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Buick Regal unveiled in Hollywood

Fri, 13 Nov 2009

Buick unveiled its 2011 Regal sedan Thursday night at the once-and-future-famous Hollywood Palladium, a new car from an old division being shown at an old dance hall that just got a full renovation. Is there an analogy in there someplace?

The Palladium opened its doors with a Tommy Dorsey concert in 1940, at a time when Buicks ruled the road. There's still a big photo mural of the Dorsey concert in the Palladium's Champagne Lounge, showing a dance floor packed with swells and their well-dressed dates puttin' on the Ritz. Several of the Buick faithful on hand for the Regal reveal no doubt remember those days fondly.

But the goal of the Regal regaling was to introduce Buick luxury to a new generation, to lower the buyer demographic to the point where this might not be the last purchase of an older generation. Toward that end, the affair was catered by Wolfgang Puck, entertainment was by double-platinum singer Colbie Caillat, and there were security guys with wires in their ears strategically planted throughout the crowd in case someone tried to rush the stage and prematurely yank the cover off the Regal.

"In the spirit of the new Buick, we thought it was important to do it with all of you," said Susan Docherty, GM's new vice president of sales, referring to the audience made up of Buick dealers, GM execs and an odd smattering of Caillat fans.

Docherty then said she was going to introduce a rock star. But instead of Mick Jagger, who once played the Palladium, we got Bob Lutz, who is somewhere around Jagger's age, at least.

"This is the next step in transforming the Buick brand," Lutz said.

If we had a nickel, or a share of preferred stock, for every time we've heard that line, we'd be rich. At least on paper.

"Those of you who were alive in the 1960s will remember . . . that Buick was an upwardly mobile brand," Lutz went on, alienating the Caillat fans but endearing himself to the Buick dealers. "Somewhere along the line, it became the old fogies' brand."

The renewal process began with the Enclave SUV, followed by the LaCrosse sedan, and continues with the new Regal, Lutz said. We saw two other design bucks Thursday night, a subcompact sedan and an SUV, both with Buick badging but neither with any details presented. They will be a story for another day.

Lutz then rattled off so many statistics from some survey that Docherty had to cut him off and get him to raise the curtain on the new car.

And then there it was, just as comely as it looked in the photos.

"What I want to know is why isn't this turntable turning," demanded Lutz, apparently unaware that there was no turntable.

Another rock star, GM design chief Ed Welburn, gave a design walkaround.

"From the classic Cadilla-, er, Buick grille," Welburn began.

Anyway it looked nice up there on the stand.

The shapely Regal, based on the Opel Insignia from Europe, arrives on our shores in the second quarter of 2010 with a standard 2.4-liter Ecotec direct-injection four-cylinder putting 182 hp through the front wheels. A 220-hp turbo four arrives in late summer 2010. Both engines will be mated to a six-speed automatic.

While the suspension is just a MacPherson front and four-link independent rear, the body structure to which it's bolted is 25 percent stiffer than that of the previous Regal, last seen in showrooms six years ago. The turbo models will get an optional driver-adjustable suspension with normal, tour and sport settings. If the driver doesn't select a setting, the system sets the car up automatically based on yaw rate, lateral and longitudinal acceleration, steering-wheel angle, throttle position and vehicle speed over a given time.

The first Regals will be available in one trim level only, dubbed CXL. In addition to standard 18-inch wheels, the CXLs will be well supplied with standard luxury features such as 12-way power, leather and heated driver and front-passenger seats, Bluetooth capability, XM satellite radio and OnStar. Optional features will include navigation, Harman/Kardon sound system, 1GB internal flash drive, 10GB hard drive and a USB port.

We in America will get our version of the Regal about a year and a half after the Europeans and the Chinese have had theirs. This is a European car, after all, and China is a huge growth market for Buick, whereas Buick buyers here in America are aging fast.

The new Regal, along with the new LaCrosse and Enclave, aims to reverse Buick demographics in America. Can they do it, or will Buick become the catch basin for castoff models from axed GM divisions? We'll let you know later when we've danced with the Regal.

By Mark Vaughn