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Buick LaCrosse Vs Buick Regal

Buick LaCrosse (Top) and Buick Regal (Bottom) (Buick)

Back in November of last year, Fox Car Report reviewed the 2010 Buick LaCrosse CXL. That car was equipped with all-wheel drive and the midrange 3.0-liter, 252-horsepower V6 that General Motors felt would be the most popular choice among LaCrosse buyers. Autos editor Gary Gastelu disagreed after driving it, saying, “I don’t think that it should.” Having separately driven and reviewed the exact same car, I agree completely with that sentiment.

The 3.0L V6 in the LaCrosse CXL AWD had the dubious distinction of feeling utterly gutless while delivering no fuel-economy benefit as a consolation prize. Overall, it was terribly disappointing. General Motors apparently got the memo from owners and scribes like us, and is pulling the engine from the 2011 lineup. Instead, the ’11 LaCrosse will only be offered with the base 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder like the one tested here and a 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, each mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Both powertrains are currently available on 2010 cars.

GG: This time around I drove the latest from Buick, the 2011 Regal. It has the more impressive distinction of being built in Germany. A notch smaller than the LaCrosse, the midsize Regal sedan is essentially a rebadged Opel Insignia, which was voted 2009 European Car of the Year. More intriguing, it comes standard with the same engine and transmission combo as the entry-level LaCrosse, and has a nearly identical sticker price for 2011 - $26,995 vs. $27,245 respectively – despite it being a much smaller car.

I remember assuming that since the mid-grade 3.0 V6 was so weak-kneed, the four-cylinder must be dreadful. Now, having spent a week with a base 2010 Buick LaCrosse CX with the smaller engine mounted underhood, I realize what a dumb assumption that was. While the CX is the stripper model in the LaCrosse range, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re giving up all that much by picking it. On paper, the 2.4-liter is 73 horsepower down on the 3.0-liter V6, but from a practical standpoint, it concedes nothing. Off the line, it actually feels a little more responsive, and it’s eminently capable around town. You won’t find a lot of passing power on demand here, but it’s no worse off than with the now-euthanized 3.0-liter six-cylinder, which looks even more pitiful in this context. Plus, the four-cylinder gets better mileage. With the V6, I averaged mid to upper teens. After around 270 miles of driving in the four-cylinder it had delivered 21 miles per gallon, - the EPA rating is 23 mpg combined.

GG: The Regal is about six inches shorter in length and weighs 250 pounds less than the LaCrosse, but it has the exact same fuel economy rating, which is a little odd. The engine feels even livelier here, though, especially at speed. It’s hushed, too. Buick really has this sound-deadening thing down pat these days. It probably picked up a few tricks during all of those years that it had its head in the sand with the rest of General Motors.

I worried that the four-cylinder might be a little noisy hauling around 3,829 pounds of LaCrosse, but those fears were unfounded. The passenger compartment is so quiet and well-isolated that at most you’ll hear a muted growl from beyond the firewall. Despite the econocar engine, the driving experience is luxury-oriented. To that end, you get good steering response and feel, and a suspension that’s compliant without resorting to floatiness. This definitely isn’t the Buick that grandpa drove when you were a little kid.

GG: Nevertheless, the LaCrosse can’t hold a candle to the Regal when it comes to driver involvement. The steering is much heftier on the Deutsche Buick, and very quick. Perhaps a little too much so as it tends to twitch when hit with road imperfections. This car loves the highway, and not in an indifferent boulevardier sort of way. It’s engaging, even on otherwise boring stretches where it feels drilled into the asphalt, just asking for you to make a change of direction.

The only options on my LaCrosse tester were 17-inch aluminum wheels ($350) and the pretty “Red Jewel Tintcoat” paint finish ($325). One thing that jumps out at you with the 17s fitted is just how big of a car the LaCrosse is. The wheels look undersized against the rest of the bodywork. Otherwise, the fast roofline and subtle bodyside “sweep spear” (a styling cue that dates back to the Buicks of the late ‘40s) help conceal the sedan’s visual bulk. The head and taillights do a respectable Lexus ES impression, while the big waterfall grille adds some legit curbside panache.

GG: Eighteen inch wheels are standard equipment on the Regal CXL and they combine with the nicely-flared fenders to give the otherwise simply-designed four-door a purposeful stance. The plain, arching roof could be from any number of cars, but the hockey stick character lines dressing its flanks give it a speedy urgency. The waterfall grille is here, but compared to the LaCrosse, it’s merely a trickle. What I really want to know is who forgot to install the fake vents on the hood like every other Buick has? Whoever is responsible for this should get a bonus at the end of the year. Paid in euros.

Inside the LaCrosse CX, you’ll find comfortable, cloth-upholstered seats. Leather isn’t an option, but no matter: the soft fabric neither looks nor feels cheap, and I’d forgotten how nice it can be to not have leather seats during a heat wave. And while on the topic of sweltering weather, the LaCrosse’s effective air conditioning quickly reduces the cabin temperature to meat-freezer levels.

GG: Hides are standard on the Regal CXL, and the sporty front seats are heated, too. What was that about sweltering weather?

As for the rest of the interior, the LaCrosse CX is no different in terms of presentation or quality-feel than the pricier trim levels. You’re treated to soft-touch, accent-stitched surfaces on the upper door panels and on top of the elegantly-styled wraparound dash that envelops the front passengers. There’s even an electric parking brake, like you find in some upmarket European sedans. Taking in the surroundings, you’d never guess the car stickers well south of $30,000.

GG: The cabin of the Regal is the polar opposite of the glitzy and glamorous surrounds found in the LaCrosse. There’s black everywhere, and an austere, tough-looking design that somehow encourages aggression behind the wheel – at least for me. It’s all squishy, though, and while the leather errs on the sturdy side, it’s far from cheap. Chronograph-style gauges are very much an import touch, unlike the “Curse of the Crystal Skull” dials found in its American cousin.

The front seats of the LaCrosse are supportive and all-day comfortable, but the real winners may be the back seat passengers, who are treated to ridiculously generous legroom. I put two children in booster seats back there for a trip to a local cruise night and, while they too had oodles of space, they also exposed the Achilles heel of cashmere-colored seat fabric: little feet in dirty Crocs will leave marks that you’ll want to clean promptly for fear of long-term staining.

GG: This is as good a time as any to mention that the LaCrosse rides on a stretched version of the Regal’s platform – known internally at GM as Epsilon II. As a result, don’t expect to cross your legs in the rear compartment of this short wheelbase derivative. It’s no worse back there than most midsize competitors, but your knees won’t be knocking in excitement, either. Even the booster seat bunch will cramp tall drivers.

Outward visibility in the LaCrosse has some shortcomings. The main penalty for the swoopy roofline is steeply-angled pillars up front, which do a wonderful job of obscuring your vision in turns. The view straight back is fine on the road, but you’ll be cursing the high rump when you’re backing out of spaces in tight parking lots. Same goes for a hood that falls out of sight at the bottom of the windshield.

GG: On this point, the Regal has the LaCrosse beat – hands and top down. Its thin roof pillars offer an excellent view out in all directions. Score one for function over form.

The base audio system that comes with the LaCrosse (AM/FM/XM/CD with an AUX jack) sounds great, and I love the straightforward dials for volume and tuning, but the supplemental buttons are a little busy to look at. Ditto the climate control interface. At night, everything looks very similar when backlit in the soft blue illumination, which is also used in a pleasant ambient lighting strip across the dashboard - even here in the base model.

GG: The Regal has just about as many buttons as the LaCrosse, but my tester was fitted with a $4,785 option package that includes an infotainment system with navigation that kicks things up a notch. It offers up a very Teutonic control knob in easy reach on the center console to control most of its functions, but not all. Some instead require the use of a dial on the dash, as well as a few of those buttons. What makes this particularly annoying is that in several other GM products the same system uses a touch-screen interface, and the graphics on the display haven’t been changed much, so you just want to reach out and press the virtual buttons to make things happen, but end up just smudging the screen.

Bluetooth wasn’t included on the LaCrosse – it’s part of a $900 comfort and convenience package that adds a bunch of stuff I really didn’t miss, like remote start, additional seat controls, and a universal garage remote. A standalone Bluetooth option would be nice to see, or better still – make it standard equipment like Kia manages to do on its $14,000 Forte sedan (or Buick does on the Regal CXL). One final annoyance: There’s no trunk release inside the car; you need to use the key fob to pop it, and you only get 13.3 cubic feet of space for your trouble thanks to intrusive gooseneck-style hinges - disappointing for a big car like this.

GG: I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but somehow the Regal’s trunk is a cube larger than the one in the LaCrosse. Maybe it’s due to hinges that appear to be half the size of the larger car’s?

All said and done, the Buick LaCrosse CX is a whole lot of car for the money, and the four-cylinder is a surprisingly nice fit. The base LaCrosse is classy-looking, roomy, and it gets good fuel economy for a car its size. Compared to the first LaCrosse I drove, this one had less power and fewer options. And you know what? I liked it a lot better. Go figure.

GG: Having also spent a week in the vehicle that Alex did, I fully concur with his assessment. The LaCrosse is a great car to ride around in. On the other hand, the Regal is a much more enjoyable car to drive around in. (Un)fortunately, I have two kids, and they’re growing quickly, so the extra room that the LaCrosse offers for the same price tips the scales in its favor.

Ultimately, while it appears that Buick is competing against itself with these two sedans, it isn’t. They are worlds apart, and the Regal can definitely hold its head high against the cars the company actually hopes that it will be cross-shopped against, like the Acura TSX, Volvo S60 and Audi A4.

However, if you like the Regal and have your heart set on an import, you’d better buy one quickly. Starting early next year, Buick is moving production to a factory located in Oshawa, Canada, which technically makes it a domestic car. With exchange rates the way they are, that should do wonders for GM’s cash flow, but as for cache…let’s see how it fares in the North American Car of the Year Awards.

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2010 Buick LaCrosse CX

Base Price: $27,245

Type: 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive 4-door sedan

Engine: 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder

Power: 182 hp, 172 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 19 city/30 hwy

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2011 Buick Regal CXL

Base Price: $26,995

Type: 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive 4-door sedan

Engine: 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder

Power: 182 hp, 172 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 19 city/30 hwy