Buick Regal

2011 Buick regalGeneral Motors’ 2011 Buick Regal is a lightly reworked, front-wheel-drive, midsize sedan based on the European Opel Insignia. For North America, Regal was benchmarked against the Acura TSX, and it also will compete with the Mazda6, Volvo S60 and Volkswagen Passat. There will be at least four Regal trim levels: CX, CXL, Turbo and high-performance GS. A 182-horsepower, direct-injection, four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode power the standard models. Pricing starts at $26,995 and can run to about $32,000 with extras, such as rear side air bags, power sunroof, navigation system, and a comfort and convenience package. Standard equipment includes remote locking, automatic dual-zone climate control, leather-trimmed seats, split-folding seatback, eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar, tilt-telescopic steering wheel and seven-speaker audio system. The Turbo ($29,495) is powered by a 220-horsepower, 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder with twin-scroll turbocharger. 

If there are Buick owners who have always wanted a European driving experience, Regal will be their car. The suspension is on the firm side, but not rough. And because the chassis is quite strong, the car is capable of very athletic driving, particularly the Turbo. I pushed both models through backcountry corners and switchbacks and barely coaxed a whimper from the 18-inch, Michelin Pilot MXM4 all-season tires. The Turbo uses 19-inch Goodyear Eagle RSAs. Power from the 2.4-liter, non-turbo engine is responsive for around town driving and interstate cruising. Passing power can feel a little thin, but the six-speed automatic gives easy downshifts with just a squeeze of the accelerator. The cabin has above average headroom — 38.8 inches and good backseat legroom at 37.3 inches. An accommodating seat height allows comfortable entry and exit. The backseats have a comfortable seatback angle and good thigh support. Window-seat occupants can share a wide, fold-down armrest with covered storage and cup holders. Trunk space (14.2 cubic feet) is square and accessible, with a modest liftover height. The Regal in China is being bought by those as young as 28 years old, Buick says, compared with an average age in the upper 60s in the United States. 

Ford Mustang

2011 MustangAlmost a complete re-engineering of the 2010 car, improvements in the 2011 Ford Mustang are readily felt and enjoyed. It has new engines and transmissions, another refinement to the rear suspension, and more attention to the quality of assembly and alignment of parts and pieces. The new car — coupe or convertible — is tight, refined, smooth rolling and quiet. There is no more rear suspension clunk when going over a bump and the doors don’t clatter when slammed shut. Larger four-wheel disc brakes, 12.4 inches at the front and 11.8 inches rear, apply with surprising finesse. Sports-car enthusiasts will harrumph at the reworked, rear solid-axle suspension, but it is compliant and keeps the tires in contact with the road as if it was four-wheel independent. Go ahead and push it through a corner, the rear end does not skip sideways. The optional 19-inch Pirelli PZero Nero tires have an attractive sidewall that enhances the styling stance. Although the tires will be pricey to replace, they are worth it.

The Mustang has very usable trunk space, the backseats fold and there really is some legroom for backseat passengers. Sightlines over the hood and over the shoulder are also better than Chevy Camaro or Dodge Challenger, and Mustang offers an optional back-up camera and video screen embedded into the rearview mirror. And Mustang’s 33.8-foot turning circle leaves the competition making four-point turns to catch up.  With the new six-speed automatic, the V-6 convertible has EPA fuel-economy ratings of 19 miles per gallon city and 30 highway, the coupe has better aerodynamic proportions and is rated 19/31. With the new six-speed manual, the ratings are 19/29 for both body styles. Depending on the climate in your region, recommended oil changes can be up to 10,000 miles. At nearly $36,000, the test car was pricey, but somehow the improvements to quality and drivability made it seem like a smart long-term, reward purchase. 

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet makes a lasting impression with its elegant lines and beautiful engineering. The redesigned model updates and replaces the previous CLK convertible, as the new E-Class coupe replaced the CLK hardtop. The four-seat Cab uses the versatile and robust platform that underpins the E-Class coupe and sedan. With the top up, the car is as quiet as a hardtop. The four-seat, rear-wheel-drive E Cabriolet is sold in two trim levels with two engines, each backed by a seven-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel shifters and sport and comfort modes. The E350 — with 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 — has a starting price of $57,725. The E550 — with 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8 — starts at $65,675 and it can rise to $76,000 with popular options that most users will appreciate.

2011 E550 MercedesThe E550 has a commanding V-8 engine tone, and 391 foot-pounds of torque pours out rich and full bodied from 2,800 to 4,800 rpm. Fuel economy is 15 mpg, city; 22 highway. The V-6 model has fuel economy of 17/26. With the top down, airflow is breezy, but the standard AirCap system greatly calms the cabin by raising a windshield-header wing and a mesh windscreen, which rises several inches from the rear headrests. The E550 also comes with heated and cooled seats. Mercedes also adds the Airscarf, which with a push of a button will blow warm air at up to three speeds from the base of the headrest. On cool drives, the warmth feels like a neck massage. The top, which can be opened or closed in 20 seconds at speeds up to 25 mph, stows in a compartment behind the rear seats and trunk. When the roof is up, the panel between the top-stowage area and the trunk can slide to boost trunk space. Even with the top down, there is plenty of space for soft luggage. The wide span of the side glass allows good sightlines over the shoulder, and a rearview camera gives 180-degree views when easing out of cramped parking situations.
 
Scion tC Coupe

Scion tC Coupe: wide, powerful, nonconformist. Toyota’s cool-car division Scion recently previewed the 2011 tC, a three-door hatchback. The 2011 model addresses some customer concerns while maintaining its edgy essence. Owners wanted better brakes, more horsepower and more backseat room. They got all three, plus improved fuel economy, more standard safety features, more audio horsepower, wider tires and transmission upgrades to a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed sport-shift automatic. Pricing, $1,300 more than the 2010 model, starts at $18,995 for the manual, $19,995 for the automatic, including the freight charge from Japan. Buyers can add a range of factory options and 45 accessories and TRD performance parts, with more to come.

2011 Scion tC CoupeThe new model has the same wheelbase, length and height as before, but it’s 1.6 inches wider, which allows decent space in back for 6-foot-tall passengers. Though classified as a five-seater, the center rear seat is narrow and perched but with a head restraint. The power train, braking and steering are strengths of the redesign. The tC is now powered by a 180-horsepower, 2.5-liter four cylinder, or 19 hp more than the 2.4-liter it replaces. Fuel economy improves to 23 mpg, city; 31 highway — manual or automatic. The new car is quicker, too. The manual will dash to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, the automatic in 8.3, which is faster than last year by 0.6 and 0.8, respectively.

The six-speed manual is the smoothest I’ve tested in this class of car. The automatic is accommodating with easy double and triple downshifts. The driver seat has manual height adjustment, the passenger’s does not. The front sport seats are bolstered but not restrictive for comfortable entry and exit. There is no adjustment for lower back support, and some drivers may want that while taller drivers may wish for a tad more thigh support. Sightlines are good over the hood and fenders, but over-the-shoulder views are hindered by the wide rear-window pillar. The cargo area is wide with what looks like enough room to carry a bike with the front wheel removed. I doubt the new styling — something like a mini Dodge Charger — will kill the buzz, but the size definitely will give the tC wider appeal.