What's New for 1999
Performance-oriented changes, such as more power, sporty tweaks to the steering and suspension, firmer motor mounts and the addition of a strut tower brace underhood, lead the news for the '99 Regal. Other changes include enhancements to the ABS and traction control systems, as well as the addition of a tire inflation monitor, perimeter lighting and the Concert Sound II audio system to Regal's already long list of standard equipment. New options include a self-dimming electrochromic outside rearview mirror, redesigned 15-inch alloy wheels and the eight-speaker, 220-watt Monsoon audio system. And that's all in addition to a new exterior paint color, Auburn Nightmist.
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. Not surprisingly, sales were limited to die-hard Buick buyers and rental fleets.
Back in 1997, Buick released a new Regal sedan. The slow-selling coupe was dropped, leaving LS and GS versions of the four-door. This new Regal was larger in nearly every dimension, and was designed to reduce squeaks and rattles by increasing structural rigidity with one-piece side-panel stampings and cross bracing behind the instrument panel. A full load of standard equipment and reasonable prices have made this front-drive Regal competitive, and it continues to entice buyers who might normally limit themselves to Toyota or Nissan showrooms to at least visit a Buick store.
Think of the Regal as Park Avenue Light, or Century Deluxe. LS models are powered by GM's award-winning 3800 Series II V6, which at an even 200 boasts five more horses than last year, thanks to a new, low-restriction air cleaner and a larger induction system. Move up to the GS, and you're getting an honest -to-goodness sport sedan equipped with a supercharged 3.8-liter V6 putting 240 horsepower through a heavy-duty version of Regal's four-speed automatic transmission. At a starting price of around $25,000, the suave, speedy Regal GS is an excellent argument against purchasing any other midsize V6 sedan.
Basic design is shared with the lower-rung Century. Regal has a unique front fascia, but barely different rear styling. LS models are distinguished by a chrome accented grille, while GS models have blackout trim and P225/60 radials on sharp 16-inch alloy wheels (chrome is an option). Inside, a comfortable interior beckons. Heated leather seats are optional, as is an integrated child safety seat.
One thing this Buick offers that few in its class can is the availability of OnStar, an optional mobile communications system. Designed to secure assistance in the event of a mechanical failure, an accident or merely just a need for directions, OnStar was formerly available only on Cadillac models.
A new steering intermediate shaft, along with the addition of a strut tower brace (long an autocrosser's favorite modification) is the secret to more precise road feel and better steering response this year, which has never been Buick's strong suit. Underneath, stiffer bushings and a much fatter rear stabilizer bar (17.2 millimeters, up from last year's 14) dial out much of the float and roll in Regal's suspension. While we applaud firming up the footprint of a front-driver pounding out 240 ponies to the pavement, the idea of a more sporty feeling Regal leaves us wondering, where is Buick trying to go with this car?
Despite recent efforts at establishing strong GM brand identities for each division, sharing platforms between multiple divisions is likely to continue to be a problem. 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 and the "We Build Excitement'' marketing theme. Intrigue is conservatively styled and import-oriented. So where does that leave the Buick Regal? Mark Hines, assistant brand manager, says Buick is looking at 40-49 year-olds with families who want a blend of performance, dependability and safety. Basically, Buick is going after the kinds of buyers who snap up thousands of Camrys every year.
The current Camry is plainly styled, just like the Regal. The Camry is a roomy, safe car, just like the Regal. The Camry also has an outstanding reputation for reliability and resale value. Can the Regal compete in this arena as well? Given Buick's penchant for award-winning quality, we wouldn't be too surprised. For now, rest assured that the Regal is an excellent value, and with 240 supercharged horses under the hood and its new-for-'99 surefootedness, the GS model easily gets our nod.