The Buick Regal has had many iterations, and the latest models included an attractive and rewarding-to-drive European sedan and a roomy and reliable classic American luxury yacht.
Buick has been building Regals since the early 1970s, but most modern-day shoppers will either be considering the European-influenced Regal sold from 2011 to 2017 (replaced by the Regal Sportback and Regal TourX, reviewed separately) or the fourth-generation Regal sold from 1997 through 2004, which was a more traditional American entry-luxury sedan.
The most recent Regal was designed largely by GM's former European division, and it featured attractive styling, a high-quality interior and, when properly equipped, an entertaining driving experience that appealed to enthusiasts who might never have considered a Buick. The prior-generation Regals dated from General Motors' darker days, with an old-fashioned, plastic-lined interior and a mushy suspension. Still, they were inexpensive and reliable family cars, and the optional supercharged engine provided an unexpected performance kick.
Used Buick Regal Models The fifth-generation Buick Regal, sold from 2011 through 2017, was largely based on the European-market Opel Insignia. (Previously, GM had been importing Opels to sell under the Saturn nameplate. With the demise of that brand, the Insignia was hurriedly converted to a Buick, and the Regal nameplate returned after a six-year hiatus.) The Regal was initially sold in CXL and CXL Turbo models, with the eAssist mild hybrid and sporty GS models added for 2012. For 2013, the trim levels were renamed Base and Turbo, the former featuring the eAssist powertrain as standard, with most options grouped in bundles. For 2014, these bundles became formal trim levels, called Base, Premium I and Premium II, with the GS model remaining at the top of the line. For 2016, the models were renamed again, to 1SV, 1SL, Premium II and GS. For 2017, the 1SL got another name change to Sport Touring.
Aside from the constant changes to trim names and option content, differences between model years were minimal. 2012 brought the addition of a touchscreen infotainment system, and for 2014 Buick redesigned the interior, upgraded the safety hardware, and added an all-wheel-drive option. The eAssist hybrid system was dropped for 2016, though fleet customers could still buy it.
Initially, the Buick Regal was offered with either a 182-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 220-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The turbo engine was available with a manual transmission, an unexpected surprise in a Buick. Acceleration in Edmunds testing was slow for the 2.4-liter (0-60 mph in 9.9 seconds) and acceptable for the 2.0-liter turbo (8.4 seconds). The eAssist mild hybrid, introduced in 2012, paired the 2.4-liter engine with an 11-kW electric motor, upping the EPA combined rating to 29 mpg, 6 mpg better than the 2.4's combined figure. Also new for 2012 was the GS model, which had a 270-hp version of the 2.0-liter turbo engine. We timed the automatic GS to 60 mph in a quick 6.2 seconds, though we found the manual-transmission version difficult to launch smoothly and achieved only a 6.9-second time.
Buick dropped the 2.4-liter base engine for 2013, making the eAssist hybrid system standard. This lasted exactly one year, and for 2014, the 2.0-liter turbo engine, freshly upgraded to 259 horsepower, became the standard powertrain. Acceleration was greatly improved, with an Edmunds-tested 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds for the newly introduced all-wheel-drive version, which was available only with an automatic transmission. The eAssist system became an option on Premium I models and the high-performance version of the 2.0T engine formerly found in the GS was dropped. For 2016, GM dropped the eAssist hybrid, exhuming the dreadfully slow 182-hp 2.4-liter engine to serve as the new (but not really new) base powerplant.
The Buick Regal's interior was pleasantly styled, though we were glad to see the button-happy interface on the 2011 cars give way to an easier-to-use touchscreen for 2012. The front seats were comfortable, but the Regal's cramped and unsupportive back seat and small trunk limited its use as a family hauler. The driving experience was better than we expected from a Buick, particularly in turbo models and especially in the GS. The car was respectably athletic, though a lack of steering feel and the turbocharged engine's unrefined nature kept it from the front of the pack. In keeping with Buick tradition, the Regal delivered a smooth, serene ride with a minimum of noise from the outside world.
Buick sold the fourth-generation Regal sedan from 1997 through 2004. It was a roomy sedan with powertrains that delivered good power and fuel economy, though the soft suspension and numb steering largely insulated the driver from the road. LS models featured a 3.8-liter V6 that put out 195 hp (boosted to 200 hp in 1999), while the leather-lined GS got a supercharged version of the engine that boosted output to 240 hp. (Buick also offered a luxury-themed LSE model for 2000 only.) Both powertrains employed a four-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. Though the supercharged GS was respectably quick, the fourth-gen Regal was marred by an archaic cabin lined with cheap plastic-wood trim and uncomfortable seats. Even so, low prices and an impressive reliability record made the fourth-gen Regal a good choice as a used family sedan.
The third-generation Buick Regal, built from 1988 until 1996, was the first iteration of the car to employ front-wheel drive. As with earlier versions of the Regal, Buick offered it in both coupe and sedan versions. Trim levels changed over the years, but the powertrains remained constant, consisting of a 3.1-liter V6 that delivered 160 hp and a 205-hp version of GM's venerable 3.8-liter V6.
Buick introduced the second-generation Regal in 1978, part of the downsizing project that affected all rear-wheel-drive General Motors cars. It was available as a sedan, coupe and wagon as well as a short-lived four-door fastback. The long-hood, short-deck shape of the Regal coupe, a profile shared with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Oldsmobile Cutlass and Pontiac Gran Prix, was an icon of the 1980s. Though most Regals were (under)powered by a wheezy, carbureted iteration of the 3.8-liter V6, Buick offered exclusive turbo versions (variously known as the Sport Coupe, Grand National, T-Type and GNX), which had turbocharged 3.8-liter V6s that turned out between 175 hp and 276 hp. Most were offered in distinct blacked-out trim. These cars were remarkably quick for the time, with 0-60 mph times as low as 4.6 seconds for the GNX, and are prized today as collector cars.
The first-generation Buick Regal appeared in 1973 as an upscale version of the Century coupe, with a sedan version added to the lineup for 1974. Like other GM cars of the era, the first-gen Buick Regal was a large and lavishly styled rear-wheel-drive car with massive engines (including an optional 7.5-liter V8) and a pillow-soft ride. Aside from a 1976 face-lift featuring square headlights, which had recently been legalized, the Regal remained largely unchanged through 1977.