Road test: 2012 Buick Regal GS

A Buick … with a stick?

Yes, a double-take was needed on the surprising Regal GS, the first Buick with a manual trans-mission since the 1980s.

That’s not all that’s surprising about this sports sedan with a Buick badge. The GS comes with a high-output 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that can produce 255-horsepower and 295 lbs.-ft of torque. Buick claims the GS can accelerate to 100 km/h in less than seven seconds, yet it’s easy on fuel.

Not since the days of Grand Nation-al, a big engine rocket last produced in 1987 and still cherished and coveted by enthusiasts, have we seen a hard-core sports version of the Buick Regal, yet the GS is a very different beast. It may not have the straight-line power of its forebear, but it’s also a hoot to drive for different and better reasons.

Buick revived its Regal nameplate for the 2011 model year. A mid-sized sedan that breaks away from the traditional Buick mould, the new Regal was born in Germany, as the Opel Insignia, where it garnered a number of major awards, including the 2009 European Car of the Year nod.

The GS rides lower to the ground than other Regal models, it comes with Brembo front disc brakes that provide extra stopping power and 19-inch tires on alloy wheels (with 20-inch option). An Interactive Drive Control system offers three operating modes Standard, Sport and GS. Switching between these modes changes suspension and stability settings, throttle response, shift pat-terns and steering sensitivity.

Drive goes to the front wheels of a body structure that is one of the most rigid in the segment and Regal has a long 2738 mm (107.8 in.) wheelbase. It’s a nicely balanced car with good dynamic qualities and even though the GS has a firmer suspension, it still offers its occupants a comfort-able ride.

The first wave of Regal production actually came from Germany, but now it’s produced at GM’s award-winning assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario. A hybrid-engine version, called Regal eAssist, is also about to be released, while a GS with an automatic is expected later this year.

The aero body enhancements to the GS are tastefully woven into its design, yet fairly extensive. They include unique front and rear fascias, rocker panel extensions and an integrated rear spoiler. Up front it has vertical air intake slots with a satin-metallic finish and a unique grille treatment. Its rear fascia incorporates a pair of cool-looking satin-metallic trapezoidal-shape exhaust outlets. Regal’s overall design profile is coupe-like, even though it has four doors. A front feature on the body is a modern rendition of Buick’s traditional “water-fall” grille with an extra-large Buick tri-shield emblem. A subtle indented character line sweeps up behind the front wheel, carries through the rear door and aligns with the tail light. At the rear, the sloping roofline connects to a short deck with distinctive large, wraparound tail lights.

Racing-inspired interior details in the GS include a flat-bottom three-spoke steering wheel and metal finish sport pedals. It also comes with leather upholstery and a well-bolstered 12-way power-adjustable sport driver seat with four-way power lumbar support. The overall dash design is a driver-centric twin cock-pit layout. The satin-finish accent theme is continued on the interior, including the instrument pan-el, steering wheel and console. The instrument panel also glows white (instead of blue) when the driver engages the GS mode of the Inter-active Drive Control System (IDCS). Other standard features of the GS include passive keyless entry with push-button start, a Harman/Kar-don 320-watt, nine-speaker sound system, Bluetooth, bi-xenon head-lamps.

There’s also front and rear ultrasonic park assist, and a (laptop-friendly) 120-volt power point. While the rear seat is comfortable, its seatback is more upright than usual and headroom is only okay for those under six-feet tall. Although the trunk is a good size, a small rise in the cargo floor makes it awkward to slide heavier items all the way in.

Eight airbags are standard with two additional rear seat side airbags. It also comes with “StabiliTrak” the GM stability control system plus full-function traction control.

Modern automatic transmissions are so good and efficient that you might wonder why automakers even bother with manuals any more – until you drive a car like the GS. The Euro branch of GM has obviously been spending a lot of time slyly refining this one – it’s one of the finest I’ve ever tried in a front-wheel drive car. A higher turbo-boost pressure combined with engine tuning give 2.0-litre engine in the GS more oomph than its counterpart in the Regal CLX. There’s enough to certainly make it a rousing driving experience, without going too wild, and driving dynamics are the core reason that Regal GS is a special automobile. The four-wheel-independent suspension in GS uses unique HiPerStruts up front and active shock damping front and rear, to reduce torque steer and maintains negative camber during cornering.

Torque-steer is the curse of front-wheel drive performance cars and more control and better grip are always good. I was also impressed with steering precision and feedback.

Even the top GS mode is not as radical as an Audi S4 in terms of chassis stiffness, but change in attitude with each mode progression is very noticeable and a great feature.

The 2012 Regal GS takes Buick to a higher echelon, adding dynamic performance to match its striking sports sedan styling … the sporty Buick is back!

2012 Buick Regal GS
Trim levels: GS
Sticker Price: $42,490
Power: 2.0-litre Turbocharged I4, 255 horsepower
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel consumption: 11.1/7.4 L/100 km (city/highway)
Basic Warranty: 4 years / 80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years / 160,000 km
Rust Warranty: 6 years / unlimited km

Audi S4: $53,000 – $59,400
BMW 3-Series: $35,900 – $75,100
Dodge Charger RT/SRT: $38,095 – $48,095
Infiniti G37: $43,400 – $48,540
Lexus IS 350: $44,950 – $51,250
Lincoln MKZ: $38,400 – $42,200
Mercedes-Benz C-Class: $36,700 – $66,900
Volkswagen CC: $33,375 – $46,375
Volvo S60: $38,300 – $50,325

A higher turbo-boost pressure, and engine tuning, give the 2.0-litre engine in the GS more oomph than its counterpart in the Regal CLX. right front 3/4 view
Photograph by: BOB McHUGH