2010 Buick Regal GS Concept Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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When is a concept more than a concept? When it's Buick's new GS Concept, a thinly disguised performance prototype that's more or less already in existence under GM of Europe's Opel brand. The Insignia OPC is one hot commodity in Europe, so much so that North American enthusiasts in the know have been hoping it would make it across the Atlantic in some application. Prior to Buick getting joined at the hip with Opel (2010 LaCrosse, 2011 Regal), the European brand was the soul reason good cars were coming out of GM's import fighting brand, Saturn, with poorly made Ions and Vues giving way to beautifully crafted Astras and second-generation Vues (the latter an Opel Antara in Europe and Chevrolet or Holden Captiva in other world markets), and frumpy slow-selling L-Series thoroughly trumped by comparatively popular Auras.

Now it's Buick's turn for the Opel treatment, but it goes deeper than that for GM's oldest marque. Rather than just rebadging existing Opels, which was the case for the Astra and second-generation Vue, Buick has an unusual tie-in with GM's Chinese operation, where it actually sells more tri-shield cars than the US and Canada combined and enjoys the prestige of China's best-selling luxury brand. And where North American markets have been waning, the China is growing by leaps and bounds, giving its independent design centre a lot of influence.

Fortunately for us, this influence has been totally and completely positive, with the new LaCrosse, a car that incidentally shares the same Opel Insignia architecture with the Regal, being the perfect example. Whereas the basic chassis architecture and body structure hails from Germany, and drivetrain and styling from the US, the interior is designed in China, where the brand is considered on par with Japanese and German luxury brands and therefore must measure up. It does measure up, and thanks to that it's highly likely that in time North American buyers will consider Buick on par with Lexus and Volvo, at least.

Ok, it'll take more than time. Instead, it'll take more than merely two models that rival the ES 350 and RX 350, Buick's LaCrosse and Enclave. Lexus, on the other hand, has a very full lineup. Not as replete as the lineups over at Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz dealerships, but comprehensive enough to be taken seriously. Cadillac is starting to rival the Europeans for model depth, too, and with the upcoming XTS and ATS models, filling out the top and bottom ends of the luxury market respectively, there won't be many core segments left to fill. Buick has a large car, in the Lucerne, and while attractive on the outside doesn't come close to matching the LaCrosse on the inside, and GM's new Lexus-fighter doesn't have a small car or small SUV at all. It looked like the orphaned Vue would get the nod, ripe for the picking now that it includes a plug-in hybrid drivetrain as part of its offering, or more accurately "included" a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, but this doesn't appear to be taking shape despite the little crossover's premium-like interior. Buick does have a new small car on the way in the new 2011 Regal, however, or at least its smaller than the LaCrosse and only powered by four-cylinder engines.

The Regal GS in these pages is a concept, but don't let that moniker throw you off. Buick needs this car to add flare to its overall brand image, and pull younger buyers into its showrooms, so barring any unforeseen circumstances (and when don't those happen in the auto industry) it's going to happen. Why should you care? Well, first of all it looks really good. A mature sports sedan for younger grown ups. Yes, this car won't have Chevy Cobalt SS fans foaming at the mouth, but it should appeal to Acura TSX owners wanting something with a little more upscale road presence, and it may cause pause amongst Volvo S40 and S60 owners looking for something more reliable. What's more, it could have any import buyer rethinking priorities to support their own domestic economy by purchasing something made in North America. Buick has long delivered reliability, and while the new models hail from three continents it's likely the brand's dependability will continue forth, being that they'll be produced in the same plants its cars have long been built at all along.

Yes, that means the Regal will once again be built in Canada, Oshawa to be exact, and the men and women that make up the Regal team will have reason to be proud if their handiwork results in this special GS model. It's a mix of classic and modern thanks to a traditional ovoid-shaped chrome waterfall grille flanked by near radical aluminum trimmed vertical engine vents, wrap-around-and-over headlight clusters and a beautifully shaped hood with not three- (V6), not four- (V8), but two-hole ventiports depicting the four-cylinder underneath. An abbreviated wheelbase and short, aggressive overhangs make those 19-inch 10-spoke chrome wheels look even larger and more purposeful, while the car's steeply raked rear glass, short rear decklid fitted with a tastefully effective spoiler, gorgeous tail lamps, and rectangular aluminum trimmed tailpipe ports complete the look. There's even a small rear diffuser that actually looks functional! Yes, remember that this is a Buick!

Sure, you say. But Buick has a history, at least over the last two decades, of making performance-oriented models with nothing underneath the metal to back up the styling upgrades, Grand National/GNX and a few others aside. While not quite up to snuff with Europe's Insignia OPC, the Regal GS ups the dynamic intensity beyond the standard Regal. Yes, it maintains the car's fuel economy focused four-cylinder-only agenda, but where the regular Regal will be naturally aspirated when available, the RS gets the same 2.0-litre turbocharged Ecotec engine as found in the aforementioned Cobalt SS, but instead of making 260hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, Buick has it tuned for 255hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, much more fitting of the larger GS and more suitable to an automatic transmission, no doubt an option when available. For the time being, however, the concept uses a six-speed manual shifter. Yes, a manual gearbox in a Buick! The last time that happened was, well, 1989 in the Skyhawk, but that wasn't for performance purposes at all, but rather just because it was cheaper. Yes, I wished it were at least the '78 Regal, a wild and wooly 3-speed manual no less, or even better a '73 Century Coupe Gran Sport (GS) – how fitting that would have been, but alas it was nothing cooler than a Skyhawk, an era the new Buick is likely wishing to put in its past. Just so you know, it's possible to stuff a V6 into the Regal's engine bay, Opel's Insignia OPC actually getting a 325hp turbocharged V6, but the four suits the Regal's image more specifically, which is efficient sport luxury.

On that note front-wheel drive would provide better fuel economy, but we're glad Buick decided to opt for a sophisticated all-wheel drive system for the proposed Regal GS. Pulled from the Saab Turbo-X, this prototype uses the same Haldex torque vectoring system, allowing torque distribution from front to rear and side to side, optimizing power delivery and traction via 19-inch alloy rims and performance rubber.

Putting the binders on will actuate serving plate-sized Brembo-designed 14-inch cross-drilled rotors and four-pot monoblock calipers with more than enough gumption to bleed off speed quickly over and over again, without noticeable fade. Expect all the electronic assistants too, such as ABS, electronic brake force distribution (EBD), brake assist (BA), as well as performance-oriented traction and stability control.

You'll want to be fastened securely in your seat when pushing the GS to its limits, and fortunately Buick supplies heavily bolstered Recaros to keep butt and backside firmly in place, and a nice fat steering wheel to hang onto, with an oh-so-trendy flattened bottom, no less. The Regal GS is also showing GM's Interactive Drive Control System (IDCS) for adjusting adaptive damping, plus modulating throttle, shifting and steering response, giving total control over to the driver. Of course, such systems will tune automatically for those drivers not wanting a DIY experience.

So, will it get built? First and foremost Buick is planning a 2.0-litre turbocharged version of the regular Regal, so that in and of itself makes upgrading the car to GS trim a lot easier. Yet it's the reports from the sneak preview that have speculating publishers running with "2011 Buick Regal GS Revealed" headlines, in which GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told reporters, "We are officially not announcing this today," hinting that it would be announced later.

Something so simple and easy to put together as the Regal GS, and something that could potentially attract a much younger and more enthusiastic owner to the Buick franchise makes sense for the storied brand. All we can hope for now is that the new General Motors is firing on enough cylinders to take advantage of such low hanging opportunities.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Buick, 2010, Regal GS Concept,

Organizations: Buick

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