Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is good enough, good enough?

It's time to shop for a new car. For the next few weeks I'm chronicling my search, reviewing the process, the products, the marketing, the sales experience and the transaction.

Day 7: Chevrolet, Cadillac and (gasp) Buick

There's a lot of pressure on GM right now. Saved from bankruptcy by a massive infusion of cash, it's time to put up or shut up from a product standpoint. No excuses.

The first car I drove yesterday evening was the new Buick Regal. If the folks at GM are trying to change people's mind about what a Buick is, this is a good start. I like the profile of the car, but am not a huge fan of the big grill. The chrome accents are a little too precious for my taste but this is a huge improvement from the Electras and Skylarks of the past. Best of all, no fake portholes.

On the inside this is no Buick. The seats are firm and supportive. The gauges and dash showed restraint and purpose. The monochromatic center console might have been a little too plain, but well organized making it easy to operate all the hvac and radio controls. All in all, a nice package.

On the road the Regal gets mixed reviews. I pulled out from the showroom onto Washington avenue which is under construction and hit a few small imperfections and was surprised by the noise transferred through the suspension. When I turned onto the entrance ramp to I-43 and hit the accelerator, I was disappointed by the lack of thrust from the 2.4 liter ECOTEC. It ran all the way up to 6,500 RPM before upshifting, feeling just a little busy and unrefined.

At cruising speed the car was comfortable, quiet and very pleasant and when I tossed it into the curves on the cloverleaves 20 miles over the posted speed, it dug in tightly with very little body roll. Other than the noise over sharp bumps, the suspension is clearly the best part of this car. No more floating prairie schooner dynamics, just a tight, confident Euro feel. Too bad the rest of the car isn't this good.

Bottom line: Give me a smoother, beefier powerplant with a six-speed manual transmission and I'd seriously consider this car.

Next up was the Cadillac CTS. I like the way the Cadillac looks. I always have. For some reason the bright wheels and chrome accents work here. I like the aggressive styling of the low roofline and sharp angles. It's a design that's held up since it's introduction and they've done a good job of keeping fresh.

Inside the car feels snug in a comfortable way and the level of quality is undeniable. Great seats, a thick beefy steering wheel and an instrument cluster that makes it easy to dial in the information I need.

On the road the Cadillac is clearly a heavier car than the Buick and feels it. Thanks to the V6 it has plenty of power and acceleration. My demo was equipped with AWD and as you would expect it was quiet and smooth on the highway. In the fast corners there was a little more float and roll than I would have expected. I didn't check the suspension package and wonder if there's a more sporting set up available. I hope so.

Bottom line: Everything I expected. Enjoyable but not necessarily fun to drive in this set up. I may have to come back for more.

The Chevy Malibu is getting great reviews and I really wanted to drive the LTZ version. Unfortunately my dealer didn't have one and I'll have to go looking for it. For now I was able to experience an 2LT with the ECOTEC engine and 6-speed transmission with the paddle shifters. I really liked the seat in this car. Excellent side support, nice and firm but the back angle adjustment was the ratcheting type which made finding the perfect angle a little more difficult. The design of the interior is nice. Like the Buick understated and more purposeful than any of my old Chevys. Fit and finish was good, but not best in class. Some of the buttons and materials felt a little cheap and the gaps and transitions between materials wasn't quite as refined as I would have expected.

On the road the Malibu felt more powerful than the Buick even though it had the same engine. It must be the transmission making better use of the power. On the highway the car was louder than the other two, but not unpleasant. Cornering was predictable but a little soft in this set up and not really to my liking. Again, I need to test the LTZ trim and will withhold final judgement until then.

Bottom line: In this trim, it's a good car but not my car.

My dealer was helpful, even if a bit incredulous that I was actually considering such a broad range of sedans. Helpful, not hard sell. A good experience overall.

Each GM sedan was more than competent and I'll be interested to see how they stack up to the cars I'll be driving in the coming days. We'll shall see.


  1. Just say NO to GM unless you still have teenagers in the house and don't want them to drive


  2. Haven't yet seen the Regal in person and am relieved that the fake portholes are gone. I really like the Lacrosse, but the portholes do me in.

    GM product is greatly improved but the bar is so high! Sales seem to indicate that they're close.