2012 Buick Regal GS Review | Toronto Star

2012 Buick Regal GS Review
2012 Buick Regal GS
By Jil McIntosh, Toronto Star
TRAVERSE CITY, MICH.- At one time, Buick was a powerhouse. It raced in NASCAR and turned out beauties like the scared-cat-fast 1987 Grand National GNX, but eventually faded into boring mediocrity: it became the last car you bought before your final ride in the big black wagon.
All of that changes with this fall’s release of the Regal GS. It’s the saucy top-liner of the Regal trio, alongside the anemic 2.4 L four-cylinder base model and the better 2.0 L Turbo.
The GS shares the 2.0’s turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine but with extra turbo boost and a freer-flowing exhaust, coaxing 270 horsepower instead of the plain Turbo’s 220 horses, and an impressive 295 lb-ft of torque to the Turbo’s 258 lb-ft. It’s the power boost the Turbo needed to be competitive as a sports sedan. Buick’s challenge now is to get buyers’ butts into the comfy sport seats of the GS.
The six-speed manual transmission that’s optional on the Turbo will be the only choice when the GS first comes to market. A six-speed automatic – which will include manual shift mode that glaringly lacks steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles – will be coming sometime next year. Time will tell if releasing them together might have been a better idea: while purists denounce autoboxes, the reality is that many buyers prefer them, even at the sports sedan level.
The GS comes in a single trim level at $42,345, which includes heated leather seats, sport steering wheel, aluminum pedals, Brembo front brake calipers, premium stereo, bi-xenon headlamps and parking assist beepers. But that’s pricey compared to some of the models GM is specifically targeting, such as the Acura TSX, where $41,890 will get you the highest Tech Package trim line with 280-hp V6 engine, navigation, backup camera, leather seats and xenon lamps.
Far less powerful, but also less expensive, are Audi’s 211-hp A4 – $39,700 in all-wheel-drive, while the Regal is strictly front-wheel – and Lexus’ rear-wheel 204-hp IS250, starting at $32,900. And although GM dislikes the comparison, the top trim level of the 2.0 L turbocharged Hyundai Sonata offers 274 horsepower, leather seats, navigation, backup camera and panoramic sunroof for $34,199.
Still, enthusiasts may find the price difference acceptable once they get behind the wheel. I didn’t think I’d ever say this about a Buick, but the company has nailed the sporty-refined driving experience.
A sports sedan isn’t about brute strength. It has to be balanced, and the GS is among the best I’ve driven for that. The power is right for the car’s size, it stays flat and composed around hard corners, it feels lithe and agile, the brakes bite firmly, and the smooth operation of clutch and shifter rival anything its competitors offer.
Much of its ability comes from upgrades to the regular Regal chassis, including a lower ride height, 20 per cent-stiffer springs, larger rear stabilizer bar, unique steering calibration, and high-performance front struts that keep more of the tire patch gripping the asphalt on corners. These HiPerStruts, as they’re called, also reduce torque steer, the tendency of a front-wheel-drive car to pull to one side on acceleration. They work so well that the Regal feels as level as a rear-driver.
The default setting is for Comfort, which provides a ride that’s pliable but not mushy. The computer-activated damping controls tighten up in “Sport” mode, but I prefer the “GS” setting, which gives weightier steering feel, quicker steering and throttle response, and a more buttoned-down suspension. The surprise is that while all of that increases the driver’s fun factor, the ride remains smooth and comfortable for passengers. I just wish it would stay in the chosen Sport or GS mode once the car is restarted, instead of automatically returning to Comfort mode.
Fuel consumption is higher than on most of its turbocharged four-cylinder competitors, though, topped only by cars carrying V6 engines. Premium gas is recommended.
Appearance-wise, the GS departs from the Regal Turbo with stylish vertical front air intakes, unique trunk lid and square exhaust tips tucked cleanly into the rear fascia. Portholes, a traditional Buick styling cue from 1949, have been reduced to cheesy chrome squares on the hood and should be scuttled.
Inside, the sport seats have the right combination of support and squish, and the flat-bottom steering wheel looks great, but the plastic-heavy centre stack looks far too plain for the price.
And if Hyundai can take a car that’s almost $9,000 less and put pictures in its LCD cluster, why am I looking at a Buick information screen that’s one notch above dot-matrix?
All in all, though, this new Regal has what it takes to get cross-shoppers looking over from the Japanese and German showrooms. It won’t appeal to the strictly go-fast crowd, but it hits the buttons for those who like refined power.
Find a twisty road and it will tackle it with confidence; drive to work on Toronto’s mean streets and you’ll barely feel the broken asphalt. The glory days may well be on their way again.
2012 Buick Regal GS
PRICE: $42,345
ENGINE: 2.0 L four-cylinder turbo
POWER/TORQUE:  270 hp, 295 lbs.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION:  (L/100 km) City 11.1, hwy 7.4
COMPETITION: Acura TSX, Audi A4, BMW 328i, Hyundai Sonata 2.0T, Infiniti G25, Kia Optima SX, Lexus IS250, Lincoln MKZ, Mazda6
WHAT’S BEST: Near-perfect balance, comfortable ride, good looks
WHAT’S WORST: Plain dash, low roofline makes rear-seat access tough for the tall
WHAT’S INTERESTING: It’s based on an Opel but built in Oshawa
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