2012 Buick Regal GS First Impressions

Years ago, I used to cover weekly cruise nights for the local newspaper. It was an enjoyable gig consisting of hours spent listening to endless stories from friendly old guys who owned Studebakers, Edsels and '57 Chevys.

Muscle-car owners were a different breed, cool guys who subscribed to the Clint Eastwood brand of stoicism – not much rocked their Bardhal t-shirts. But once in a while, a local guy busted his '87 Buick Regal GNX out of storage and rolled into the parking lot, and everyone, even the muscle-car dudes, stared with wistful longing.

Once dubbed "Darth Vader's car", the ominously blacked-out, rear-wheel drive Grand National was, for its time, the fastest V6 vehicle to ever roll off the production line.

Over the years, the Regal slowly metamorphosed into one of the cars most reviled by drivers who live in retirement towns and those populated by recent arrivals hailing from cultures who've only just embraced the skill of driving.

A beige Regal drifting in and out of its lane, 20 km under the speed limit like a leaky barge wallowing off-course, two cottony-white heads peering over the dashboard has long been my personal nemesis. It became a source of great amusement to my friends whenever the familiar droopy beige backside would inevitably appear in my windshield.

But recently, I drove a couple of Buicks that have turned my long-held prejudice on its side.

After driving the Regal CXL Turbo several hundred kilometres to attend a family wedding, I pronounced it the perfect cruiser, sublimely comfortable and infinitely respectable – not to mention stylishly attractive.

The new Regal GS hammers another nail in the coffin of Buick's formerly frumpy image; it’s a genuine performance sedan that's a joy to drive.

Is it the reincarnation of the Grand National, a street warrior returned to defend its legacy?


Instead of a brawny muscle car smoking its rear tires between stoplights, the GS is sleek and refined, with the outline of a premium European sedan. Based on Europe's Opel Insignia, the front-wheel drive Regal GS boasts a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that cranks out 270 hp with 295 lb.-ft of torque.

Outwardly, the GS is distinguished from the Regal CXL Turbo by large front air intakes trimmed with satin-finish metal, squared-off exhaust outlets and a jaunty little deck lid. A closer look reveals Brembo calipers between the split spokes of its optional 20-inch chrome wheels.

Inside, there are GS-monogrammed floor mats, a grippy flat-bottomed wheel, and… a six-speed manual gear shift. That's right. The Regal GS is only available with a manual gearbox. An automatic will be introduced early next year, but GM still estimates that sales should be 50/50.

Seats are upholstered in squishy black leather with substantial bolstering. The seat bottoms are broad, and those narrow of beam may find they slide during hard cornering, but for our drive route tracing the lovely winding shoreline of Lake Michigan, they were perfect.

A lot of work went into creating a suspension that's both compliant and neutral. It features a new "HiPerStrut" front suspension system designed to eliminate torque steer and ensure flatter handling even under hard throttle. Springs are 20% stiffer than in the Regal CXL Turbo, ride height is slightly lower, and there's a fatter sway bar in behind for further stability.

There are three levels of suspension settings, Standard, Sport and GS. Standard is the default setting, geared for fuel economy and daily driving. Sport mode tightens the dampers and adds a bit more liveliness. Selecting GS stiffens the dampers, re-maps the throttle response and changes the steering assist via a variable-effort steering system.

Over the winding roads, we had plenty of time to appreciate the suspension's wonderfully neutral character. It's firm but never harsh – this is a Buick after all. The 20-inch, low-profile Pirellis provide admirable grip, although Michigan's patchwork road surfaces do result in some tympanic droning over the rough stuff.

The GS stays flat through tight cornering, and recovers quickly over crests and dips without squatting or rolling. We loved its tight confident feel. Ditto the six-speed shifter with its tight throws and easy clutch take-up. Pedal placement is less than ideal for heel n' toeing though.

Although the horsepower numbers aren't astronomical, the torque range (peak torque is available between 2,300 and 4,900 rpm) means that the car feels eager and responsive and the power is always right there. Such a broad available torque band also means that 4th and 5th gears are quite useable for leisurely cruising – and helps balance out fuel consumption.

The nice fat grippy wheel feels good in the hands and steering is precise and nicely weighted – if somewhat lacking in feedback.

What's missing is a touch of rumble; the exhaust note is strangely subdued for a sports-tuned sedan. It's another reminder that the GS isn't a reincarnation of the brash Grand National, but rather a refined sporty cruiser for the upper-middle class professional who harbours Walter Mitty-esque dreams of performance driving.

The GS reportedly consumes 11.1 L/100 km during city driving, and 7.4L on the highway – and that's premium fuel.

Available this fall, the GS starts at $42,345 and will be produced in Oshawa's assembly plant.

Review and Photo by Lesley Wimbush/Auto123.com