The transformation of the Buick brand is continuing, as it was recently announced that, beginning with the 2013 model year, the standard powertrain in the Buick Regal will feature GM’s eAssist light-electrification system, first introduced last year on the Regal’s big brother, the Buick LaCrosse. In addition, the highly acclaimed, high-performance Regal GS—initially available only with a six-speed manual transmission—will expand its reach by offering a six-speed automatic.
It’s further evidence of Buick’s newfound ability to introduce fresh new vehicles, keep them fresh, and truly—and finally—begin to carve out its own distinct space in the U.S. market.
The introduction of the Regal eAssist marks an important turning point for Buick, and gives the brand a unique advantage. Consider: Despite the growing popularity of four-cylinder engines in this country, there is still a tendency among some luxury buyers to veer away from I4-powered sedans in the mid- and full-size segments. Of course, there’s good reason for this, too, since most of your basic four-cylinder engines aren’t quite up to the task of providing the performance expected by premium owners, and they haven’t necessarily been able to counter that issue by delivering notable increases in fuel efficiency.
The four-cylinder 2011 LaCrosse, for example, was rated at 19 mpg city/30 mpg highway/23 mpg. That’s actually a pretty impressive accomplishment, but the result was a car that didn’t really excel in either performance or fuel efficiency. However, today’s LaCrosse delivers two very distinct driving experiences in the entry model, offering drivers a chance to enjoy either a 303-hp V-6 with continuously variable valve timing and direct injection or an eAssist powertrain that’s capable of 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway/29 mpg combined—that’s a full 26 percent increase in combined fuel efficiency over the previous I4 powertrain. Buick then played its trump card by eliminating the non-eAssist four-cylinder from the LaCrosse entirely, and making the V6 and eAssist setups both standard—although technically, the bigger engine is one of those no-cost options. Simply put, the LaCrosse no longer even offers a non-premium engine.
Starting in 2013, the case is the same for the Regal. Again, the I4-only base model has been discontinued, leaving the Regal family to boast three premium powertrain choices—the eAssist setup and 220- and 270-hp turbos—and no weak-sauce engines to sully its lux reputation.
To see how this plays out, we can compare the Regal to the Lexus IS sedans. Regardless of the specs on the Lexus IS 350, the base model in the lineup relies on a “standard” four-cylinder engine that adds almost 2.5 seconds to the 0-60 time of the up-level sedan while returning EPA marks of 21/30/25; the entry-level Regal eAssist can reach 25/36/29, for advantages of +4/+6/+4.
The short answer here is “yes.” The LaCrosse with eAssist went on sale in October and has been responsible for 2,582 sales in the past four months, representing a bit over 14.8 percent of all LaCrosse deliveries; more important, though, is the fact that the “take rate” for the powertrain has climbed in every single one of those months: In October, as inventories were ramping up, about 7.3 percent of LaCrosse buyers opted for eAssist; by last month, that rate had reached 19.5 percent.
At the same time, overall LaCrosse sales, which had endured some slippage in 2011 and finished down by 4.4 percent for the year, rebounded into the black in both December and last month.
Those sales figures aren’t much to brag about, but they do bode well for the Regal with eAssist and the all-new 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco, which gets the powertrain as well.
The other big powertrain news for Buick also should lead to higher sales for the brand, since the addition of an automatic transmission to the Regal GS should greatly increase the number of folks able to drive one.
Now, Buick certainly took a risk by launching its hi-po halo car solely with a six-speed manual transmission, and if the brand’s goal by doing so was to re-establish itself as a purveyor of “driver’s cars,” the tactic certainly worked. As reported earlier this month by Autobytel, the Regal GS was named the affordably priced vehicle most likely to become a future collectible by Hagerty Insurance—a leading insurer of classic cars—and the presence of a stick was specifically mentioned as a factor.
On the other hand, manual transmissions are clearly on the endangered species list with fewer than 10 percent of the vehicles currently sold in this country offering manuals. While the number is higher among performance entries, a Regal GS with an automatic is sure to gain volume.
That’s particularly the case here, because we’re talking about a new unit designed by Aisin and specifically tailored just for the GS. The six-speed automatic with Driver Shift Control is yet another no-cost option, delivering the same sharp 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds and the same strong EPA ratings of 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway.
More details on the 2013 Buick Regal lineup will follow in the near future, so stay tuned for the latest information.