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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

2011 Buick Regal CXL, an AW Drivers Log

impression: Not a cushy car.
Second impression: Thank God!
It takes a little adjusting to get the driving position just right in the 2011 Buick Regal, but that's a good thing compared with past Buicks in which it didn't really matter how the seat was adjusted as long as it was as soft and as wide as a BarcaLounger. That's just the first clue that this is different kind of Buick.
Then there's the refinement in the powertrain, the taut suspension, the steady steering and overall feeling of solidity that says this is something else altogether. Thankfully, the General Motors guys on this side of the Atlantic didn't feel the need to mess with the good German engineering that GM's Opel boys put into the car. It's probably a little more insulated and isolated from the road than an Opel Insignia, but on stateside roads, that's a blessing. The car is still a good driver, so they couldn't have done too much to it. I was particularly pleased that the little four-banger motors along happily at 80 mph without any need for extra accelerator and gear kick-down to keep the speed steady.
I really like the handsome exterior, which looks surprisingly sporty and strong without being overdone. And I already mentioned my take on the interior, which is plenty comfortable without being a couch, and is well laid out and functional. I could see where some buyers might find the interior space confining and the view out the rear window limiting, but I think the car's better points outweigh those negatives.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I was impressed. This is a good-looking, taught, controlled midsize sedan, the best Buick I've driven. The Regal was supposed to be the new Saturn Aura, and it would have made an excellent new Aura. Whether traditional Buick customers will like this car remains to be seen, and I suppose it doesn't matter since presumably Buick is after a whole new customer--read, younger. The car is firm with good body control but won't beat you up, and the steering felt spot-on to me. And Buick's traditional quietness is here as well--it's a perfectly pleasant car on the highway with low road/tire noise and a quite nice interior.
I've read reports elsewhere that say the car is underpowered, but I don't see it. I thought even with this base powertrain the power was good, and this is a nice, smooth engine and transmission combo. One thing I kept thinking as I was driving this was what a slick wagon it would make.
NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: I came across a couple of older-model Buicks during my night in the Regal, and I couldn't help but think of how different this car is compared with some of its recent predecessors.
The cabin blew me away. It feels more like a cockpit, and the dark materials and silver trim look like something found in a German sports sedan, which really is what the Regal is. Even the concave doors with the fighter-jet like handles looked great. Everything felt nice, and the navigation was clear, colorful and showed precise street-level mapping. The four-gauge cluster was easy to read and elegant, and this is the first car I've been in recently that is absolutely worth every penny of its sticker.
Drooling in the cabin aside, I was quite taken with the driving abilities of this car. The suspension is sporty and controlled, yet still comfortable enough to damp road intrusions adeptly. There's little dive in braking, and the car is flat in curves and turns. The body feels taut, sinewy and toned in aggressive maneuvers. The steering offers immediate feedback and impressive weight through the sporty steering wheel. I was able to make precise lines and hold the Regal on course over expressway moves, and it really made me want to drive this car fast.
The I4 is respectable. I dialed up more than 5,500 revs when passing a semi and all of the horses were needed for flogging this car. The engine is strong through the band to redline and offers solid acceleration from launch. I chirped the tires on more than one occasion and greatly enjoyed it. This is the most fun I've ever had in a Buick. Give me the turbo I4s--especially the top-of-the-line GS.
The exterior styling is elegant and sporty. I like the Opel Insignia blades in the doors, and it's understated yet nicely done. There's some nice bling with the brightwork on the grille and trunk. I really like the silver Buick shields too, which have been in use for a few years. It's classic yet contemporary.
This is the first car I've driven in awhile that my 28-year-old brother and my 70-year-old father would equally appreciate, though for different reasons. Good thing GM kept Opel.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: I have to agree with the statement about this being the best Buick I've ever driven. However, maybe that's because it began life as something other than a Buick. As mentioned above, this was supposed to be the next Saturn Aura, but we all know how that story ended. With the jettison of Saturn, GM was left to find a new home for it in North America. The benefactor ended up being Buick, which is certainly good for the brand.
From a drive standpoint, this car is stellar. The ride is buttoned-up with a suspension that keeps the car comfortably planted around town over bumps and potholes, while being more than up to the task of keeping it stuck around corners when pushed. In my opinion, this is one of the best-handling front-wheel-drivers on the market. It's very impressive with the combination of body composure, steering response and cabin isolation.
I was let down by the engine. With only 182 hp to move around this 3,600-pound car, the engine feel slightly overburdened when you're romping it. It's not deadly slow, but I would like to see power in the low 200-hp range like the Acura TSX to make it feel a bit more spirited off the line. I'm sure the Regal GS will do a lot to squash my complaints later on. Shifts from the six-speed automatic were, however, fairly quick.
Another strike I'm going to give the Regal is the interior. No doubt, it was going to be the Aura and development was probably too far along to change things up more and maybe put some better-looking controls and switches in it to make it look like a Buick instead of a Saturn. It's still nice in there overall, but coming after the interior Buick did for the LaCrosse, it's a letdown. Sure, the Regal is supposed to be a more entry-level vehicle than the LaCrosse, but still. A few more luxury touches would be appreciated.
Finally, there was an odd noise coming from behind the center stack during my night. It would only happen when I turned right from a stop or a slow roll. With the wheel cranked right and when you accelerated through the turn, you would hear an odd buzzing noise, which would stop once the wheel straightened up. Weird, and it only did that in that situation, not when you turned left and not when you were going faster.
2011 Buick Regal CXL
Base Price: $26,995
As-Tested Price: $31,780
Drivetrain: 2.4-liter I4; FWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 182 hp @ 6,700 rpm, 172 lb-ft @ 4,900 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,600 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 23/23.4 mpg
Options: RL6 optional equipment including power seat adjuster, front passenger, eight-way, four-way lumbar, power outlet, ultrasonic rear parking assist, power sunroof, rear airbags, premium audio with navigation, nine speakers ($4,785).

2010 Infiniti G37S Convertible, an AW Drivers Log

evening drive in the summer with the top down is one of my favorite things to do, and the G37 convertible was the perfect vehicle for a top-down drive home from the movies last night. A simple one-button actuation is nice-no flipping of locks or anything. But in looking at the top's operation and realizing all the servos and electronics that make a folding hardtop possible, one wonders whether you should ever keep the car beyond its warranty period. Man, it looks complicated.
And you also give up the sturdy chassis that is the foundation of the G37 coupe. There's plenty of cowl shake and chassis vibration to let you know this is no fixed-roof coupe.
But this is a good-looking car, and the benefits of a folding hardtop instead of a traditional ragtop are many: warmth, security, quietness. The obvious downside is the highly mechanical operation.
I also continue to marvel at Nissan/Infiniti's method of storing radio stations. It seems as if every other manufacturer on the planet does its presets on the same frequency: AM, FM or Sirius/XM. Not Nissan and Infiniti. Nope, you can store an FM station and an AM station right along with four satellite channels. I'm sure this would be less annoying if you lived with this car longer and got used to it, and maybe even this would be a plus. But I find it annoying when I'm trying to go between a couple of AM stations looking for a traffic report only to switch from AM to XM or FM with no idea of how to get back to where I started.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Here we have yet another hardtop convertible--they are all the rage nowadays. The BMW 3-series convertible, the Volvo C70 and the Lexus IS-C all have gone the hardtop-convertible route with mixed results.
From a styling standpoint, designing a rear deck to cover these large and heavy three-piece tops is a challenge, which I believe the Infiniti pulls off the best by far, followed by the Volvo. The Lexus is the ugly duckling of the group. When you look at the Infiniti, the lines all flow together fluidly and maintain good proportions. This results in a car which looks really good both with the top up and with it down.
As with any convertible, it would be foolish to expect it to drive as tight as a fixed-top version. Losing a B-pillar is tough to overcome, but the G37 convertible does it admirably. It boasts decent reflexes when you dive into turns with responsive steering and strong, grabby brakes to scrub off speed. The important thing to remember is that this thing weights more than 4,000 pounds, and a lot of that weight is placed high in the car. Take that into the account, and it's pretty impressive how well Infiniti has made this convertible handle. Do the chassis and cowl shake? Yeah, but it's not horrendous or anything.
The suspension is stiff and does crash over larger bumps, but the smaller road imperfections are soaked up without a problem. With the top up over the big bumps, the roof does clink, clank, rattle and crash a lot. It's not the most comforting sound to hear, in all honesty.
As we know, Nissan/Infiniti's V6s are always strong with good pull throughout the revs and sound good whenever you put your foot into it. The six-speed manual shifts smoothly enough, but I'm not real high on the clutch. The pedal is a too springy for my liking and take-up is abrupt.
Inside the cabin, the plastics are all of good quality and the silver trim along the center stack and doors looks cool. Backseat legroom also isn't half bad and an adult could manage back there for short trips. Trunk space is also generous with the top up, which came in handy for a Sam's Club trip that saw me pack in four cases of drinks and a few other smaller items.
For those looking for a luxury hardtop convertible, I would have to say the Infiniti is my pick. However, if you don't mind a ragtop, I would advise you to check out the Audi A5/S5 cabriolet.
2010 Infiniti G37S Convertible
Base Price: $47,815
As-Tested Price: $50,035
Drivetrain: 3.7-liter V6; RWD, six-speed manual
Output: 325 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 267 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,099 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 19/15.5 mpg
Options: Navigation package including touch screen, DVD video playback, 3D building graphics and Birdview, lane guidance, speed-limit advisory, streaming audio via Bluetooth, satellite traffic and weather, restaurant ratings, Infiniti voice recognition, 9.3GB music-box hard drive ($1,850); R-Spec high-friction brake pads ($370).

2011 Jaguar XK Coupe, an AW Drivers Log

is one of the more beautiful cars on the road today. It is instantly recognizable as a Jag, which is a good thing considering the terrific design heritage the company has. The XK continues with that reputation.
In writing about other Jags, I've voiced my displeasure with the touch screen interface so I won't belabor the point again here. I will say the iPod interface was seamless. It worked as advertised, and the sound system in the XK is terrific. And the nav system, available through the touch screen, is easy to use. But it is a bit difficult to view in bright daylight.
The V8 is nice and strong but while driving, I kept thinking how much more engaging this car would be with a six-speed manual. Jag is all about luxury, so maybe the right option would be a dual-clutch setup to engage the driver a bit more.
The XK looks terrific, delivers a pleasant ride and has outstanding curb appeal. This car makes people stop and look at it.
MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: The XK symbolizes Grand Touring: Attractive, classic lines, a good amount of power, great sounds and an excellent blend of sport and luxury when it comes to the ride/handling balance.
Speaking of the design, several people went out of their way to approach me to say how much they like this car's appearance. It's hard to disagree with them.
The V8, tuned to sound like the roar of a large jungle cat, gets me every time, but I'd like this Jaguar to come standard with just a little more power. However, it does have plenty of get up and go, and probably more than a lot of buyers ever feel the need for.
The steering is on the overboosted side, but not so much that you feel disconnected from the road. In damp conditions, be judicious with the throttle to avoid the rear end from coming loose, because it does not take much for that to happen. It's easy to catch, though, and you can provoke the same action in the dry if you feel like tossing the car around. The relatively compliant suspension makes the XK easy to control at all times.
If I owned one of these, I think I'd see about having the rear "seats" removed. It's the same way I feel about Porsche 911s. Seriously, what's the point? OK, you might be able to cram someone back there for a short emergency trip, but I'd rather just jettison the weight. Then again, that probably wouldn't look very attractive when you were done.
I was surprised to discover that even though this car features Bluetooth connectivity as well as an iPhone jack, it does not feature voice dialing. (Unless I missed something, but I even read the manual and didn't see any instructions for such a function). That makes placing calls a pain, and the lack of functionality is out of place on a luxury car that costs this much money.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Even after a few years on the market, this car is still stunning to look at and people at the gas station still approached me to take a gander at it. Last year it received the updated 5.0-liter V8 which delivers good punch, sounds great and is hooked to a quick-shifting ZF automatic gearbox. Downshifts come at the perfect time and the manual gear select function isn't half bad either.
As Mac said, the steering is a little too boosted and could use a touch more heft to improve feel, but it does make placing the car where you want and when you want quite easily. The aluminum intensive chassis is tight and is light on its feet sitting on a well tuned suspension.
Also echoing what has already been said above, the car is more grand touring than sport. So comparing it to a BMW 6-series or a Mercedes CL-class is more fitting than, say, a Porsche 911 and there's nothing wrong with that. It is good looking, has a good amount of performance, while mixing in luxury and comfort.
How could it improve? Yeah, a manual or a dual-clutch gearbox would help raise the excitement level some, but I would only want to see that in the XKR version which is supposed to be the more performance oriented feline. Keep the base XK and supercharged XK the way they are because they're close to being ideal in grand touring terms, minus the interior's touch screen interface which saps up precious time from your life and requires pinpoint accuracy.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR-AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: I think this might be the best Jaguar ever, for its fine balance between a pure luxury car and a capable sports car. The car is quick, and feels light enough both through the steering wheel and the seat of the pants to give you the impression it's a lightweight sports car. At the same time, there's enough plush leather and trim in the interior and enough refinement to the exterior styling to reassure that this is a marque that knows a thing or two about taste.
While I don't mind the cool rising shift knob, I yearn for a proper Jaguar J-gate shifter instead of knobs and paddles, but that's a small complaint in the big picture. This is one special cat.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I agree, this XK is as close to the definition of grand touring as you'll get: Silky body, decent power, sounds good and a nice ride/handling balance. I too got attention when I stopped at a store to run in quick. Everyone loved its looks. Thanks to the 85 hp boost it got last year the car is quick enough for me and nicely balanced but I agree with Morrison that the steering could use a dial back on the boost.
I liked the interior and have no problem with the knob shifter thingy--don't miss the J-gate at all, in fact I never liked it much anyway. The only thing that keeps turning "liked" the interior into "loved it" is it's just a tiny bit tight in there. Then again I ain't getting any skinnier.
I thought the $83,000 sticker wasn't bad, either.
2011 Jaguar XK Coupe
Base Price: $83,000
As-Tested Price: $83,000
Drivetrain: 5.0-liter V8; RWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 385 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 380 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,651 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 19/18.6 mpg
Options: None

2011 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited, an AW Drivers Log

This is the Outback that I have been asking for! Once I got into the driver's seat and noticed the clean center stack--with a navigation unit!--I knew I liked this model even better than our long-termer. The absence of a nav in our Subie has been the one thing I've considered lacking, so this short-termer completes the package for me.
I'm not a fan of the bronze paint, but the great sheetmetal is still there. And all of the legroom, headroom and cargo space remain. The drive and handling are solid, and I didn't notice any of that violent jerking the transmission in our LT Outback has exhibited. The brakes are strong and easily bring the car to a halt, and they aren't overly sensitive in stop-and-go traffic.
I became a fan of Subie's crossovers with our LT Forester last year, and that favor continues with the Outback. It's a great grocery getter and around-town runner, sure. But to me, the Outback is meant to travel. And whether it's just a weekend ride or a longer jaunt, this is a great vehicle in which to do that. With the addition of the nav unit, and the easy-to-use sound and climate systems, all you need is some open road and/or a destination.
NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: I'm continually impressed with the Outback, and this one upgraded in handsome trim is no exception. It's like our long-termer--but with nicer options. The interior sees the most significant differences, where the leather and wood-colored parts are sharp and pleasing to the touch. The deep blue background sets it all off. As Cindy noted, the nav is a smart addition, and this unit is colorful and informative. The leather wrapped steering wheel feels luxurious and is a nice interaction point for the evenly weighted steering. The demeanor of the Outback is one of its better characteristics. It feels solid and buttoned-up in corners, and I much prefer this feel to taller SUVs. The seats are comfortable and adjustable, and the road view is excellent.
This boxer-four is a decent powerplant. I would take a few more horses underhood, but this wagon is not underpowered by any means. The AWD is great in typical Subie fashion. The brakes are strong, though they can feel grabby at times, giving the feeling like you're in a bit of a panic stop. Overall, this is an excellent family hauler. I wish our long-termer had some of these options.
ASSISTANT ART DIRECTOR/DESIGNER TARA KLEIN: I typically fear that once I like a current vehicle, the following year's model will have some alterations that I don't approve of. I am a firm believer in the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I know this is not the exact car that in our long-term fleet; there are some different features and specs, but I was still concerned the overall feel and comfort would change. And I was right. Luckily I found the Outback has evolved into something even better and more adaptable to drivers of all types.
Comfort and visual appeal are still of paramount importance. The seats provide great support and coziness, and the amount of legroom and storage is still generous. Wood and metal trim grace the curves and lines of the elements inside, creating a modern look. The center console is well lit, and I like the red backlit controls. This Outback is equipped with a back-up camera and a navigation system, which scored major bonus points for me instantly. The dash cluster is still well composed, being simple, clean and easy to read.
The touch screen controls for the radio had me concerned at first. Most of my experiences with touch screens involved finicky buttons that were just too small to target. But this screen is extremely easy to navigate and use.
The solid, sturdy, utilitarian stance is still present. Bumps and other road blemishes were no problem for the Outback to absorb during my commute, and it still has power when tackling expressway traffic. The exterior is still simple, clean and sensible. I'm not convinced the rusty bronze color suits it, however.
So I suppose I'm wrong. The 2010 wasn't broke. Some features of this 2011 got fixed up. And I like it.
2011 Subaru Outback 2.5i Limited
Base Price: $29,520
As-Tested Price: $32,515
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter H4; AWD, continuously variable transmission
Output: 170 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 170 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,564 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA): 25 mpg
Options: Option package 08 including power moonroof, navigation system including voice-activated controls, auxiliary audio port, rear vision camera, satellite radio, auto-dimming rearview mirror, CD/DVD player, Bluetooth ($2,995)
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