1998 BUICK REGAL LS
Used Car - 1998 Buick Regal LS in Chicago, Il
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1998 Buick Regal ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
Buick turns up the burners.
Just when we thought Buick was committed to unswerving conservatism, along comes a car like the 1998 Buick Regal. With its roominess, smooth ride quality, and long list of features, the Regal embodies the virtues that go with Buick's marketing slogan: Premium American Motorcars. But it also goes beyond this, treading remarkably close to Pontiac's Excitement territory.
This excitement is particularly true of the supercharged Regal GS, which can match Pontiac's nifty Grand Prix GTP stride for stride, sprinting from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds. That's brisk acceleration for a conservative-looking mid-size family sedan. But we're not complaining. And we don't think you will either.
If you have any lingering doubt that General Motors can build dramatically different cars using the same basic chassis, compare the new Regal with the new Buick Century. These two share the same platform (along with the new Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Intrigue, and Chevy Lumina), but aside from dimensions they're about as much alike as milk and champagne.
We wouldn't call the Regal's new exterior treatment exciting (though Buick did depart from tradition by substituting a horizontally barred grille for the familiar chrome waterfall). But it's clean, nicely proportioned and free of excessive bright trim. The GS takes this look a bit further with a body-colored grille.
With this new platform, the Regal is a substantially larger car than its predecessor. The wheelbase is 1.5 inches longer, the front/rear track is 2.5 and 3.3 inches wider, respectively, with corresponding increases in body dimensions: 2.3 inches wider and a surprising 3.3 inches taller. All this adds up to more room inside the car, as well as in the trunk.
The new model is offered in two models: the basic Regal LS and the sportier Regal GS--our test subject. Both are sedans; the coupes have been dropped.
Trim and feature differences notwithstanding, the major distinction between the LS and GS lies beneath the hood. The LS is powered by a normally aspirated version of GM's ubiquitous 3800 Series II V6, rated at 195 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. The GS is motivated by the supercharged edition, with 240 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.
Both engines drive the front wheels through four-speed automatic transmissions, though the GS has a heavier-duty version to handle the extra torque of the supercharged engine. The GS also has 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels with slightly more aggressive tires and firmer suspension tuning. However, the 16-inch wheel/tire package can be added to the LS, as can the handling upgrade, with the Y56 Gran Touring suspension package.
Regal LS starts at $21,495, while the GS retails for $24,240. A GS loaded with chrome wheels, heated seats, fancy Astroroof, premium sound system, dual-zone climate control and other extras can top $26,000.
The Regal is the sportiest of the Buicks, a trait that's reflected inside. Although the controls and instrument panel design look tame compared to a Pontiac Grand Prix, it's pretty daring by Buick standards. An attractive cowling curves over the instrument panel and the dashboard, in turn, sweeps nicely into the door panels.
Major instruments are readily visible through a large, leather-wrapped steering wheel, whose upper half is open to afford just such a view. Optional auxiliary audio controls are built into the upper wheel spokes, and you can honk the horn by pressing on the center of the hub, which houses the driver's airbag.
Regal's bucket seats, covered in leather in GS models, don't offer quite as much lateral support as those in the Pontiac GTP, but offer better comfort for long trips and are a definite improvement over the previous model. Our test car came with optional heated seats, a welcome in the depths of a Michigan winter. We also appreciated the heated outside mirrors, which are standard on all Regals.
Part of GM's formula for winning the mid-size sedan wars is packing in more comfort and convenience features than its target competitors, and the Regal is rolling proof of this.The Regal LS is well-equipped, with dual-zone air conditioning, excellent audio, power windows, mirrors and door locks, antilock brakes (ABS) and low-speed traction control, just to hit the highlights.
The GS is loaded. Rather than detail its contents, we suggest you study the data panel; it'll take awhile, because there's a lot to read. However, one thoughtful item--a warning light to let you know when you have low pressure in one or more tires--does bear mention here. Low pressure is the prime cause of reduced tire life, and can substantially reduce traction, particularly on wet pavement.
Interior room is a major asset of the Regal. There's plenty of space up front, which you'd expect, and plenty of space in back, which you might not. Unlike many mid-size cars, three adults can sit back there comfortably, without territorial squabbles or contortions, and they can do so for extended periods of time. And because the rear seats are slightly elevated, they'll have a good forward view, to help them critique your driving. The center seating position isn't quite as comfortable as the outboard spots, and it lacks a three-point belt, but in general the Regal will shame its import competition for rear seat roominess.
The rear seat also features a center pass-through to the trunk, for stowing longish cargo, and the option of an integrated child safety seat.
Speaking of safety, the Regal stacks up as contemporary, though not outstanding. Besides standard ABS and traction control, it has the required dual front airbags, plus side impact protection and GM's daytime running lamps.
Thanks to its excellent torque, the 3800 Series II V6 that comes on the Regal LS can haul this big sedan out of the blocks in a hurry. But this normally aspirated engine pales next to the supercharged engine that comes on the GS model.
Supercharging adds 45 horsepower to the output of the 3800 V6, but the bigger benefit comes in the form of mass quantities of torque. While the Regal LS comes with 220 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm, the GS boasts 280 pound-feet at just 3200 rpm. Torque is the force you use to get off and running when the light turns green or to pull out for a pass on a two-lane highway; the Regal GS performs both of these tasks with gratifying zeal.
This zeal is habit-forming. Because the Regal GS is so quiet, its power means that it requires some extra attention to the speedometer as the supercharged V6 quickly tows the Regal beyond legal speed limits. Like the Grand Prix GTP, the Regal GS exhibits a bit of torque steer, pulling to one side or the other at full throttle, particularly at low speed. But this trait becomes almost transparent after a bit of familiarization.
Even with its stiffer Gran Touring suspension package, which comes standard on the GS, the Regal isn't quite as athletic as the Grand Prix GTP. On the other hand, its ride quality is distinctly smoother and more compliant.
The variable-assist power rack-and-pinion steering--GM's new MagnaSteer--is accurate and exceptionally quick. Likewise, braking performance is a definite cut above the previous Regal, with good control and pedal feel.
What's going on here? The Regal seems a little out of step with its more sedate stablemates from Buick. In fact, we think it's sportier than even the Riviera, Buick's big two-door coupe.
Then again, who cares? the new Buick Regal is an excellent blend of posh and performance, with plenty of space and lots of features. And the Regal GS joins the Grand Prix GTP as one of the hottest mid-size sedans you can buy.
So maybe it isn't in keeping with the Buick we've all known. We won't tell them if you won't.
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Dual zone automatic climate control, heated seats, steering wheel-mounted radio controls, mirror-mounted map lights, trunk mat.