WARREN, MI – General Motors Co. writes the latest chapter in its effort to revive the Buick brand by unveiling the Regal, a youthful sports sedan expected at dealers in second-quarter 2010.

The Regal bows on the heels of the Buick LaCrosse premium sedan, which launched last month, and joins the 2-year-old Enclave cross/utility vehicle in Buick showrooms. Craig Bierley, director-Buick product and marketing, says Regal similarly will be tasked with winning over new buyers to the brand.

According to Bierley, 50% of Enclave’s customers come from outside the GM product portfolio. In the few short weeks the LaCrosse has been on the market, its conquest business has moved from 11% to 30%.

“And we expect it to go higher,” Bierley tells journalists during a sneak peek of the Regal at GM’s research and development operation here. The auto maker unveils the car to the public later today.

Bierley says the Opel Insignia also should provide some direction for the Regal. Nearly identical to the Regal, the Insignia won European Car of the Year shortly after its launch last year and is drawing buyers out of the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Series, the auto maker says.

And like LaCrosse and Enclave, Regal must attract younger, more affluent customers to Buick showrooms. Bierley again points to the Insignia, whose average buyer is just 36 years old, compared with 70 for the Buick brand prior to the Enclave’s launch.

It would seem the biggest risk to Regal’s success might be its name, which the auto maker used for midsized Buicks between 1973 and 2004. Consumers could associate the new model with the old GM, which received a mountain of bad press as a result of its bankruptcy filing earlier this year.

Not a problem, Bierley says. “If ever there was a performance vehicle at Buick in the past, it was the Regal,” he says, recalling the Grand National and GNX models of the 1980s.

“And I would also say, the name does not make the car, the car makes the name,” Bierley adds, citing the success of the Chevy Malibu using a 45-year-old moniker. “And the awareness of Buick is driven by former Buick names. Regal is one of those names.”

The Regal leverages the same Epsilon II architecture as the Insignia, as well as a Shanghai-built Regal launching now and the new-for-’10 Buick LaCrosse that began rolling out in North America in mid-September.

However, at 190 ins. (482.6 cm) long, the Regal measures 6 ins. (15.2 cm) shorter than LaCrosse and its 107-in. (271.8-cm) wheelbase is 4 ins. (10.2 cm) shorter. At 73 ins. (185.4 cm) wide, the Regal is 1 in. (2.5 cm) narrower than LaCrosse and also sits lower to the ground.

The result is a sporty, well-proportioned vehicle, with wheels stretched to the corners and big fender flares imparting an aggressive stance.

John Cafaro, who recently moved over from GM trucks to become Buick’s design director, says the Regal’s sloping roofline and short rear deck give the sedan a coupe-like appearance. A slightly curved roof ensures rear passengers have adequate headroom.

Key Buick signatures include an updated waterfall grille with the division’s 3-shield badge set in a pedestal for a more prominent appearance, while the hood carries familiar character lines recalling the famous Y-Job concept car from the Harley Earl-era.

The fender flares wrap around standard 18-in. wheels, although 19-in. wheels will be made available with models featuring Interactive Drive Control System chassis technology.

IDCS allows drivers to choose between three settings – normal, touring and sport. Depending on the selection, IDCS alters dynamics such as suspension firmness, steering speed, shift patterns and throttle mapping.

If the car is driven aggressively, whether for enjoyment or to avoid an accident, IDCS automatically adjusts vehicle dynamics appropriately.

Although Regal owes much of its design influence to GM’s European studios, the car still boasts eight cupholders and a number of deep storage pockets.

Seats are firm, well-bolstered for sportiness and benchmarked against top import competitors, GM says. Drivers get an 8-way power seat with 4-way adjustable lumbar support.

All models through at least the first year of production will sport leather seats, as GM will sell only top-of-the-range CXL models until production starts in North America.

The single trim-level strategy simplifies the manufacturing process back in Russelsheim, Germany, which will be the source of the U.S.-market car for at least the first year, but Bierley says it also reflects a trend among LaCrosse and Enclave customers.

Early buyers of those vehicles predominately chose the CXL models. Adding two lower trim levels later also presumably would give sales a lift after the initial hype wears off.

The Regal interior features Buick’s ice-blue instrument panel and accent lighting, as well as a Kibo-patterned trim new to the brand. Kibo is a dark wood grain that lends Regal an “international flair,” GM says.

Powertrain choices will not be restricted to trim levels, although the Regal bows with a direct-injection 2.4L 4-cyl. and a 6-speed automatic with a tap-up, tap-down manual mode. The combination makes 182 hp and 172 lb.-ft. (233 Nm) of torque.

Fuel economy is rated 20/30 mpg (11.8-7.8 L/100 km) city/highway, and a 0-60 mph (97 km/h) sprint takes roughly 8.5 seconds.

In the third quarter, a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. GDI engine arrives. It makes 220 hp and 258 lb.-ft. (349 Nm) of torque, is rated at 18/29 mpg (13.0-8.1 L/100 Km) and hits 60 mph from a standstill in about 7.5 seconds.

“Call it our V-6,” says Regal vehicle line executive Jim Frederico, noting that a 6-cyl. engine will not be made available. “It has nice range on the torque curve, too. Very pleasing.”

The Regal offers a choice of two hydraulic steering systems and GM expects a 5-star crash rating.

GM unveils the Regal at The Palladium Theater in Hollywood later today to some 700 Buick owners, potential customers and a handful of media. The event includes a private performance by rising singer Colby Caillat, punctuating GM’s effort to connect with customers through more grass roots events and Buick’s mission to portray itself as a younger, trendier brand.

Event goers also get a glimpse of a smaller Buick based on GM’s Delta platform, which also will underpin the Chevy Cruze compact car, as well as a “baby Enclave” CUV.

jamend@wardsauto.com