Quick Drive: 2012 Buick Regal GS

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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