GMI Drives: 2011 Buick Regal Turbo Six-Speed Manual
The manual provides an interesting blend of driving excitement and fuel thriftiness.
May 16, 2011
By: Nick Saporito
By now it’s no secret that Buick has a new lease on life. After an extended stint as the official hauler of people past the legal retirement age, the brand that once brought the U.S. T-Type and GNX cars has awoken once again. Undoubtedly the biggest emblem of Buick’s resurrection as a more youthful brand has been the recently launched Regal Turbo.
As if the words "Buick", "turbocharged" and "adaptive suspension" were not enough to capture the attention of non-traditional Buick buyers, the phrase "manual transmission" should certainly seem compelling to automotive enthusiasts. However, just having the shift-it-yourself option on the order guide is not enough. The Regal Turbo must walk the walk to win over enthusiasts. GMI set out to see if the manual-equipped Regal really does give Buick real credentials with the enthusiast crowd.
At the turn of the New Year, GMI tested a white Regal Turbo with the automatic transmission. As our review reflected, overall we enjoyed the car quite a bit and favored it over the anemic 2.4-liter Regal. With that said, we had several qualms with the engine, including a lack of refinement and turbo lag. Surprisingly, the same car with a manual transmission eases those concerns in a more fun to drive package that also provides better fuel economy.
It turns out that the lack of refinement we noted in our first 2.0-liter turbo tester may have been confined to that car exclusively. Our manual tester was consistently much quieter than the previous automatic version. Our manual tester exhibited only an appropriate level of turbo whine at high revs- just enough to remind you of what you paid for.
While the Opel-derived engine is a bit coarse at idle, the combination of engine note and faint turbo whine sounds good at higher revs.
We also noted considerable turbo lag in the automatic tester we had. While the manual still has some lag, it is not quite as noticeable. The 2.0 turbo really needs to be north of 2,000 RPM for the turbo to kick in. Off- the-line performance with both transmissions is on the weak side for our tastes, but the manual does allow the driver to keep the 2.0-liter in its sweet spots above 2,000 RPM. This makes the car feel considerably faster than the automatic.
From a dead stop, first gear never really seems to allow the engine to get to one of those sweet spots, even when the tachometer is above 2,000 RPM. Once in second, the driver knows what is going on from the faint whine of the turbocharger spooling up and quicker acceleration. Third gear also provides a similar burst of boost under hard acceleration. Fourth gear can also keep the engine in an entertaining spot under high-speed conditions, while fifth and six should be reserved for highway cruising.
The bottom line with this manual is that second and third gear typically do an excellent job at putting a smile on the face of the driver and leaves them wondering if they really are in a Buick product. The key to fun with this car is keeping the 2.0-liter revving between 2,000 and 5,000 RPM, which is easy to accomplish with the manual. While the automatic is not boring, having the ability to force the turbo (pun intended) to do what it does best makes the manual worthy for enthusiasts.
Fun factor aside, the manual also makes for a very easy to drive car. The clutch feel on the Regal Turbo is extremely linear with a great balance of weight. Pedal positioning is also great, meaning you can even heel-toe this Buick if you feel the need.
Shift feel is also good with a fairly "notchy" sensation, but the throws are too long for performance driving. To be fair, the Regal Turbo isn’t intended to be a short-throw performance car, but the upcoming GS model will need to offer less distance between the gates.
Driving in traffic can be a dreadful task with a manual transmission, but the Regal handles it well. The car does not take a tremendous amount of revs for the flywheel and transmission to hit their friction point, so it's rarely ever jumpy during shifts. The only problem spot we found in traffic was when in first gear; going under 10 MPH the engine gets choked up without clutch use.
All Regal's come standard with an electronic parking brake. Despite our initial hesitate of having the unconventional brake with the manual shifter, it works well. We could not find any limiting factor with the combination of the electronic brake and manual, even hill-holds can be accomplished with ease.
Another area of excellence with this powertrain is the fuel economy. The Regal Turbo with the manual sports EPA ratings of 20-MPG city/32-MPG highway, a considerable improvement over the automatic. During our testing we had absolutely no problem meeting or exceeding the EPA ratings. In fact, we averaged as high as 35.1-MPG on one highway trip with the car. We were almost perplexed by how easy it was to get good fuel economy out of the 2.0-liter, even when driving more on the "enthusiastic" side. The EPA has clearly rated the Regal Turbo correctly.
In every Regal review we’ve mentioned the excellence of the chassis that underpins this car. With the base model car we said it almost had too much chassis for the engine. We also said we felt the automatic turbo was a good mate for the balanced chassis. The manual turbo improves upon this combination.
While on an on-ramp going about 45 MPH in sixth, we slipped the Regal down to second gear and found it met with an instant burst of acceleration, wrapping the Regal around the fairly sharp right curve of the ramp. During the entire maneuver, the car never lost composure and body roll was almost nonexistent in the car’s "sport" mode. The Regal chassis provides excellent road feedback and the steering has a nice weighted feel to it that also provides a decent amount of responsiveness. All of those attributes collide to make the Regal Turbo feel lighter-footed than the car's hefty curb weight suggests.
The Regal Turbo has an optional interactive drive control system (IDCS) that allows the driver to select between normal, sport and tour modes. Each mode alters the suspension, throttle response and steering of the car. As we noted in the automatic review, the system really does make a noticeable difference.
The inside of this Regal tester was, well... much like the automatic. However, this model was sporting the black interior, a look that we greatly prefer over the tan. While the tan interior features large amounts of faux wood, the black has piano black finishes in the place of the wood. The black on black combination, with tasteful chrome accents throughout, make the interior look more premium to us.
Our tester was also equipped with the optional navigation system. Unlike every other GM navigation system, the Regal does not feature a touch screen interface. Instead, the entire UI is navigated via an iDrive like knob mounted on the center console. We would prefer a touch screen, though the knob is nice to use to scroll through music on your connected iPod.
Overall we walked away from the Regal Turbo manual thinking that the car is worthy of the consideration of enthusiasts. This vehicle isn't a performance car and while it does have a few minor quirks, it is both entertaining to drive and frugal in its fuel consumption.
As we sit here staring at $4.00 per gallon gas, the Regal Turbo looks like the perfect compromise for enthusiasts wanting a fun sedan with a balanced chassis and manual transmission.
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GMI's 2011 Regal Turbo (Manual) Photo Gallery
2011 Buick Regal Turbo 6MT (German Production)
Base Price: $29,720.00 (inc. destination charges)
Options: TO7 Package
EPA Ratings: 20 MPG City / 32 MPG Highway
Observed Fuel Economy:
Pros: Fun to drive, excellent fuel economy and a great interior.
Cons: Minor quirks with the transmission, weak low end power and no touch-screen infotainment.