2012 Buick Regal GS Review | National Post, Toronto

2012 Buick Regal GS Review


2012 Buick Regal GS
By Graeme Fletcher, National Post, Toronto


Traverse City, Mich. –  Look back at Buick’s automotive names and you’ll find the Gran Sport. It debuted in 1965 as an option on the Skylark, Century, Riviera and Wildcat. In the mid-’70s, Buick shortened it to GS, although it still signified the high-output version of the car that wore the badge. In 1988, General Motors resurrected the GS moniker on the Regal. At first, it was a lukewarm thing that pushed 170 horsepower. However, in 1997, it earned a 240-horsepower 3.8-litre supercharged V6. For 2012, the GS is back and, again, it graces the Regal.


This time around, the Regal GS is differentiated from its siblings by different front and rear fascias, rocker panel extensions and a rear lip spoiler. The differences are immediately noticeable: There are titanium-coloured trim pieces on either side of the larger under-bumper opening. The titanium look is picked up again at the back end, where it frames the exhaust outlets. There is a downside to this glamour, however. The exhaust deposits an unsightly black crud all over the inner edges – it’s not pretty.


Lift the GS’s hood and things are very pretty here – a high-output version of GM’s direct-injected 2.0L Ecotec four-cylinder. In this application, the horsepower rises from the Regal CXL Turbo’s 220 to a more rewarding 270 stallions. More importantly, it is the torque hike that gives the GS its mustard off the line. The CXL Turbo makes 258 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm; the GS twists out 295 lb-ft at just 2,400 rpm. This version of the Ecotec engine cuts the zero-to-100-kilometres-an-hour time to less than seven seconds, which is quick for a four-door family sedan.


The secret to the increased urgency is found in a new 75-millimetre-diameter exhaust system (which reduces back pressure and eases flow) and a reworked turbocharger. Cranking the boost pressure from 15 psi in the CXL to 20 psi for the GS works wonders, and it does not mandate premium fuel. Sure, it’s recommended (and needed) if the engine is to put its best foot forward, but the ability to feed it regular gasoline in a pinch is handy.


From the driver’s perspective, two things come through loud and clear: The increase in the boost pressure quickly spins the turbo up to speed, so there is no lag. The second is the truly tractable nature of the engine – it delivers its power quickly and efficiently over the entire rev range (95% of engine torque is available between 2,300 and 4,900 rpm). It is also quiet and well suited to the six-speed manual gearbox (an automatic will be available early next year). The six speeds are spaced such that one can put 100 km/h on the clock before shifting from second to third, while the lazy top gear delivers desirable fuel economy – the GS is rated at 11.1 litres per 100 km in town and 7.4 L/100 km on the highway.


The GS also benefits from a tweaked version of GM’s Interactive Drive Control. In this case, there are normal, sport and GS modes for the adaptive dampers. The first two modes only alter the damping; the GS setting also puts a little more heft in the steering. The drive route proved, at least to me, that the normal setting is basically redundant – the sport mode has crisper handling without killing the ride comfort, so it is well suited to everyday driving. For more enthusiastic moments, the GS mode is the right choice as the firmer steering brings better feedback. If I had a wish, it would be for the driver’s preferred mode to be remembered when the Regal is shut down. As it stands, the GS defaults to normal every time the car is started.


One of the Regal GS’s few options is an upgraded tire package, with the base P245/40R19 all-season tires making way for a serious set of P255/35R20 Pirelli P-Zeros. These things deliver a ton of grip and serve to maximize the sweetness of the suspension while putting power to the pavement more effectively. More surprising was the total lack of torque steer, with the credit going to the high-performance front struts and the small kingpin angle the modification brings. Even when the throttle is hammered, the GS tracked a true line, so I wasn’t left fighting the steering wheel. The final dynamic touch is found in the use of Brembo front brakes – they add better fade resistance, which is a good thing given the GS’s alacrity.


Inside, the Gran Sport earns a couple of very welcomed upgrades. The first is the deep-dish front bucket seats. They hug without confining and deliver the lateral support needed when the Regal is driven with purpose. The inclusion of a flat-bottom sport steering wheel underscores the GS’s speedier personality. Again, there is a wish – more interior colour choices than the GS-specific ebony.


At the introduction of the GS, Buick made a big deal about the Regal’s intended competitors – the typically more expensive Acura TSX V6, Audi A4, Lexus IS and Volvo S60. Certainly, it has the wherewithal to give all of them a run for their money.


However, the other obvious competitors would be the Hyundai Sonata and Kia
Optima – both also have available turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinders to deliver a spirited ride.


When the Regal lands at the end of October, it will start at $42,345.


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