SEE ALSO: Buick Buyer's Guide
The Buick Regal is being promoted as "the official car of the supercharged family" in recognition of the 240-horsepower supercharged engine in the Regal GS. But most Regals sold are the unsupercharged LS model, and it is the LS that has the most changes for 1999. To bring it closer to the GS, the 1999 LS has numerous improvements. A quicker ratio steering box -- now the same as is used in the GS -- and recalibrated standard fully-independent suspension improve steering response and ride comfort, and handling as well. And a redesigned intake manifold increases horsepower by 5 to an even 200 - competitive with the optional, premium engines of most competitors.
Both the LS and GS benefit from increased chassis stiffness and new, programmable perimeter lighting. A new AM/FM/cassette audio system with "Concert Sound II" amplifier and speakers is standard, while the audiophile-quality 8-speaker, 220-watt "Monsoon" system is available at a very low introductory price. They are cars that can please both the traditional Buick buyer, and younger folks as well.
I recently has the opportunity to spend time with both of the Regals. I'll concentrate on the LS, as the GS enters 1999 with fewer changes and the LS is the more popular model. Either car is a comfortable, premium family sedan with plenty of useful space, and the GS has a very sporty attitude as well. But most families, even "supercharged" on-the-go families, can do perfectly well with the LS. The GS is just a touch more luxurious and sporty, and adds efficient supercharged power.
APPEARANCE: The Buick Regal is conservative but contemporary outside. Its compact, rounded shape is somewhat more complex and aggressive than it appears at first glance. 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 LS has chrome trim around the grille and no lower body cladding; the GS has a blacked-out grille and lower body cladding. There is plenty of styling on either Regal, but it is subtle, not brash.
COMFORT: In standard trim, the Regal LS is somewhat plainer than the GS inside, with fewer standard conveniences and cloth upholstery. But the "GM Buypower" option package on my test car brought it almost to GS standards, with leather upholstery, a power-adjustable driver's seat, automatic dual-zone climate control, stereo controls mounted on the tilt-adjustable steering wheel, and a plethora of other features. Even when so equipped, the Regal is as low-key inside as out. It's not opulent, merely very comfortable. There is plenty of space for its size, and the seats are comfortable enough to take advantage of the car's long cruising range. The automatic climate control system works well, and the Monsoon audio system is a very worthwhile addition, with excellent sound quality. The Regal's interior is meant for use. Instruments and controls are designed and placed conveniently. A shaded area above the inside rear-view mirror reduces glare when driving into the sun. Storage space abounds, with a large, covered box in front of the console-mounted shift lever as well as another towards the rear of the console, a medium-sized locking glovebox, and door pockets. Even rear passengers have cupholders and door pockets. The trunk uses hydraulic struts mounted externally to the cargo area to prevent crushed luggage.
SAFETY: The 1998 Buick Regal LS has safety-cage chassis construction with front and rear crush zones, dual "Next Generation" airbags, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, and traction control as standard equipment.
ROADABILITY: The steering and suspension upgrades to the 1999 Regal LS have tightened up its handling and improved ride comfort. On the road, it is quiet and poised. Its suspension is tuned for a soft, comfortable luxury car ride, but well-damped for control. It doesn't float over bumps, and has good cornering behavior for its purpose. The variable-effort magnetically-assisted steering requires just the right effort. In everyday use, there is now little ride and handling difference between the LS and the GS.
PERFORMANCE: The naturally-aspirated Regal LS isn't as quick as the 240-hp supercharged GS under full throttle acceleration, but in normal, everyday use there is less difference between the cars than might be expected from only reading the specifications. And, the LS is not exactly underpowered. Modifications to its 3800 Series II V6 have increased horsepower by five to 200, which is nearly what the supercharged version made not long ago. Years of refinement have made it smooth, quiet, and remarkably fuel-efficient. The 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission is smooth and unobtrusive.
CONCLUSIONS: Several seemingly small improvements to the 1999 Buick Regal LS have made a good car even better.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 21,695 Price As Tested $ 24,190 Engine Type cast-iron 90-degree pushrod ohv V6 Engine Size 3.8 liters / 231 cu. in. Horsepower 200 @ 5200 Torque (lb-ft) 225 @ 4000 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 109.0 in. / 196.2 in. Curb Weight 3,439 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.2 Fuel Capacity 17.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular - 87 octane Tires P215/70 R15 Firestone FR680 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disk, 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 19 / 30 / 25 0 to 60 mph 7.8 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.0 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.33 OPTIONS AND CHARGES GM Buypower - includes: carpet savers, 6-way power driver's seat, trunk net, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, visor extensions, front and rear courtesy and reading lighting, electronic dual zone climate control, inside and outside electrochromic rearview mirrors, steering wheel-mounted radio controls, 15-inch aluminum wheels, leather interior trim $ 1,310 6-way power passenger seat $ 330 Monsoon 8-speaker 220-watt audio system and diversity antenna $ 295 Destination charge $ 560