What's New for 1998
Regal LS gets a new standard four-speed automatic transmission, and three new exterior colors are available. Dealers will install an OnStar Mobile Communications system if the buyer desires, and second-generation airbags are added.
In 1990, Buick released a sedan version of the Regal coupe to do battle with the Ford Taurus, Toyota Camry and Nissan Maxima. Shortsighted in terms of design and engineering, the Regal sedan won few converts from established domestic and import nameplates. Tight times delayed replacement of Buick's lame duck, and by 1996, the Regal's main selling point was a strong 3800 Series II V6 engine. Sales were limited to die-hard Buick buyers and rental fleets.
Now, Buick has released a new Regal sedan. The slow-selling coupe has been excised from the lineup, leaving LS and GS versions of the four-door. The new Regal is larger in nearly every dimension, and is manufactured to reduce squeaks and rattles by tightening the structure of the car with one-piece side panel stamping and cross bracing behind the instrument panel. A full load of standard equipment and reasonable prices make the new Regal very competitive, and should entice buyers who might normally limit themselves to Toyota or Nissan showrooms to at least visit a Buick store.
Think of the new Regal as Park Avenue Light, or Century Deluxe. LS models are powered by GM's tried and true 3800 Series II V6, which puts 195 horsepower to the ground via the front axle and a new-for-1998 four-speed automatic transmission. Move up to the GS, and you're getting a real sport sedan equipped with a supercharged V6 making 240 horsepower. Buick says the GS will be the focus car of the lineup, and with good reason. At a starting price lower than $25,000, the suave, speedy Regal GS is an excellent argument against purchasing a Honda Accord V6.
Another argument in favor of buying the Buick is the availability of OnStar, an optional mobile communications system. Designed to allow occupants safe access to the outside world in the event that the driver gets lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood, of a mechanical failure requiring roadside assistance, or of an accident that requires medical help, OnStar was formerly available only on Cadillac models.
Basic styling is shared with the lower rung Century. Regal gets unique front styling, and barely different rear styling. LS models are distinguished by a chrome accented grille, while GS models get blackout trim and sharp 16-inch alloy wheels. Inside, an attractive interior beckons. Heated leather seats are optional, as is an integrated child safety seat. Both cars get traction control, but the system on the GS works at all speeds rather than at lower speeds like the unit on the LS.
Good things are happening at GM. However, sharing platforms between multiple divisions is likely to continue to be a problem, despite recent efforts at establishing strong brand identities for each division. Pontiac's Grand Prix and Oldsmobile's new Intrigue share Regal's underpinnings and basic structure. Grand Prix is obviously the driver's car with a youthful image. Intrigue is conservatively styled and import-oriented in focus. So where does that leave the Buick Regal? Mark Hines, assistant brand manager, says Buick is focusing on 40-49 year-olds with families who want a blend of performance, dependability and safety. Basically, Buick is going after buyers who snap up thousands of Camrys every year.
The current Camry is plainly styled, just like the new Regal. The current Camry is a safe car, just like the new Regal. The current Camry also has an outstanding reputation for reliability and resale value. Can the Regal compete in this arena as well? Time will tell. For now, we can only say that the Regal is an excellent value, and with 240 supercharged ponies under the hood, the GS model is our recommendation.