Buick’s sassy GS is ‘Regal’ enough for speed queens, styled for a princess
CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer
Who knows what “GS” really stands for in the Buick lexicon? An educated guess would be “Grand Sport,” but I’m voting for “Goes Sonic.” Of course, it’s all relative: A turbocharged four-cylinder engine is only so sonic, but when attached to an expertly-developed European sport sedan, it invigorates the luxury-loving soul. Or something. It’s cool.
With Pontiac rising less like a phoenix and having burned down more like wood structures in a lava flow, Buick had a wider road on which to needle some adrenaline. A high-output Ecotec 2.0L turbo-four, pumping 270hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque, stirs cravings. Choose a six-speed manual transmission (believe that!) or six-speed automatic with Driver Shift control. 0-60mph occurs in 6.7 seconds; you can run all day at speeds that will put you behind bars. Just bring a healthy debit card because the GS rates 19/27-MPG city/hwy. I averaged closer to 24-MPG — appreciably lower than some similarly-sized and comparably-powered, but less pudgy, competitors.
Put that in perspective. The oh-holy Buick Grand National’s 3.8-liter Turbo V6 delivered an “official” 245hp. Its speedier sibling, the GNX, squashed contemporary Corvettes with an underrated 276hp. The Regal GS is playing in the same league with two fewer cylinders, about half the displacement, and two additional doors for family and friends. Imagine what a V6 and AWD would do! Now, that would be Super Sonic (I’ll let Chevrolet borrow that).
Whereas in the old days you’d find a solid rear axle with enough wheel hop to plop your pop, the Regal GS’s chassis is a technical wonder. GS comes standard with Interactive Drive Control, a three-mode system that changes suspension and steering settings for more aggressive driving. “Standard” maintains comfort on rough roads or open Interstates. “Sport” stiffens the suspension and steering for better control. This is my favorite mode for everyday driving and Interstate travel. GS is for enthusiasts who are presumably headed for a smooth track – visit your dentist before pressing that button. To give fair warning, the instruments change from ice blue to white when GS mode is engaged.
All of this wizardry is attached to an incredibly stiff body structure that allows the four-wheel independent suspension and Brembo disc brakes, with four-piston front calipers and high performance linings, to stop the car as if clipped by a freight train. As in other mid-size GM sedans, engineers conjured up the HiPer Strut front suspension to reduce torque steer and improve cornering grip. That’s great, because loading up the front wheels with 270hp is usually like holding the reins of a speeding stallion. Available 200-in. polished alloys with low-profile tires play horse whisperer to tame the turbo’s torque.
Personally I prefer the Regal GS’s spiced up continental style to the muscle boy Grand National’s black brick attire. The body shell is shared with the German-built Opel Insignia. Stamped from what was apparently a solid piece of very elegant Black Forest granite, the Regal’s coupelike design is quite handsome from its chrome Buick grille to large headlights with sinister-angle running lamps, C-slash body surfacing, and sculpted rear deck with spoiler. It looks expensive. Twin exhaust outlets through the bumper and snarling fangs of chrome up front tell fat daddies to back off.
A cabin fit for Fittipaldi awaits sporty gents (and gals). Interior style is very businesslike with controls intelligently placed, but surrounded by lots of high-quality black plastic. Forget woodgrain, much less real wood. Deeply-sculpted heated black leather seats blow the chill off winter while the thick flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel encourages you to heat things up. Audi couldn’t do better.
Controlled through either faceplate buttons and knobs or the console joy wheel, the car’s in-dash navigation gets you anywhere. Audiophiles will exfoliate their ears with the standard 336-watt Harman/kardon 5.1 Matrix Surround Sound system with nine speakers. Go old-school with a CD, stream Pandora Internet Radio, or summon satellites with XM. Bluetooth or USB connect driver’s smart phones to the full-color 7-in. touch screen. Blind spot warnings and rear parking assist keep you from calling Flo.
A friend and I flew the “Goes Sonic” to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show. Even after many hours on the road, the seats, steering, and suspension kept us in good kit. There was always plenty of power to jet past mini-vans and pickup trucks. On the first evening, we attended the premiere of the first-ever Cadillac ATS compact sedan. After the festivities, we handed the valet our claim slip. Two Regals pulled up before ours. Even among Cadillacs, the sporty Buick cuts a swath.
If you don’t like the turbo, Regal also comes in 182hp four-cylinder and 36-MPG eAssist variants. But, that’s for babies. Go Sonic and learn why you won’t soon forget GS.
Price as tested came to $38,155.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.