• Nov 11, 2010
Badge Engineering Is Alive And Well At The New GM

2011 Buick Regal CXL - Click above for high-res image gallery

Haven't we seen this play called before? Take a well-regarded European model, tweak it for the U.S. market, slap on a badge from a beleaguered North American brand, and hope for a touchdown. Indeed, the Buick Regal conforms to what has become General Motors' version of the spread offense. Never mind that this wasn't a winning strategy for Saturn, which tried selling various derivatives of Opel models from The General's European operations before its demise – GM is back at it with the Regal.

Dredging up a name from the past is a curious move for a brand that wants to reinvent itself to appeal to a younger audience. (Even more curious is that the Regal moniker has dubious value, having been hung on all manner of mediocre and mostly badge-engineered cars over the past four decades.) Yet for all the skepticism inherent in the "new" GM going back to its old playbook, the Regal might actually be the car that makes this offense click.

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Photos copyright ©2010 John Neff / AOL

With a base price of $26,245, the midsize Regal CXL is surely an affordable entry-luxury sedan. It's turned out well enough that we can certainly see it tricking the uninformed into thinking it costs much more. Of course, GM is playing its own tricks, meaning that the price goes up pretty quickly for the more desirable trim levels. For instance, you'll have to add $2,500 to the bill for the turbocharged, 220-horsepower version of the car (the model we're not reviewing here). GM has also promised a cheaper Regal, one with cloth seats, and a sportier model, the Regal GS, for 2012. Pricing for the GS model has yet to be announced, but with a loaded Regal CXL Turbo running some $34,000, the new top-of-the-heap won't come cheap.

The Regal makes a good enough first impression, with several visual cues to tell you it's a near-luxury sedan, like the chrome window trim and attractively simple alloy wheels. Buick's color palate is heavy on metallic earth tones, no doubt chosen to make sure that every Regal on the road at least leaves the factory looking classy. Even parts of the design that seem, shall we say, "inspired" by other brands (like the BMW-esque bustle on the trunk or the wannabe Infiniti front end) tell you you're looking at something better than a Chevrolet.

2011 Buick Regal CXL side view2011 Buick Regal CXL front view2011 Buick Regal CXL rear view

But the Regal's nice looks are fleeting. The longer you live with the car out in the wild, parking it next to other vehicles, the more obvious the incongruities in its design become. There's a noticeable lack of flow between the front and the back, and viewed in profile, the proportions are off as well, with the front looking too heavy and too long. It's almost as if the designers carved up their task, saying, "I'll take everything from the A-pillar forward, you take the C-pillar back, and we'll do the rest later."

Inside, the problems are more basic. The instrument panel, seating and door trim are all stylish, but the materials are uneven in quality and color. The interior of our tester was a brown-over-tan GM calls "Cashmere" (the car we used for photos came with a different and darker color combination), but like so many two-tone interiors, the shades of color varied depending on the type of plastic or the finish of the material. If parts of the Regal interior feel cheap, like the austere back seat, where the nice door panel accents from the front are missed, we can chalk it up to being pretty typical for this category. But we have to call out the corporate GM steering wheel for scorn. It's trimmed with a faux-aluminum plastic piece that flexes when squeezed, giving off a noticeable squeak in the process.

2011 Buick Regal CXL interior2011 Buick Regal CXL front seats2011 Buick Regal CXL gauges2011 Buick Regal CXL door panel

Even so, this kind of stuff would be easy enough to live with were the ergonomics of the Regal's audio and navigation system not so atrocious. Why GM didn't equip it with a version of its stellar touchscreen system we have no idea, but the kludge of buttons, knobs and controllers is a deal breaker for any vehicle pretending to be a premium product.

While the design of the Regal's dashboard "button field" is nicely symmetric, there's neither rhyme nor reason to the layout. Even more random is the rotary controller on the center console behind the gearshift lever, resembling an even more dimwitted iDrive knob. Yet this cheap and seemingly tacked-on piece lacks both the tactile quality of the BMW controller and its functionality. Example? At times, the system requires the driver to press a numbered button to make a selection on the screen, despite the presence of both a second rotary controller and a four-axis joystick on the center stack.

2011 Buick Regal CXL navigation system2011 Buick Regal CXL touch screen controls

At least the Regal is otherwise comfortable. Despite its interior shortcomings, it's a pleasant enough place to spend time behind the wheel. The way the instrument panel wraps into the doors is a bit of form-over-function, though the design doesn't intrude on the driver's knee room quite as badly as the Regal's sister vehicle, the Buick LaCrosse. The seats are clad in decent leather and are supportive enough for the average driver. There's plenty of room in both the front and back for normal-sized people, as well. Visibility is okay, at least by today's diminished standards, though it can be hard to judge just how long the back end is.

GM is aggressively marketing the Regal as an honest-to-goodness German-engineered sports sedan, which – at least in the case of the CXL tester – is like calling Coors Light a real German beer. Maybe you can make a case for the turbo Regal models having some pretense to sportiness, but the basic Regal is powered by GM's 2.4-liter direct-injected Ecotec four-cylinder engine, and there's no way its 182 horsepower is going to titillate anyone in Germany. Certainly not with only 172 pound-feet of torque on hand to motivate the Regal's 3,600 pounds. GM's six-speed automatic is the only transmission available on this model, and it does a yeoman's job here, returning a commendable 30 miles per gallon on the highway. But this drivetrain combination is not one that's going to impress anyone with its smoothness, power or sound.

2011 Buick Regal CXL engine

It's this last point – sound – that's perhaps most frustrating, because it's one of the few areas left where near-luxury cars can truly differentiate themselves from their everyday brethren. GM has dropped the ball here in two ways. The first is that the engine sounds so grating, like a leaf-blower on full boil, that you'll be reminded to stop at the hardware store to pick up compost bags. The Regal is not the first GM car to be fitted with a version of the 2.4-liter Ecotec, but it could have been the first that didn't sound like this. If there's anything worse than the sound of the Ecotec, it would be the hiss of the Regal's sunroof. When the shade is closed, there's nary a problem. But with it open, you'd swear the sunroof was cracked even when it isn't due to the amount of wind noise present.

So there are lots of details that seem like they didn't get worked out prior to the Regal's launch. Or maybe there were so many compromises that had to be made to sell essentially the same vehicle in Europe, China and the U.S. that some things were bound to be left off. That said, the Regal does rise above the sum of its flaws once you've got it out on the road. Its handling is good for a mid-size sedan, with a comfortable suspension that picks a good middle ground between firm and floaty, even at high speed. For a front-wheel-drive vehicle, understeer is minimal and the Regal doesn't have problems with torque steer under throttle.

2011 Buick Regal CXL rear 3/4 view

But even when the Regal feels best, zipping past traffic on a freeway commute, it still feels like a pretty average, everyday car. GM's list of Regal competitors is a pretty uninspired group, consisting of the Acura TSX, the front-wheel-drive version of the Audi A4, and the Volkswagen CC. Other models that seem to fit the comparison include the Mazda6 and the Hyundai Sonata. As a whole, these are the sorts of cars that manage to rise a small notch above the common Camrys, Accords and Malibus of the world. They do so by offering just a bit more style or substance. The Regal certainly has both, if only just a bit.

Photos copyright ©2010 John Neff / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Congrats America. You let a crap company keep building crap. Way to go, and you are out 80 billion. Bondholders, creditors, and stockholders are out

      169,000,000,000 dollars.

      Way to go. For those who don't know, a billion is a 1000 million.

      But hey at least we "saved" 300,000 jobs.

      I give GM 5 years before China owns them completely. Good luck UAW, you are finished.
      • 4 Years Ago
      why so harsh on this opel/vauxhall/buick? are you pissed they did away with satun too?
      this would have made an awesome followup to the first gen aura. don't be a gm hater... it's veteran's day!
        • 4 Years Ago
        (obviously i meant saturn)
      • 4 Years Ago
      You guys are kidding with this GM bashing right? What about all the Acuras sold overseas as Hondas with nothing more than a different badge? And all the Lexuses sold overseas as Toyotas? This is low, Autoblog.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Badge engineering? Ok, now that every car maker in the world is doing it, we still wanna gripe about GM. Not saying this particular car could not have been done better, but everyone is making a world car now and the only sibling here in the states is the last gen version in the Malibu. I usually agree with most of your articles here but crying badge engineering when they are not even close to the only ones, seems a little disingenuous.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I love my Regal CXL . its smooth on the road and rides at speed very well. The car feels tight and likes to run. The dash is great and the nobs are great. The dealers are selling everyone they can get and its a good seller in China and Europe The only problem with the Regal is you can not really get them as production is constrained due to capacity at GM. So go the the Buick dealer and give it a spin, this Regal is one good car.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is GM's one-trick pony that they believe defines the "New GM": Rebadging Opels.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Being negative just to be negative does not make one Jeremy Clarkson. What is it about reviewers now that they feel they have to sh it all over a product to appear impartial?

      Jeremy can get away with it because his critique makes sense and seems to come from an educated position. This review does not.

      This is not an expensive car. It is not a luxury car. It is a mid priced, near luxury competitor.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "This is not an expensive car. It is not a luxury car. It is a mid priced, near luxury competitor."

        Therein lies the problem. In Europe, the Insignia isn't "near luxury" or anything even close. Nor was it designed to be. It's a hum-drum, average D-segment saloon driven by sales reps and Mr & Mrs Average and competes with Fords and Renaults. By the time you encroach on cars of simialr size but are more in the quasi-exec and executive segments, such as Alfa's 159 and the Audi A4 respectively, you're in a different ball game.

        The Insignia's a good car - but there's better machinery out there. I certainly wouldn't pay $30K for one in the States simply because of the upmarket badge. $18K-$25K would be closer to the mark for common-or-garden models.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Exactly. I'd even go further and call it "cheap". Especially for you americans, altough it's hard to compare these days of the tanking dollar, feels like this car will be a thousand dollars "cheaper" in my google currency conversion by next week. But anyway, it takes talent to be Jeremy Clarkson.

        Also I must add that when I drove the Insignia the interior was solid, did not flex, was of even colour (black of course, being an Opel) and the doors give off a thud equal to any BMW. Which again this car should not be compared with. It should be compared with a Mondeo, or C5, or more importantly, a Passat. Compared to the Passat, this is a thousand times more exciting. Not necessarily better, but more exciting.

        The center console does have lots of buttons, and that's why it comes with a M A N U A L. I wonder how this reviewer would have reacted if he drove a Ford Mondeo, where pulling the indicator stalk towards you does not wash your windscreen. He'd probably run off the road and intro a tree.
      • 4 Years Ago
      hasn't Autoblog reviewed this car about 5 times already?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Just by reading the title of this article, I knew that the author never intended to give this car a fair review. Reading the review, I can say my assumption was correct. He let his anti-GM bias get in the way. Interesting how a European car of the year would not be good enough for our "sophisticated" American. Also, I don't see how badge engineering is a problem when the vehicle in question is not offered in North America in any way shape or form. Bad article.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I agree. The title and intro was so tainted, and the storyline so re-played that this article was a chore to read. It was as if the author wanted so badly to re-write the same articles that were valid several years ago that he changed the definition of "badge engineering". Should we expect to see "badge engineering" as the headline when we read about every global platform out there? If so there are going to be a lot of tough reads on AB from now until eternity...because global platforms are here to stay.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Exactly what I though...this "review" made me think he had never even seen pictures of the car let alone actually put it through a road test.

        I was literally floored when he went off on the styling! It's an extremely cohesive and clean design in person. This was a copy/paste job from other car reviews...
        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't think it was bias at all.

        The Regal CXL with the turbo just placed 3rd out of 3 in a recent comparo in C&D. They CERTAINLY aren't biased against GM.

        The Regal, no doubt, is a great car but it isn't class leading. It is for certain a step in the right direction for Buick. I can't wait to see what the MMC brings for the Regal.
        • 4 Years Ago
        So, did you purchase one? Let's face it, unless you actually bought one the critics are probably going to be right on this one-there's just too much competition out there for this to make sense at the price GM wants for it. If it existed in a vacuum it'd be a nice enough car but it doesn't.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Someone get Jeff Sabatini a Prozac.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You can tell Jeff either had a bad day or REALLY hates Buick with the tone of this article.

        Remind me not to read his stuff in the future.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You are 100 percent right! When a writer lets you know within the first sentence that he is against the product why keep reading? Why not at least pretend that you are going to review the car before you just state your bias. He needs to first understand what badge engineering is before using it. Honda sells the European Accord as the TSX and you never see a negative thing written about it even though they sell less then 2600 per month and then slap in a V6 to try and get sales moving. The 0 to 60 times are used to much to base a car on when people like my wife could not care one bit about it! I can understand if a car is so slow that it can not merge into traffic but the Buick is just fine. I also must admit that the no matter how much less the Hyundai is I will not buy one. I am also willing to bet that two years from now many of these 270 HP turbos will have massive problems when cheap drivers skip an oil change or two. A European car maker said it best when they said it isn't that hard to make a turbo engine make 275 hp but to keep it going for 5 years without blowing up is. Turbo engines are driven hard from people that love to hear them scream and if you ask Mitsubishi or Subaru how many non warranty repairs are done you would think that people are crazy for buying them!
        • 4 Years Ago
        I agree 100% - horrible review.

        I saw the Regal in the showroom and was mighty impressed with the exterior design and interior quality/execution.

        I view the Regal as Buicks answer to the (higher-end (27-30K)) Accords, Camrys, Sonatas, etc.

        The New York Times gave a rather favorable review of the Regal, though it did say the 220 turbo was the engine to get...
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think this is a great looking vehicle, it is just a shame that it isn't a great performing vehicle. Its reviews haven't been all that glowing, rather midpack and somewhat disappointing in C&D's most recent comparo.

      I'd have a hard time chosing the Regal over a Sonata Limited with the 2.0T or a loaded Mazda6. I'd likely chose those two and save about $4,000+ when similarly equipped. I don't know about you, but $4,000 is a nice chunk of change to me...
        • 4 Years Ago

        His grandparents are busy buying your beloved Camry.

        • 4 Years Ago
        @airchompers: sure there will always be people who buy a brand, that doesn't mean that brand is competitive against other vehicles. It's your grandparents loss to not shop around, unless the derive value in buying a GM product that can't be measured in horsepower or tangible features. To each his own.
        • 4 Years Ago
        apples to apples,

        This is a 3,600 lb car with 180 hp.
        The Sonata is a 3,200 lb car with 200 hp.

        You could get a normally aspirated sonata fully loaded, minus navigation, for the base price of the Buick. Jus' saying. But the fact of the matter is that not everyone is looking for the best bang for the buck, no qualifications. Many people don't consider Hyundai when making new cars (to their loss, it would seem). And there's people like my grandparents who will only buy a GM car. I suppose they're paying a heafy premium when they exclude Ford, Honda, Hyundai from the list of cars they'll purchase, but it's their money so who really cares?

        It's amazing what you'll find when you open your eyes.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Regal Grand National is certainly a favorable association. Certainly one that many in the target market will remember.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I was so hoping that they would bring the true Insignia OPC here an badge it as a GNX.

        THAT would be an awesome comeback.
        • 4 Years Ago
        This car is so far from a Grand National or GNX that the association barely matters.

        It's like the current Charger - does anyone ACTUALLY think of a classic Charger of the past when they see a 4-door lumbering sedan Charger, just because the name is shared? No. Will I think of a powerhouse, decked out Buick coupe from the 80's, straight line gluttony and performance add-on engineering at its finest, when I see this badge-engineered 4-door? No.

        Great review by the way.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Even though the Turbo Regal doesn't beat 6 seconds in its 0-60 its still an awesome car. I really liked the Regal more than I liked the Lacrosse.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Regal Grand National means nothing to the target market.

        It seems like a nice enough car, but GM will face the same hurdles it had with Cadillac, changing the image of Buick as the car of a timid retiree or church lady to one that competes with Acuras and Audis. Hard to do in my opinion when they hang on to that traditional grille and Medieval Times logo. As historic as they are, they need to be reinvented to really signal a new direction for Buick.

        I understand GM kept Buick because of its profitability in China, but Pontiac would have been a much better candidate to reinvent as a world class brand to take on the near luxury imports.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It's almost as if the designers carved up their task, saying, "I'll take everything from the A-pillar forward, you take the C-pillar back, and we'll do the rest later."

        Like this hasn't already been said about cars in the past, many, many, many times. Mr. Sabatini you have such insight. No wonder I only scanned quickly through this lame review.

        By the way, badge engineering is alive and well in Ford, Chrysler, VW, soon-to-be Toyo-Subi, everyone's beloved Hyundai/Kia fugly cars, Toyota/Lexus.

        There's nothing new to see here; please move along.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Completely neutral comment so you won't get rated down?
        • 4 Years Ago
        I made a Sonata vs. Regal comparison long time ago and people laughed at me. Sonata is clearly superior car in almost every area. i really can't justify paying 5k premium for Regal.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ugh... I disagree on just about every level with this "review".

      I think the Regal looks great. The engine (which is the same as in my GMC Terrain) is just fine. In fact, I like the engine sound. Sure, it may be different in the Regal, but in videos I've seen, it doesn't sound any different.

      The Interior is just fine. I've sat down inside one, and it didn't strike me as "cheap" in any way. It felt sporty. Not luxurious, but above average. It worked with the rest of the car.

      Pricewise, it is actually much cheaper than the Audi A4 you mentioned, but it is more expensive than a comparably equipped Acura TSX. It's actually much closer to the TSX than the A4, even in turbo-form.

      Reading that review was just painful. Minimal driving impressions and overly negative. At least the pictures look nice...
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