A closer look at several 2011 vehicles at the Charlotte Auto Show

2011 Buick Regal (Source: Buick)
2011 Buick Regal (Source: Buick)

By Larry Cornwell, Speedracer Syndication
Special to WBTV.com

2011Buick Regal

Price Range: $26,000—$29,000

Engines: 2.4 liter four cylinder producing 182 horsepower and 172 pounds feet of torque, 2.0 liter turbo charged four cylinder producing 220 horsepower and 258 pounds feet of torque.

Feature: First batch built in Germany, optional turbo charged engine.

When Buick was introduced to China recently, it quickly became a huge success with younger buyers there. But here Buick is attempting to lower the age of its buyer demographics. The all-new 2011 Regal which is based upon the Opel Insignia model which is produced alongside it in Germany is key to this plan. Competition for the Buick Regal is the precise Acura TSX and the excellent Volvo S60.

The best way to summarize my short drive of the Buick Regal is to say that there wasn't anything blaringly wrong with it. However, there wasn't anything that really stood out about the Regal either.

Instead of going after younger buyers here, Buick needs to refocus and cater to the senior buyer. After all drivers will be driving at much, much older ages in the years and decades to come. Or Buick could design one model that is the automotive equivalent of the Jitterbug cell phone. Easy access, big door handles, large buttons, large gauges, big mirrors, etc, etc, etc. In other words, "Buick don't be so quick to kick the grey hairs to the curb, I'm just saying"…

2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0

Price Range: $31,000—$42,000

Engine: 5.0 liter V8 producing 412 horsepower and 390 pounds feet of torque

Features: 5.0 liter power, short-throw shifter

After an extended test of the Roush 427R Mustang, it instantly became the bar by which all other Mustangs would be measured. It is also the bar for all American muscle cars to reach for. Finally Ford has brought back the 5.0 liter V8 Mustang, this time with a 32 valve arrangement.

Many of the features first seen on the Roush 427R are now on the 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0. Some of those being short throw manual transmission, stronger brakes, sturdy strut tower brace and over 400 ponies, 412 to be exact.

The 2011 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 is an excellent modern day muscle car, and that is coming from someone who is not a muscle car fan. Its interior is the best in comparison to the Chevrolet Camaro and the Dodge Challenger. Power is true, strong but very refined and surprisingly smooth.

While it is not quite as good as the Roush 427R, for the price it gives it a damn good run for its money. And more impressive is the fact that the Ford Mustang GT 5.0 is actually a good American option not just to the Chevrolet Camaro and the Dodge Challenger, but to the likes of the BMW M3 and the Corvette. Yes, it is that impressive.

2011 Honda Crosstour

WHAT IS THAT!?! Is it a station wagon on stilts? This was my confused reaction when I saw the 2011 Honda Crosstour for the first time. My opinion was no better initially during my test drive of the odd Praying Mantis looking station wagon.

However after a few more miles into the test, I began to see that the Crosstour could win over some drivers. I don't think it is and probably will never be a mainstream vehicle, but it will attract a devoted group of buyers. These are buyers that "believe" that they must be elevated above the height of cars to be "safe". And these are also buyers who believe that they must be always be on the ready to haul cargo.

The Honda Crosstour did not have as much body roll as I expected. Although it could use more power, but what couldn't, its 217 horsepower V6 is enough for most. On the other hand, a fully loaded Crosstour with passengers and cargo, might not be as keen.

The one problem that I ran across was the narrow cargo area behind the folding rear seats. Other than that, the Crosstour could is an option for anyone who wants something else other than a SUV or Mini Van.

2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

Price Range: $23,000—$33,000

Engines: 2.0 liter turbo charged four cylinder producing 210 horsepower and 223 pounds feet of torque, 3.8 liter V6 producing 306 horsepower and 266 pounds feet of torque.

Features: Dynamic styling and high performance levels,  available at a wide price range

Just as it with did the recently introduced Sonata, and the Genesis Sedan, Hyundai has lowered the boom on its competitors again. Ford recently introduced a new 3.7 liter V6 Mustang producing 305 horsepower and 280 pounds feet of torque.

While this is comparable to the Hyundai Genesis Coupes 3.8 liter V6 producing 306 horsepower 266 pounds feet, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe weights nearly 200lbs. less than the heavier Ford Mustang.

Power for the Hyundai Genesis Coupe is much, much stronger than the V6 Mustang. Its steering is more precise and the suspension is crisper than the V6 Mustang. The Genesis Coupes clutch pedal was vague, but the sticks gear engagement was positive.

When compared to the V6 Ford Mustang, the V6 Chevrolet Camaro and especially the V6 Dodge Challenger, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe is the only choice. It is has a shaper style, a more appealing interior and is a much, much better all-around performer.

2011 Lexus ISC350

Price Range: $45,000—$48,000

Engine: 3.5 liter V6 producing 306 and 277 pounds feet of torque

Feature: Secure, folding hard-top

Lighter materials, better hydraulics and quicker computers have made hard-top convertibles just about as common as traditional soft-top convertibles. Personally I prefer hard top phantom tops over old school rag tops. However hard-top models can look ungainly because the folding origami arrangement of the structure.

The Lexus ISC is one such model, with the rear portion of its hard-top looking a bit out of place. This is all forgotten when the smooth operating top is retracted for open air fun. More importantly this look is forgotten when the top is up, which conceals the cabin from the elements and noise much better than any soft top.

As you would expect, noise levels in the Lexus ISC are low. The only problem with the ISC's top is the lack of visibility to the rear.

The 2011 Lexus ISC has quick steering, sharp power and the suspension is comfortable but sporty.

2011 Porsche Panamera

Price Range: $90,000—$134,000

Engines: 3.6 liter V6 producing 296 horsepower and 295 pounds feet of torque, 4.8 liter V8 producing 400 horsepower and 369 pounds feet of torque, 4.8 twin turbo charged V8 producing 500 horsepower and 516 pounds feet of torque

Feature: Four door sedan with space for four adults but performs like a two door

No the Porsche Panamera is not a pretty picture, but this is one model in which this would not bother me. After all, the Panamera is one of the most pampering, comfortable, fastest and best handling full size, premium sedans, PERIOD.

The interior is an awesome combination of luxury, functionality, accented by precision German style. Yes, it is expensive, but when compared to its competition, this price point is justified.

While many will never get an opportunity push their Panamera on a closed circuit as I did, its performance can be felt on everyday streets too, legally. During my track test, I was able to push the full size, luxury, performance sedan to 141 mph on the straight and 132 mph in the curves on a wet Road America race track.

Minus the looks, the Porsche Panamera could be the closest thing to the complete car for the performance enthusiast.

2011 Scion TC

Price Range: $18,000—$21,000

Engine: 2.5 liter four cylinder producing 179 horsepower and 171 pounds feet of torque

Feature: A bit more grown up, but just as much fun as the original

Nothing, books, movies, music or trends are never as good the second time around. In other words, the first experience of something fresh and new will always have a shaper impact than anything else that follows.

The 2011 Scion TC, much like the second generation xB is not as ground breaking as the first. Styled similar to a recent concept car the 2011 Scion TC looks like a bigger, grown up much more mature coupe.

It has good leg room, head room, surprisingly good power with 179 horses. Both the steering and suspension was good for the stock set up. Most Scions are known for their quirky personality, but this TC has enough of everything to satisfy more than the average Scion enthusiast.