What's New for 2012
Two new Buick Regal variants debut for the 2012 model year: the mild-hybrid eAssist and the sporty GS. A much-needed touchscreen interface also debuts, along with Buick's IntellliLink smartphone integration.
When Buick reintroduced the Regal to the lineup last year, it was touted as having "a driving experience that rivals the best import sport sedans in the segment." A bold statement, to be sure, but we found that marketing line to be overly optimistic. Last year's Regal did have some nice qualities, mainly its handling chops, but its lack of performance had it coming up short of sport sedan territory.
The 2012 Buick Regal, however, comes closer to its intended premium sport sedan target with the introduction of the Regal GS. With engine output increased to 270 horsepower (up from the Regal Turbo's 220), a more firmly tuned suspension, a standard manual transmission, Brembo brakes and available summer performance tires, the GS certainly holds more appeal to those looking for driving excitement.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Regal family also gains a new eAssist mild-hybrid powertrain that increases fuel economy by 25 percent over the base 2.4-liter engine. Also new for 2012 is the availability of Buick's IntelliLink system that pairs with certain smartphones to allow for Internet streaming audio like Pandora.
We do like that the 2012 Regal lineup has received some much-needed bolstering, but it still misses the mark set by other entry-level luxury sport sedans. The Regal GS does have capable handling, but its acceleration is underwhelming given its rated horsepower. Acceleration is slower still with the other models. While they're more expensive, sedans like the BMW 328i and Infiniti G25 are just more refined and fun to drive.
If you're not so concerned with performance, the 2012 Buick Regal makes more sense. The new eAssist engine gives a nice boost to fuel economy, and overall, the Regal does provide a lot of features for the money. Even so, we'd still suggest shopping around some. The Acura TSX, Audi A4 and Volvo S60 are worth looking at. We also recommend Buick's own LaCrosse, as it can also be had with the eAssist engine and is priced similarly, yet is a more polished and roomier sedan overall.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Buick Regal is offered in base, Turbo and GS trim levels.
Standard features for the base Regal include 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, foglights, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar (power height adjustment only for the passenger), split-folding rear seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Also standard are Bluetooth, OnStar and a seven-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack, iPod connectivity and IntelliLink smartphone integration (late availability).
Base Regal buyers can opt for the Premium 1 package which adds keyless ignition/entry, remote starting, rear parking sensors, an eight-way power front passenger seat and a 120-volt power outlet. All Premium 1 features are standard on Regal Turbo and eAssist models. The Premium 2 package is available on the Base and Turbo Regal models and steps things up with automatic xenon headlights, a nine-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system and rear passenger side airbags. The Premium 3 package is only offered on the Regal Turbo and adds 19-inch wheels and adaptive suspension dampers with selectable drive modes (standard, sport and tour).
The Regal GS receives all of the above, plus Brembo brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, front sport seats, a thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel, front parking sensors, unique exterior and interior accents and a sportier GS driving mode (replaces Tour mode). The Regal GS is also eligible for optional 20-inch wheels with summer performance tires. Other options available on this and supporting trims include a sunroof and a navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Buick Regal's base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 182 hp and 172 pound-feet of torque. The EPA estimates mileage for this unit at 19 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined.
The optional eAssist light hybrid powertrain uses the same 2.4-liter engine in conjunction with an 11-kilowatt electric motor/generator and lithium-ion battery system. This combination improves mileage to an impressive 25/36/29 mpg. A six-speed automatic with manual shift control is the only available transmission on these models.
The Regal Turbo receives a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that makes 220 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It, too, comes with a standard six-speed automatic transmission, but a six-speed manual is offered as an option. Mileage is estimated at 18/29/22 for the automatic and 20/32/24 for the manual.
The Regal GS uses the same turbo engine, but benefits from added turbo boost and a free-flowing exhaust to kick power output up to 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed manual transmission is standard, with the automatic available as an option (late availability). The manual GS is expected to return 19/27/22 mpg.
In recent Edmunds testing, a Regal with the base 2.4-liter required 9.9 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph, which is considerably slower than competing sedans. The Turbo improves that time to 8.4 seconds, but it's still off the mark for the class. In order to achieve a competitive time, you'd have to spring for the top-of-the-line GS, which turned in a quick 6.2-second run with the automatic transmission. Curiously, the manual was slower at 6.9 seconds due to the difficulty of launching it smoothly.
Standard safety equipment for all 2012 Buick Regal models includes antilock disc brakes, traction control and stability control, OnStar, front seat side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Rear-seat thorax airbags are standard on the Premium 2 and above trim levels.
In Edmunds brake testing, both the base Regal and Turbo came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet, which is about average for cars in this class. The GS, with its bigger Brembo brakes and optional 20-inch summer tires, managed to stop in an impressive 107 feet.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Buick Regal the highest score of "Good" in its frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Overall, the 2012 Buick Regal's cabin is attractive and features a sweeping arc on the dash. The standard front seats provide plenty of support for spirited driving and comfort for long-haul trips. Those riding in back, however, may find the rear seatbacks a bit flat and uncomfortable, and tall adults will likely bemoan the lack of headroom. Rearward visibility might be another issue for some drivers given the car's sloping coupelike roof line, and a rearview camera isn't offered.
One of our biggest complaints about last year's Regal was the unintuitive navigation controls. Fortunately, the new touchscreen goes a long way toward alleviating those problems. Even so, the Regal's center stack controls -- particularly those for the audio system -- are hampered by a layout with too many similar-looking buttons.
Trunk capacity is respectable at 14.2 cubic feet, but the trunk is narrow, meaning there's less space for golf bags than you'll find in some other similarly sized luxury sedans. The eAssist Regal models use some of the trunk space for the battery packs, dropping capacity to 11.1 cubes.
While the 2012 Buick Regal lineup represents a significant departure from the floaty and disconnected feel of Buicks past, it is still a far cry from the sport sedan image the brand is trying to project, due mainly to a lack of grunt. The base 2.4-liter engine tends to generate more noise than power. The Turbo models are quicker to get up to speed, though there's a slight and sometimes annoying delay before the car really hits its stride and pulls hard. And surprisingly enough, we prefer (and recommend) the automatic transmission to the manual gearbox, as the former provides better performance, while the latter isn't that rewarding to drive due to longish shifter throws and its reluctance to be shifted quickly.
The ride is hard to fault, however, as passengers will enjoy a type of isolation that's synonymous with the Buick brand. The cabin remains quiet, with little road or wind noise intrusion. Likewise, the ride quality is smooth, flattening out most ruts and bumps in the road. Our editors found the steering precise, but too light (except on the GS) and disconnected for their tastes ? especially for a sport sedan ? but for most buyers this won't be an issue.
The Regal can display some impressive athleticism while taking on a twisty road. This is especially true of the GS and other models with the Interactive Drive Control that provides three distinct settings for steering, suspension and throttle tuning. Sport mode delivers a noticeable firmness and added confidence in curves, while the compliant Tour mode (not available with the GS) is probably more in line with the typical Buick owner's expectations.