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It was cold and rainy last November when we first drove an early prototype of the 2011 Buick Regal in Michigan. The weather was lousy, but our short time with the car intrigued us. There were far fewer complaints about conditions last month when we spent time with the sport sedan on the famed Nürburgring in Germany – its home turf. As it moves closer to arrival, Buick's newest family member once again showed us its moves in the mountains of Southern California.

We spent the better part of a sunny spring day driving both the normally-aspirated and turbocharged models – each with automatic transmissions – in an attempt to see how the imported European challenger runs on clean and dry domestic pavement. How does the four-door sedan perform in this new arena? Is it tough enough to compete in the mid-size segment? Most importantly, is the Buick Regal good enough to accomplish its goal?

The Buick Regal is really an Opel Insignia that was supposed to be a Saturn Aura, but that's immaterial now. Confusing brand nomenclature aside, what does matter is that a German-made mid-size front-wheel drive sport sedan (built on GM's Epsilon II platform) is coming to North America this year, and it's a true contender.

Following in the wake of the Buick Enclave and Buick LaCrosse, two vehicles that have genuinely put the brand back into the ring, this newest addition arrives with a European design that will turn heads with its fresh, modern styling.

This is a very competitive bracket, so Buick has decided to only to launch premium CXL models for now (an entry-level CX trim will arrive next year and we're holding our breaths for a promised high-performance Regal GS model in the future). Standard CXL models are fitted with a normally-aspirated 2.4-liter DOHC inline-four, and thanks to direct injection, the all-aluminum engine is rated at 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. The mill is mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission (a Hydra-Matic 6T45), which is the only transmission available with this powerplant. The second model, known as the CXL Turbo, features a turbocharged version of the same engine rated at 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. For now, the turbo's standard gearbox is also a six-speed automatic (an Aisin AF40), but a six-speed manual has been scheduled for introduction later this year. All CLX models are also just front-wheel drive (the upcoming performance-tuned "GS" will likely be fitted with all-wheel drive, but no manual transmission).

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