2012 Buick Regal GS Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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If every cloud has a silver lining, then the silver lining to General Motors' 2009 restructuring and the subsequent winnowing of its Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer marques would have to be the attention lavished upon what had become the rather sleepy Buick brand. These days, Buick is producing some innovative, exciting cars, and perhaps no single model better illustrates this than the Regal GS.

The Regal GS was introduced to the public as a concept car at the 2010 North American International Auto Show and went on sale in the fall of 2011 as a 2012 model, almost unchanged from its concept specifications (but not quite entirely unchanged - more on that later). Based on the standard Regal mid-size sedan (which is itself based on the front-wheel drive Opel Insignia, and built on GM's Epsilon II platform), the Regal GS increases the standard car's performance quotient with a high-output turbocharged 2-litre engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission (an automatic is available as a no-charge option), plus Brembo brakes and a sports suspension. Inside, the Regal GS gets sport seats and a flat-bottomed sport steering wheel, while outside it adds 19-inch wheels (or available 20-inch wheels), a trunk lid spoiler, and unique front and rear fascias that feature big aggressive air intakes at the front and equally large exhaust outlets at the back.

It sounds promising on paper, and happily the Regal GS lives up to the promise: In person, it's a good-looking car with a planted stance and a restrained but unmistakable aggressiveness, and the driving experience is very nice indeed.

The GS's turbocharged Ecotec inline-4 engine carries the distinction of having the highest specific output of any production engine ever sold, developing an astonishing 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque from a mere 2 litres of displacement, while delivering rated city/highway fuel economy of 11.1 / 7.4 L/100km. On the road it operates with a sophisticated mechanical whirr from under the hood and a happy, but not especially menacing, burble from the exhaust. Open the throttle up and it responds instantaneously, with virtually no turbo lag, rocketing the car forward and challenging you to keep up with the shifts. That's right, my test car had the 6-speed manual transmission, A clean and uncluttered dash gives the interior an elegant simplicity, while a flat-bottomed sport steering wheel adds a little GS panache. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)
and it really did elevate the level of engagement, making for a truly sporty driving experience. The shifter itself has a light action (though the throws were a bit longer than I would have preferred), and clutch action is also light and easy to modulate. Sprints from 0-100 km/h take just under 7 seconds, and the best part of it all is that despite all that power and performance in a front-drive platform, the Regal GS exhibits negligible torque-steer.

Part of the car's success in taming torque steer may be to do with the HiPer strut system, which effectively isolates the steering components of the MacPherson strut suspension from the load-carrying suspension components. Certainly the HiPer strut system results in very precise, crisp handling that feels on par with a rear-wheel drive setup. On the road I found the Regal GS to be taut and tossable, without being punishing. The suspension actually has three settings, with normal, GS and Sport modes adjusting the steering response, damper ratings and throttle response to provide increasingly performance-oriented driving characteristics. Matching the suspension's prowess are the big ABS-equipped Brembo brakes, which develop eye-popping levels of deceleration.

Inside, the Regal GS offers all the pleasant qualities of the regular Regal - which means quality materials with soft-touch across the dash and door uppers, a comfortable and reasonably roomy back seat with 60/40 split-folding backrests, nice-looking instrumentation, a power moonroof, ambient lighting package, Bluetooth connectivity and more - and adds a few GS touches. Some of these touches are unique to the GS, such as the front bucket sport seats and satin chrome accents, and some are features that are extra cost on lesser models, such as the leather upholstery, pushbutton start, and the brilliant-sounding harmon/kardon 9-speaker audio system.

Overall the Regal GS is an appealing package, a civilized luxury sport sedan for those who like their performance but don't need to shout about it. Perhaps the only thing stopping it from being truly spectacular is the one thing promised but not delivered by the original concept car: all-wheel drive. The Opel Insignia OPC, which is the performance version of the Regal's European sibling, features a V6 and all-wheel drive, and while I don't think I really miss the V6 (the turbo-4 is that good), I do think the Regal GS would be an even better car with all-wheel drive.

But of course cost becomes a factor: With a starting price of $40,900 plus $1,495 in destinations charges, the Regal GS already tops the base Regal (which starts at $30,085) by $10,815. In that bracket, the Regal GS is competing price-wise with some pretty well-established sport sedans including the Acura TSX V6 and the Infiniti G25x sedan. Whether it would be worth it to Buick to bump the price even higher in order to realize the incremental gains of all-wheel drive over an already impressive front-wheel drive setup is a good question. Maybe if the Regal GS sells well enough in its current form, an all-wheel drive version is something the company might consider offering us in the future. I know I'd be interested.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Buick, 2012, Regal GS, $40,000 - $49,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Buick

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