As I've often noted, automotive top-10 lists and similar popularity contests can be fascinating things. They don't always reveal what they think they reveal, but they can no doubt tell us something about the people making the picks. Take Time magazine's recent "Best Cars for 2011" feature, which, if accuracy counted for anything, would have been titled "The Nissan Rogue and 11 Randomly Chosen Vehicles That Are Either New or Redesigned for 2011." But even if that had been the case, it's notable that the new Buick Regal was among this diverse dozen, as it shows the division's new-found pop-culture appeal with U.S. buyers, something nearly as important as the quality of the vehicle itself.
The Top 10 Problems with the Time Top-12 List
But first let's pick some nits with the magazine's results.
1. The Scion tC is on it.
3. The prices included in the listings are rounded off to the nearest thousand, but readers aren't made aware of this, and some of the MSRPs are flat wrong. For example, the 2011 Honda Odyssey write-up indicates "Starting price is $29,000." Per Honda, the base MSRP is $27,800.
4. The all-new unibody Ford Explorer, widely seen in the industry as evidence that Ford is giving up on "real" SUVs, is introduced with "Ford isn't ready to give up on the sport-utility segment."
5. That MAZDA2 is lauded for its "handy fifth door in the rear." Isn't complimenting a hatchback for having a hatch a bit like praising a sedan for improving rear-passenger access by having two more doors than a coupe?
6. All the vehicles on the list are powered by gasoline internal-combustion engines, except for the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, which will be available with a diesel'”something that the list fails to mention.
7. The Hyundai Equus is reported as having "an elaborate electronic package." I heard the same thing about Steve Austin (the Bionic Man, not the wrestler, although who knows?).
8. The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee continues to get fuel-efficiency props for an EPA line of 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway.
9. The Buick Regal is called a "good start" to GM's efforts in rebuilding Buick; I guess they missed the Buick Enclave and the Buick LaCrosse.
10. Did I mention the Scion tC is on the list?
Back to the Buick Regal
Buick has attracted 60.7 percent more customers through August than it did during the same period in 2009, and that includes a 66 percent sales jump last month, when most of the industry was headed in the opposite direction. Even the Buick Lucerne is showing signs of life, achieving a 61.5 percent August sales improvement, although it's still underperforming its 2009 results through the first eight months of the year by 6.4 percent.
The Regal? Well, in July, the first full month of Regal sales, Buick dealers sold 1,703 of them; in August, that rose to ... 1,704. Which I'm thinking was a bit of a letdown for the General.
On paper, the new Buick looks like an attractive package that doesn't have too many competitors among other automakers. The Acura TSX is likely the Buick's closest match in terms of specs, except for a major difference in powertrain offerings. Currently, the only engine available on the Regal is a 182-hp I4, while the TSX'”which is noticeably lighter than the Buick'”starts with 19 more horses in its standard four-cylinder mill and also offers an optional 280-hp V-6.
But at least some of that performance differential between the four-cylinder models is set off by the Acura's MSRP, which starts more than $3,000 higher than the Regal's.
The Buick Regal's Real Rival
So, if Buick marketing efforts are successfully changing the perceptions of both customers and critics (like those from Time), and Buick dealers are selling new vehicles that live up to those perceptions, and the Regal offering a surprisingly high-value MSRP, what explains a mere 1-unit Regal sales increase between July and August?
It's simple. Just consider that the Buick LaCrosse offers everything the Regal does and more, at a base MSRP that's only $250 higher than its smaller sibling'”and then consider what customers are likely to do when they find this out.