SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide
The newest version of the Buick Regal remains as the company's performance car, and is both the same and different when compared to the car it has replaced. A long production run meant that the previous generation Regal matured into a high-value car with plenty of comfort, convenience, and performance features. But time, technology, and the competition march onwards, and quickly. The 1997 1/2 Regal has the same strengths as its predecessor, and takes advantage of the latest manufacturing technology to improve on it.
Two trim levels of 1997.5 Buick Regal are available. In keeping with Buick's focus on mid-to-near-luxury level automobiles, the old base Custom model is gone, leaving only the well-equipped LS and premium GS. These front-wheel drive cars are powered by the much-lauded 3800 Series II V6 engine. The normally-aspirated LS is the contemporary mid-sized family Buick. The supercharged GS is a Buick-style family sports sedan, with additional performance and subtle stylistic differences.
Both varieties of Regal benefit from an upgraded, more rigid chassis structure that now features one-piece body side stampings. This makes for more precise handling and lower noise and vibration levels. The new Regal is slightly larger inside and out, and was designed to attract younger buyers than the previous version while still appealing to the traditional Buick customer. I just spent a week with a 1997.5 Regal GS, and was impressed by its comfort and performance. It had enough room for airport taxi duty for visiting relatives, and handled the local highways and byways with ease and comfort. Supercharged power meant no problems when merging or passing. It may nor have been quite as quick in the quarter-mile as an old Regal GNX, but I'll take the new one's 4-wheel antilock disc brakes and Gran Touring suspension when the road gets interesting. The new Regal should keep both old and new Buick customers happy.
APPEARANCE: The latest Regal is contemporarily conservative outside. It is slightly larger than the previous Regal in every dimension, but doesn't seem so because of its compact, rounded shape. That shape is somewhat more complex and aggressive than it first appears. A slight reverse curve to the fender line below the passenger cabin shows kinship to the larger Buick Park Avenue. The raised center of the hood blends back to the passenger cabin, and then into the short, high trunk with interesting curves. The undercut rear panel with a full-width, wraparound taillight panel is descended from the XP2000 show car of a few years ago by way of the Riviera. The GS has a blacked-out grille and contrast-colored lower body cladding; the LS has chrome trim around the grille and lacks the cladding. There is plenty of styling on the new Regal, but it is subtle, not brash. COMFORT: The inside of the 97.5 Regal GS is characterized by the same tasteful conservatism inside as out. Darker material on the upper doors and the top of the instrument panel keeps glare down, while light-colored door panels and the lower portion of the instrument panel gives a spacious feeling. The extra space is no illusion, as all interior dimensions have been increased a bit. Softly supportive leather- covered, power-adjustable, heated front bucket seats, and a contoured bench seat ensure comfort for all occupants. Those in the rear get a fold-down center armrest with cupholders and storage, and both seat and door pockets. The driver has a tilt-adjustable, leather-wrapped steering wheel and faces an uncluttered instrument panel that places all important gauges and controls within easy reach. The area above the rearview mirror is shaded for protection from glare. There are useful storage spaces in the doors and console. All expected comfort and convenience features are standard, and a short list of options can make the Regal GS as well-equipped as many "near luxury" imports at a significantly lower price.
SAFETY: The 1997.5 Buick Regal GS has safety-cage chassis construction with front and rear crush zones, dual airbags, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, and traction control as standard equipment.
ROADABILITY: The Regal GS is the sporty Buick. Its fully- independent "Gran Touring" suspension is somewhat softer than what is usually expected in a sports sedan, and combines the ride comfort expected by Buick customers with good maneuverability. The Regal GS an enjoyable car to drive. It isn't -- and isn't meant to be -- a boy- racer canyon-carver, it's an American businessman's express.
PERFORMANCE: The supercharged 3800 Series II V6 gives the new Regal GS civilized performance. It has the torque and instant power and of a larger naturally-aspirated engine when needed, without the fuel economy penalty of that larger powerplant. Unlike some turbocharged engines, there is no lag between throttle application and response. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly. The Regal chassis is relatively light, so acceleration is very good.
CONCLUSIONS: Underneath the respectable, conservative family sedan exterior of the 1997.5 Buick Regal GS is a very sporty car . Why should family cars be boring?
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 22,945 Price As Tested $ 25,600 Engine Type supercharged pushrod overhead valve V6 Engine Size 3.8 liters / 231 cu. in. Horsepower 240 @ 5200 Torque (lb-ft) 280 @ 3600 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 109.0 in. / 196.2 in. Curb Weight 3520 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 14.7 Fuel Capacity 17.0 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires P225/60 R16 Goodyear Eagle LS Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent tri-link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18/28/21 0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 15.5 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.33 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Prestige Package $1,060 includes: electrochromic inside mirror, 6-way power-adjustable front seats, trunk convenience net, dual-control automatic air conditioning, steering wheel-mounted radio controls, rear window antenna 16-inch chromed aluminum alloy wheels $650 heated front seats $225 CA/NY/MA emissions $170 Destination Charge $550