Buick began stuffing extra power-producing puff into its engines with turbochargers in the 1970s, culminating in the legendary Grand National models of the late 1980s, but then shelved this power-boosting technology until reintroducing it in the 2011 Regal CXL Turbo.
This General Motors brand, traditionally more associated with overblown middle-class luxury, started fiddling about with turbo-motors in some Indy pace car specials in the mid-1970s and by 1978 had created turbo-enhanced 3.8-litre V-6 engines to power the Regal Turbo Sport Coupe and the little-remembered LeSabre Turbo Sport Coupe.
By the mid-1980s, Buick, unlikely as it sounds, was hunting for an Indy 500 win and in 1985 won the pole and second spot on the grid, the first Indy car powered by a production-based engine to do so since Duesenberg managed the feat in 1931.
Both cars unfortunately failed within 19 laps. But the Buick name would remain associated with Indy racing into the 1990s, although it had unbolted the turbos from its street cars by 1987.
The new European Opel-based Regal was introduced as a 2011 model early last year, initially with a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft torque engine that, while adequate in terms of performance and very good in terms of fuel economy, left you, like Oliver Twist, wanting a second helping when you planted the accelerator pedal to merge or pass.
The turbocharged 2.0-litre four in the CXL Turbo (which arrived later in the year) serves up bigger, but not over-indulgent, portions of both horsepower and torque in exchange for an easy-to-live-with cost premium and fuel economy penalty and transforms the car into something more pleasant to drive overall and more worthy of the pitch-line "sports sedan."
The smooth-spinning turbo-motor produces 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and in typical turbo fashion, most of the latter is available over a broad rev range that peaks at 2,000 rpm. Allied with a quick but unobtrusive-shifting six-speed automatic that directs power to the front wheels, it produces easy drivability in virtually all situations. And plenty of poke when you prod the gas pedal. The non-turbo Regal gets to 100 km/h in the mid-eight-second range, but the turbo manages it in little more than seven seconds.
Despite the extra urge, fuel economy isn't drastically altered. The normally aspirated version gets Natural Resources Canada fuel economy ratings of 10.8 litres/100 km city and 6.5 highway, while the turbocharged model scores 11.5 city/7.0 highway.
Price-wise, a non-turbo CXL starts at $31,990 and the CXL Turbo at $34,990, which when it comes to buying performance is a bargain. Particularly as with the Turbo you also get variable power steering, an eight-way power front passenger seat, shiny dual exhaust finishers, a 120-volt household-style power outlet and Ultrasonic rear park assist.
The Regal has won praise for its taut Euro-flavoured handling but with the Turbo you can enhance this with an optional variable damping suspension and 19-inch alloy wheels shod with P245/40R19 tires versus the standard 18-inch rims with P235/50R18 rubber.
GM calls this system Interactive Drive Control and it allows the driver to select normal, touring and sport modes. It will take a sensitive backside to differentiate between the first two, but Sport mode sharpens things - steering, throttle, transmission response and the suspension - up to a noticeable degree. The car also shifts to this mode from the other settings when it decides you might need it to. Settings can also be individually tailored to suit.
Inside, the Regal Turbo is the same as non-turbo, which means plenty of room for four people with good rear headroom in an understated (by old-time Buick standards) and well-equipped cabin that's quiet at cruising speeds.
The standard equipment list includes auto dual-zone climate control, all the usual power-assisted things, cruise control, Bluetooth, driver info centre with compass and outside temp readout, leather upholstery, tilt steering wheel audio controls, remote keyless entry plus stability control, ABS brakes and plenty of airbags. Out back is a 402-litre trunk.
The test unit was additionally tarted up with a package that included a sunroof, rear-seat thorax airbags, that trick suspension and larger wheels, Xenon headlights and a Harman Kardon Premium 320-watt audio system. Which bumped the final price, before tax, to $41,095.
Buick's rekindled enthusiasm for the turbo has resulted in it twisting up the boost to produce a new for 2012 GS model that ups the 2.0-litre engine's output to 255 hp (10 more than the legendary 3.8-litre V-6 turbo of 1987) and torque to 296 lb-ft. This new-age Grand National will arrive later this year with a six-speed manual, suspension tweaks, Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential and things like racy seats and steering wheel inside.
2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo
Type: Sports sedan
Base Price: $34,990; as tested, $41,095
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 220 hp/258 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.5 city/7.0 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Dodge Charger, Mazda6 GT, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Legacy 2.5GT, Volkswagen Passat CC, Hyundai Sonata 2.0T
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