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By Chris Haak

The all-new 2011 Buick Regal has several pairs of shoes to fill. This rebadged Opel Insignia – the 2009 European Car of the Year – carries the same name as both the 1970s/80s personal-luxury coupe and the late 1980s through early 2000s front wheel drive family car. It also has to help to make up for lost Pontiac and Saturn sales volume, lower Buick’s median buyer age, improve the brand’s standing with consumers, and avoid cannibalizing LaCrosse sales. It needs to be a pretty good car to do all of this, and frankly, even if it is, its prospects for success in the market are still uncertain.

Buick’s marketing folks tell us that the Regal name – which has been absent from the US market for the past seven model years – resonated better with consumers than some other names from the brand’s history. Just think about some other possibilities (Skylark, Century, LeSabre, Electra, Invicta): Regal apparently was detached enough from any negative connotations, yet familiar enough to buyers as to not be considered ancient history. It also helps that the car is already sold in China as the Regal, avoiding the previous-generation LaCrosse (US name)/Allure (Canadian name) situation.

The new entry-level Buick is not an entry-level car in the traditional sense. Yes, it’s equipped with an all-four-cylinder engine lineup (Like Hyundai’s new Sonata), but this German-built sport sedan is coming to the US for its first year in only mid-level CXL trim. In contrast to the hundreds (if not thousands) of color, trim, and equipment combinations available in some vehicles, there are just 13 variants of the 2011 Regal. Once production shifts from Russelsheim, Germany, to GM’s flexible Oshawa, Ontario, plant, additional trim levels will become available.

General Motors has confirmed a base Regal CX for the 2012 model year that will lose some equipment and a few thousand dollars in base price. On the other end, the company just confirmed at this event that the Regal GS (shown in concept form in Detroit this past January) will see production. The GS adds at least 35 horsepower to its 2.0 liter turbocharged, direct injection four cylinder plus additional go-fast goodies, and a more aggressive look thanks to a sport body kit. Depending on how well the Regal is received by the buying public, additional variants are possible; in Germany, the Insignia is available as an estate (wagon) and a five-door hatchback, so building those two additional body styles would be simple if GM sees demand for them. While the Regal enters the Buick lineup as the marque’s entry-level model, the eventual plan is to introduce a C-segment (compact) entrant one size smaller than the Regal.

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