2012 Buick Regal GS Review | Newmarket, Ontario
By Derek McNaughton, Ottawa Citizen
Buick has for years wanted to produce a car as good or better than the BMW 3 Series, a car known around the world as the benchmark for many performance metrics. Build something better than a 3 Series, the theory goes, and drivers will beat a path to the dealership door.
The 2012 Buick Regal GS is intended to be that car – the BMW alternative, the car that finally sheds the grandfatherly linens of Buick fuddy duddyness for the sleek lines of a modern sports sedan, designed to be as capable as anything produced in Bavaria. Heck, the GS even comes with a six-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. Wasn’t Walter Cronkite anchoring the news the last time we saw a Buick with a manual?
Even the price of the GS is close to BMW’s venerable 328i: Our Regal GS tester cost $43,660 before freight and taxes. The 2012 BMW 328i costs $60 less with an MSRP of $43,600. Straight-line acceleration numbers are close too. The GS will dispense with 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds, the 328i being quicker at 6.1 — despite the BMW having less horsepower and less torque. Chalk some of BMW’s advantage up to weight: The GS weighs 138 kilograms more than the BMW (1,683 vs. 1,545).
So the GS is slightly heavier, somewhat slower than the BMW 328i, and pocket money more. Does that mean we’re done here? Not quite. Buick doesn’t actually admit to chasing BMW for the mid-size luxury sedan crown, preferring instead to say its key competitors are the Acura TSX V6, the Audi A4 Sport, Lexus IS 350, Infiniti G37 and Volvo S60. And while the GS will compare with those models, the 3 Series is clearly the one to catch.
Why else would Buick mount a four-cylinder 2.0L turbo engine delivering 270 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque to a European-engineered chassis? Why would it attach grippy Brembo front brake calipers, a specially tuned front suspension to reduce torque steer, nifty 20-inch wheels (a no-brainer $270 option) and exclusive exterior and interior appointments? Can a Buick really outclass a bimmer?
The GS’s little engine, packing 135 horsepower per litre, certainly works hard to outshine the marque brands. Passing power is fierce. Stiffen the right leg and the turbo will hurtle the car past anything dawdling in the right lane. Because the GS is front-wheel-drive, some torque steer can be felt through the wheel. While it’s easily controlled and only present under full acceleration, it is detectable, something you’ll never notice in a rear-wheel drive BMW. The engine can also sound a little wheezy on start up, but the delightful powerband makes you soon forget the morning throat clearing, pulling hard off the line and equally well once past the legal limit. This is, plain and simple, a Buick that does not like to go slow.
The GS, lowered by 10 mm over a regular Regal, can even attack corners somewhat like its German and Japanese brethren — especially when the driver activates the Regal’s unique “GS mode.” Hit the GS button on the dash and the instrument lights change colour to let you know you’re not in Oshawa anymore. Suspension settings and steering sensitivity are quickly hardened and sharpened for a seriously sporting feel, so much so you don’t want the setting activated when the pavement gets rough. Even the standard setting feels quite firm, proving the GS is a long way from your uncle’s Grand National. The GS mode defaults to standard mode once the ignition is turned off, but left on, it will keep up with just about any Lexus in the bends.
The GS stands proud of other Regals with a unique rear and front fascia highlighted by prominent air-intake slots, bi-zenon HID headlamps, rocker panel extensions and a discreet rear spoiler. The interior gets a specific black look, some satin finish, aluminum pedals, a flat-bottomed leather-wrapped steering wheel and a premium 336-watt sound system with nine speakers, Bluetooth and satellite radio. The GS interior will, however, have a hard time outclassing a BMW, Audi or even the Lexus for that matter. That is not to say the GS interior is boring, it’s just that Audi et al have eclipsed the GS in terms of fit, finish, layout and overall feeling of luxury.
Lacking that kind of interior sophistication, the GS needs something more to give it the competitive edge — say, perhaps, a $5,000 price advantage. The Regal GS now has the engine to compete with BMW, but priced the same as a 3 Series will likely remain overshadowed by the long-reigning ruler of the class.