who like to purchase domestically-built cars. No matter what their age.

Read “You Auto Know” every other week in Artvoice and more often on AV Daily at Plus check out Jim’s bolog:

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