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Quick Drive: 2012 Buick Regal GS

Kamil Kaluski March 13, 2012 Buick Reviews 40 Comments

General Motors has been carefully reworking the Buick brand name in order to attract a younger crowd. The Regal fits in between the new small Verano and the bigger LaCrosse, and in the new GS guise is designed to appeal to the younger, usually-import-driving, enthusiast. With images of the badass Grand National and the awesome sounds of its whirling turbo in mind, let’s take a quick look at this new turbocharged Buick.

Outside it’s quite a handsome vehicle. The Regal has retained the sporty looks of the Opel Insignia OPC and Vauxhall Insignia VXR on which it is based, replacing only matte European wheels with polished ones (20” optional polished wheels in pictures, standard wheels are silver 19”). Yes, there are hood vents and fender vents, oversized exhaust ports, and fake brake duct openings, but it all seems to work very well. Good job.

The interior is also a carryover from Europe but things are not as rosy here. First, the GS interior is available only in a gray shade of black, and except for a small trim on the steering wheel and a light gray roof liner, everything is covered in black. The navigation screen is blue and at night the gauges and dash are illuminated in blue as well. To me, black and blue are not sporty, they are dull.

Seated in the very comfortable and supportive driver’s seat you’ll notice a center stack full of buttons. The radio, nav, and some auxiliary switches are all mixed in together, with climate control buttons below that, placed out of the driver’s view. There is an iDrive-like knob controller and an LCD display between the gauges relaying the information but I would require more time with the car to get the full gist of it. The thick steering wheel is wrapped in nice soft leather but the stalks behind are standard GM units.

A more important driver aspect besides the dash layout is the driver’s visibility of the outside world. The Regal GS has somewhat of a high belt-line which results in the side windows being smaller than the automotive average. Still, the biggest offender here is the A-pillar. The Regal needs thicker A-pillars for increased roll-over strength and airbags, plus designers added a speaker and a hefty side mirror to the already limited sight-lines. The result forces the driver to lean forward and look around the pillar or tilt to the side and look out the side windows around the curve.

Right before driving the GS equipped with a manual transmission, one thing becomes obvious: there is no proper manual parking brake. There is a small electronic switch however, which acts like a parking brake and the only way to know that it is engaged is by a little light on the dashboard. It is not ideal and will take some time getting used to.

Once moving, the clutch and shifter require little effort. The gear lever is short but the gates are somewhat vaguely defined. Similarly, the clutch pedal is smooth but lacks a clear engagement point which has me thinking that there is a BMW-esque clutch delay valve installed.

My initial thought while driving the Regal GS was that it reminds me of the Volkswagen Jetta GLI. The Regal felt like it has a little more low-end power (with 295 lb.-ft. of torque, it should) which iss followed by a wonderful turbo whistle noise (you’ll drive like a hoon just to hear it). With 270 horsepower I was expecting the GS to feel a little faster, however. General Motors reps reported that the GS runs 0-60 in 6.7 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.2 at 98mph, both figures being conservative. It turns out that weight is the enemy of the Regal GS, because the car is approximately 3,800 pounds. For comparison, a Jetta GLI is 3,010lbs, the Acura TSX V6 is 3,660lbs, and a Lexus IS250 comes in at 3,440lbs.

Upon initially hearing the Buick Regal GS specs, many so-called enthusiasts/bloggers/journalists cried about the lack of the all-wheel-drive system which is offered on the cars European siblings. After my brief street drive I did not think it was all that necessary. This is supposed to be a comfortable sporty sedan not an STI/EVO/S4 fighter, and it’s perfectly fun and happy with the front wheel drive. An all-wheel-drive option would only add weight, complexity, and a higher price. It would also take away from the fuel economy, which is stated at 19 and 27 mpg.

Few other notes:

  • The GS uses equal half-shafts to minimize torque steer.
  • The specific details of the front struts positioning escape me now but they’re located in a unique way compared to others with respect to the hub in order to minimize torque-steer and wheel hop.
  • Sport and GS buttons effect steering effort and shock absorber setting: Sport turns it up up 20%, GS turns it up another 20%.
  • Conventional open differential.
  • 150mph top speed.
  • Price: Under $35000 for nicely equipped model.

After reading this some will say that I may have been harsh on the new Buick. I think I was being fair and validated my points. The Regal GS is in a highly competitive category. Buyers of entry-level luxury sporty sedans want looks, luxury, refinement, performance, and quality. A snooty badge helps too. The Regal delivers a lot of that but overall it is average at best.

It is pretty though.

  • omg_grip

    its a damn attractive car, from any angle IMO, especially with those optional wheels.

  • dukeisduke

    KK, how was torque steer? Reading your notes, it appears to use Buick's HiPer strut setup:
    http://www.caranddriver.com/features/ford-revoknu

    A picture of the suspension from the front, with the wheel turned to the right, would help illustrate the design.

    • Yes, very nice link, that was it.

      The torque steer was really minimal but it's all in perspective. For instance I've driven a lot of 200+whp Hondas and that torque steer was just really bad, this in comparison wasn't bad at all but anyone used to RWD would feel it.

  • dukeisduke

    I hope the serpentine belt lasts a long time, because it looks it's like a nightmare to replace.

  • I'm thinking the relevant competitors are the Aura dumbalphanumeric, Passat CC and a decked out Subaru Legacy.

    I'd have to drive them all to have an opinion.

  • Alcology

    All those buttons is just intimidating. That dash picture is pretty hilarious to me as it looks like HAL is right in the car waiting to f you over.

    (an edit here: are just intimidating? Either way doesn't flow right to me)

    • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

      With any luck, most of those are redundant items to screen "buttons".

      Tactile feedback, FTW!

  • JayP2112

    Last year at the auto show, the Buick rep kinda hinted there was more to the GS with at least AWD or AWD/turbo 6. It would look good as an A4/3 Series. Maybe that would bite into the Caddy ATS?

    In any case, the sedan looks great but why don't we get a wagon??
    <img src="http://www.kilometermagazine.com/artman2/uploads/1/buick-regal-gs-wagon.jpg&quot; width="450">

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    I wish we could have the VXR8, but we could have a Grand National version at some point. Sullies the GN name a bit, but I'll get over it…like I did with the late-80's (baby) Eldorado and, well, pretty much any other version of that nameplate.

    Oh, and I'm more and more annoyed at humongous A-pillars. They have gone from protecting you if something goes wrong to be a directly-contributing factor.

    I've had vehicle disappear more than once behind the one on my '05 STS. Granted, it's an odd corner, but still. I was aware there was a blind spot there, but I was not prepared for it's size.

  • PowerTryp

    When you said that the nav screen was blue this is what popped into my head

    <img src="http://macenstein.com/default/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/F51AA53D-3E6C-4E0F-8D64300E64C3222F.gif"&gt;

    • Alcology

      That reminds of my favorite bus route "SYSTEM ERROR"

  • While the Regal GS is not really anything I desire, I am glad that GM is providing sporty(ish) Buicks. It will probably take years for young buyers to come around, but I believe they will.

  • OA5599

    Why does a black, turbocharged Buick not have a slushbox? Are we in an alternate universe now?

  • Lotte

    Nice car, not really my cup of tea. A Buick rep at at last-last year's auto show approached me and asked me how I liked it. Funny, I don't look ANYTHING like the people they are trying to target. Anyway, the car looks smaller, and better, in real life. Especially the butt. Such a perky butt.

    • pj134

      The tire fitment is something that may get overlooked, but is very pleasing in my eyes across the board with the Regal.

      Also, as a young Asian in North America, I think you are their main demographic at this point.

      • Lotte

        But they forgot to check my bank account balance : /

  • Alcology

    Over at hemmings, they say the Hagerty insurance has added it to their 2012 hot list of what will be collectible.

  • facelvega

    So, once the new baby Cadillac comes out, the competitors to the 3-series are now the Regal GS, Audi A4, MB C-class, Volvo S60, and about a dozen other cars. Looks like the Regal is not only average, but well below average in terms of the actual market segment. Likeable, sure. But not on my list.

    • There's more than one teir when it comes to midsizers like these. The 3 series, C, ans A4 are all a good notch more expensive.

      Thia competes with Acura, Infiniti, and maybe Subaru.

      • pj134

        I would say it competes favorably with the A4 and base C and 3 though as well. It kind of straddles both tiers.

      • facelvega

        For me the Volvo S60 T5 is the cheap one to beat here. Lieberman and co. put it far ahead of the GS in a recet motortrend article, if anyone here still looks at motortrend. (come on guys, they're trying to hire some fresh blood over there)

  • Fester812

    Barf.

    It looks alright. I mean compared to a lot of other new cars, they pulled it off where others have failed.

    But 3880lbs? That is 100% unforgivable. 500lbs more than an STi and it's not even AWD?

    BARF!

    26lbs of additional unsprung weight per wheel just to make it's struts accomplish something that double A-arm could. What's the point of struts in the first place again? They're lighter and cheaper to MFG than SLA? So let's re-engineer struts to be more expensive and heavier and probably more expensive to maintain.

    BARF!

    You realize you only need Brembo brakes to stop a car adequately because wheels have gotten ridiculously oversized and overweight.

    "Why do you need 14" Brembos?"

    "I need 14" Brembos to stop my 20" wheels."

    "Why do you need 20" wheels?"

    "To fit over my 14" Brembos."

    BARF!

    It's like all the manufacturers are in a race to see who can build the biggest, gas guzzlingest, behemoth that promises to destroy any lighter car that gets sucked into it's wake. Thereby necessitating that all drivers upgrade to the latest behemoth, lest they get sucked in to someone else wake.

    BARF!

    • Impalamino

      So, see you at the Buick dealership?

    • Deartháir

      Cars are getting heavier because we demand more and more safety equipment, and more and more luxury items. My Corrado is about 2700 lbs, and that was REALLY heavy for its day. Now, you'd have to tie it down so it doesn't float away in a strong wind-storm. And what happens when someone makes a car significantly lighter? The public (and internet commenters) complain that it "feels too light", or it "doesn't feel solid".

      • John Nevard

        So.. uh who's this we again? Not customers, because in the absence of regulatory scum and ambulance chasing lawyers customers buying their first new compact car would be happy to buy one which is safer than their old second/third-hand compact car. Customers moving up the size/age range would be happy to buy cars rendered safer by their greater mass. The only problem is the government wasting money on arbitrary 'tests' which give illusions of danger to those with cars that they can still see out of, and illusions of safety to those buying behemoths with worse fields of visions for the driver than most tank commanders have out of a hatch. And thus we get enormous amounts of money wasted by car companies on adhering to absurd 'safety' regulations, rather than genuinely improving their products. But hey.. it's not so bad for them. If a car is so impossible to drive safely that it will be destroyed in an unneccesary 'accident' that wouldn't have happened with sensibly-sized A-pillars, then that car will need to be replaced somehow.

        As for cars that "feel too light".. well yeah, that's what happens when you try to make something that still has some redeeming qualities in the handling and seeing-other-cars-around-you fields. You can't legally produce a safe car that's 80's BMW light- it has to be '00s Jap safety Gestapo light- which isn't the same thing as 'light'.

  • pj134

    I took one out for a spin and I have to disagree a bit. Compared to other cars in it's class that I've driven It outclasses most of them. The only issue I had with it was the amount of wheel spin I could manage in four out of six gears. The braking is rather intense too. I don't know if the press car you drove was beat to hell or what but the clutch on the one I took out had a clearly defined release point, although it was very early and a heavily gated trans. I don't think there is a stick I've driven that I actually had to put effort into shifting but this one took some. The interior, while very monotone, is well designed and the seats are the nearest to Saab level perfection that I have experienced. Really though, the electronic e-brake is a complaint? As it is becoming the norm in that class I think it's a neutral.

    Having also driven one, your review doesn't seem negative, just nitpicky.

    • You need to re-read. Some things you say were my complains were just observations. I said the seats were great.

      In terms of power and speed…. with a 15.2 1/4 mile time don't be drag racing an Accords in your sporty Buick. Fun? Yes. Fast? No.

      I didn't drive this press car like a hoon on public roads so I wouldn't know about wheels spinning, left TC/SC on.

  • Deartháir

    I have now driven one of these, and genuinely liked it. The interior is the sole point that horribly lets the Buick down. The centre stack is terrible. It looks and feels cheap, shoddy and discount. It looks like something that belongs in a Cobalt, not a Regal GS.

    Tim compared it to the Passat CC. Honestly, I don't think that comparison can even be made. The CC is not as powerful (well, unless you opt for the big 3.6L VR6… in which case it's all-wheel-drive), feels more sporty, and has a nicer interior. Strangely, even though the GS is significantly more powerful, it doesn't feel faster. Much the same complaint I have about the LaCrosse, actually. Head-to-head comparo, the LaCrosse is a powerful car, and quite quick. It sure doesn't feel that way though.

    In short though, this is a stunning car. In person, it looks absolutely gorgeous. But sitting inside it, it feels like it's made from leftover bits from the GM parts bin. I have a deep-seated love for hot-rod Buicks, so I want to love this car in sinful ways, but… it disappointed me.

    EDIT: As pj134 pointed out above… GREAT seats though. Damn fine.

  • rwb

    What was wrong with a parking brake?

    • I didn't say there was anything wrong with it… read again, I just said it will take some getting used to.

      • If I'm reading it correctly, the parking brake requires electric power to be engaged. That strikes me as wrong for something that might also be called upon to earn the name "emergency brake."

  • mallthus

    "black and blue are not sporty, they are dull."
    They're not dull if you're a boxer.

  • Buickboy92

    Wow, I love this car so much!!!! 🙂