Buick’s fast 1965-74 GS (Gran Sport) muscle cars were far more luxurious than some rivals. The 2012 Buick Regal GS revives the “GS” name in fine style.
This time around, though, the mid-size GS is a fast, handsome rival to foreign sedans from Audi and Acura.
The new Regal GS has a decidedly European feel because it was largely engineered by General Motors’ Opel unit in Germany. It thus has a taut, supple ride, confident handling and a refined demeanor.
The 2012 Regal also is offered with an 182-horsepower four-cylinder, which makes it feel a little underpowered, and a turbocharged 220-horsepower four-cylinder. The GS has an advanced engine that easily outdoes those motors.
The old GS models had big V-8s, but the new GS has a two-liter four-cylinder overhead-camshaft engine with direct-injection and a turbocharger. It generates 270 horsepower and an impressive 295 pound-feet of torque, with 95 percent of torque available between 2,300 and 4,900 rpm.
Dialing up the turbo boost pressure and such items as direct fuel injection and a three-inch-diameter exhaust system help provide higher engine power.
The smooth GS engine delivers the highest specific output of any production engine that GM has ever offered. At 135 horsepower per liter, it’s the most “power-dense” engine ever certified by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
The result is an 0-60 mph time of 6.2 seconds and neck-snapping torque when you put your throttle foot down. Not bad for a fairly large sedan that weighs 3,710 pounds.
Estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. Premium fuel is recommended, but Buick says regular-grade fuel can be used.
Standard is a surprising item for a Buick—a six-speed manual transmission. It works with a light clutch and generally shifts smoothly. However, I found it’s fairly easy to shift into third gear instead of into first if I wasn’t paying attention when moving from a stop. Also, the shifter occasionally made it difficult to quickly find the right gear when downshifting.
Don’t want to shift? Buick says a six-speed automatic transmission with driver shift control becomes available “mid-model year.”
Still, I’d opt for the manual transmission because it fits the generally European feel of the Regal GS, although a fair amount of shifting is needed for the best performance under certain conditions. Fifth and sixth are strictly overdrive gears. Third gear is best for 65-75 mph passing and for quick merges into fast freeway traffic. Third also is most useful for in-town driving.
The all-disc Brembo brakes of the Regal GS haul it down swiftly without drama, and the ride is supple—although some sharp bumps can be felt.
Steering is quick and precise. A rigid structure and an all-independent suspension with raised spring and stabilizer bar rates help make handling quite good. And a stability control system with integrated traction control helps keep the car on the road if a driver overdoes it.
The Regal GS has front-wheel drive, but I detected no torque steer off the line, at least on dry pavement. Buick says a unique High Performance Strut front suspension design reduces torque steer and improves grip and cornering power.
A bonus is a standard Interactive Drive Control System, which adapts damping and other driving functions to drivers’ preferences.
The system’s Standard mode provides all-round performance with comfort characteristics for routine driving. Push the dashboard Sport button and you get a firmer level of suspension damping and reduced body roll, although I noticed little difference between it and the Standard mode. But select the GS mode and you’re ready for enthusiast-level driving. It changes the suspension settings and steering sensitivity.
The Regal GS sure looks the part. It’s slightly lower than other Regal models for a sportier stance and has unique body color front and rear fascias. The front one has prominent vertical air intake slots. The rear fascia has a pair of extra-large integrated “satin-metallic” trapezoidal exhaust outlets.
There’s also rocker panel extensions and a rear spoiler, along with aggressive-looking 19-inch (or optional 20-inch) spoke alloy wheels.
The well-equipped Regal GS has an upscale cabin with satin-finish elements on the instrument panel, steering wheel and console. The quiet, well-equipped car’s interior also has leather supportive sport seating, heated driver and front-passenger power seats and front and rear ultrasonic parking assist.
There’s also a push-button start and a harman/kardon premium 336-watt 5.1 Matrix Surround Sound system with nine speakers and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
But there’s a large number of small dashboard control buttons that can be difficult for a driver to use quickly. Tall passengers behind a tall driver will want more legroom. And the center of the rear seat is too stiff for comfort. The console bin is small, but all doors have storage pockets.
Safety features include eight air bags, including frontal and side-impact bags, rear-seat thorax side-impact bags and head curtain side-impact bags.
Options include a power tilt-sliding sunroof with sunshade.
The large trunk has a low, but rather high, opening. Rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat for more cargo room, although the pass-through area from the trunk to the rear seat is only moderately large.
The hood opens smoothly on a hydraulic strut, but some fluid filler areas can be hard to reach because they’re at the back of the long engine compartment.
As with the old Gran Sport models, Buick is after younger buyers with the Regal GS. It promises to capture quite a few of them with this car.
Pros: European feel. Slick look. Fast. Agile. Supple ride. Standard six-speed manual transmission.
Cons: Lots of shifting sometimes needed. Small control buttons. High truck opening. A bit tight behind a tall driver.
Bottom Line: A surprisingly good, and less costly alternative to top foreign sports sedans.
Dan Jedlicka has beeb an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.