1996 Buick Regal Limited Sedan
1996 Buick Regal Limited Sedan
Click image to enlarge

By Jeremy Cato

Back in 1992, a survey of owners conducted by the Canadian Automobile Association found that 93 per cent of then-Buick Regal owners would repeat their purchase – this despite some reported reservations about the steering, the suspension and wheels, the body and the ignition system.

So why did such an overwhelming majority of owners report a sense of loyalty to the front-wheel drive Regal? Well, the car fit the bill as attractive, roomy mid-size family-type transportation.

That holds true for older Regals today. By older I mean those built prior to the 1997 model year, which marked the latest Regal remake. The Regal itself arrived in 1988, along with two other models sharing the same platform: Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and Pontiac Grand Prix.

Initially, GM sold only a coupe version; a four-door sedan came as an early 1991 model. Coupe or sedan, a big plus for the Regal is interior space. There is comfortable seating for five — three in back and two up front — and six in a pinch. Head and leg room is generous both front and back; likewise for hip and shoulder room.

In the early ’90s, Buick sold several Regal versions: entry-level Custom, Limited and Gran Sport. The essential differences between the three models came down to seat design, trim and features — including engine choice.

1996 Buick Regal Custom Coupe
1996 Buick Regal Custom Coupe
Click image to enlarge

In all cases, the seats are pretty comfortable, though cushioning will have packed down in older cars. Most drivers would find it quite easy to get comfortable behind the standard tilt steering wheel of a Regal. Controls and instrumentation offer some disappointments: they looked old in 1992 and the instruments were unusually small.

GM sold a lot of these cars, so the picky used shopper should be able to find a car equipped to suit any taste. Many cars were even sold with leather upholstery and an up-town sound system, not to mention such things as power seats. Cars with the four-seat interior package (Limited and Gran Sport models) have a rear-seat pass-through to the trunk and rear-seat headrests.

As for the Regal’s chassis: the suspension is fully-independent and delivers a decent highway ride, if a bit soft. Brakes are the four-wheel-disc variety with available anti-lock braking (ABS). There’s a nice, strong feel to the brakes and ABS is a welcome safety feature. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering delivers the fairly light feel that engineers intended.

The standard engine for those early ’90s Regals was GM’s ubiquitous 3.1-litre V6 rated at 140 horsepower and 185 lbs-ft of torque. This engine, mated to a four-speed automatic transmission (the only choice available), lacks the kind of power needed in car this size. When pushed, it really seems to be straining. A larger 3.8-litre V6 arrived in 1991 and initially rated at 170 hp and 220 lbs-ft of torque. My clear preference is for the bigger engine.

By 1993, Buick gave the Regal a new four-speed electronic automatic transmission and some minor styling revisions. In 1994, a driver-side airbag arrived and the base engine got a 20-horsepower boost. In ’95, dual airbags were standard in the revised dashboard. New seats proved to be more comfortable, too. And for ’96, the 3.8-litre V6 jumped to 205 hp.

The Regal’s overall quality has been okay, but among other things a number of transmission issues emerged over the years. Buyers should pay particular attention in that area (see buyer’s alerts), while also following up an a fair number of recalls. Prices have held up pretty well, so you’ll need to look around a bit to find a really good deal.

As older mid-size cars go, though, the Regal is not a bad car at all, if you stick to the 3.8-litre V6 cars.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

Jeremy Cato is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist. He is a columnist and feature writer for the Globe & Mail newspaper and his articles are syndicated to a variety of other publications.

Connect with Autos.ca