Trying to radically change your image isn't easy. Just ask Vanilla Ice. Or Buick.
Long known for producing plush, quiet-riding sedans with velour on their seats and portholes on their hoods, Buick is now looking to appeal to a different demographic. And that would be younger folks who'd like an involving — not isolated — driving experience along with modern styling and up-to-date features. As such, Buick's current lineup includes the recently reincarnated 2012 Buick Regal, a midsize sport sedan based on GM's German-engineered Opel Insignia.
For 2012 the Buick Regal GS joins the base Regal and Regal Turbo. As the big jock of the family, the GS is fortified with upgraded hardware that includes a sport-tuned adaptive suspension, 19-inch wheels, Brembo brakes, aggressively bolstered front sport seats and of course the obligatory visual tweaks such as a more aggressive front fascia and rear dual-exhaust finishers. The GS can also be had with optional 20-inch wheels with summer performance tires, which our test car had. Make no mistake; the Regal GS is aimed squarely at certain German brands with circular badges.
As we discovered in a long-term test of the 2011 Buick Regal CXL Turbo, the Regal handles admirably on the road. But even the Turbo lacks the kick a sport sedan should have. So the GS's more potent power plant should take care of that, right? Sadly, no. Although the Regal GS takes corners like a quarter horse, until it hits its stride at 3,000 rpm the GS feels more like a Clydesdale than a thoroughbred. Two factors are likely culprits. First, there's the somewhat hefty curb weight of 3,721 pounds, and then there are the transmission gear ratios that don't do performance any favors, as they are on the taller side for better fuel economy.
That said, the 2012 Buick Regal GS still has plenty going for it — athletic handling, a nice and quiet ride and a comfortable cabin. But we expected more from the GS, given that it's the sportiest of the Regal line. The GS deserves a more sporting powertrain — an engine with more low-end grunt and a slicker manual transmission with lower and tighter gearing would help matters considerably. But as it stands now, we'd suggest cross-shopping this Buick with the Acura TSX V6, Audi A4 and BMW 328i.
With 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, the Regal GS's turbocharged, 2.0-liter inline-4 makes good power. Unfortunately, it's saddled with more than average weight; for example the GS weighs 300 pounds more than the BMW 328i. Even so, the hard numbers aren't bad at all, as we recorded a 0-60-mph time of 6.9 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 15.2 seconds at 94.4 mph.
It's quicker than the Infiniti G25 and the Mercedes-Benz C250. So why are we complaining? It's the power delivery itself, which feels more like a chore than a joy. At low rpm the GS feels a bit flat-footed, and the sensation is reinforced by the six-speed manual with its longish gearshift throws, reluctance to be shifted quickly from 1st to 2nd, and tall fuel-saving ratios.
When it comes to slowing down, however, the 2012 Buick Regal GS feels about a thousand pounds lighter. The strong Brembo brakes and sticky high-performance summer tires worked together to bring the Buick to a halt from 60 mph in just 110 feet at the test track. Pedal feel was firm and progressive, adding a measure of confidence in normal driving as well as during performance testing.
The Gran Sport's greatest strength is its handling. It's very impressive, as the beefy sedan responds crisply and eagerly when you bend it into a curve. Good body control and a flat cornering attitude plus massive grip from the optional Pirelli P Zeros help the GS to snake through the slalom at 68.6 mph. If this means nothing to you, consider this: This Buick Regal is virtually as fast as a Porsche Panamera Turbo S (68.9 mph) through the cones. This is all accomplished via precise steering, with a level of effort that's not overly heavy.
With ample adjustment from the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and driver seat, the 2012 Buick Regal GS easily accommodates a wide range of drivers. Outward visibility to the rear quarters is compromised, however, by the thick C-pillars and sloping rear glass. A rearview camera is not available but front and rear park assist are standard, which considerably reduces the anxiety of parallel parking.
The GS's firm, form-fitting front buckets provide both sufficient comfort for cross-country trips and lateral support while slicing through a section of serpentine asphalt. The rear seats are comfortable for the most part and provide a fold-down center armrest and enough room for a pair of average-size adults. But although the tall seat cushion provides ample support under the legs, the back cushion is rather flat, something those with finicky lower backs may notice on a longer trip. And taller folks may find headroom lacking back there due to the Regal's stylish, sloping roof line.
With a suspension calibrated for handling and the optional 20-inch wheels wearing low-profile high-performance rubber, you'd expect the GS to ride more like a buckboard than a Buick, but happily that's not the case. Over broken pavement and freeway expansion joints, the adaptive suspension performs its magic, providing a supple ride so nary a jolt ever reaches the passengers. At speed on an open highway, the cabin is hushed, with just a slight wind ruffle around the A-pillars.
Although Buick revamped the Regal's available navigation system this year for easier use (it now features a touchscreen interface), the rest of the center stack still comprises too many similar flat buttons. Using the steering-wheel-mounted controls for the audio system is more intuitive than the hunt-and-peck required for the dash buttons, though. And the climate control system is less cluttered and a breeze to operate.
In-cabin storage is a mixed bag, with decent door pockets augmented with a trio of small cubbies in the center console — an open one behind the shifter and a pair of hidden ones under the armrest. Trunk capacity is about average for this segment at 14.2 cubic feet, but it's on the narrow side, so there's less space to stow golf bags than you'll find in most of the Regal's rivals. Should you require more cargo space, you can always flip down one or both sides of the 60/40-split rear seatback.
Design/Fit and Finish
Apart from the odd, vertical air ducts on either side of the grille, the 2012 Buick Regal GS strikes us as handsome. The arcing roof line, rising beltline and polished 20-inch wheels provide an aggressive, crouching stance, while the waterfall grille pays homage to Buicks of the past without looking out of place.
The cabin boasts high-quality materials and a rather serious aesthetic with piano-black trim that's brightened up with splashes of brushed aluminum on the steering wheel and door panels.
Who should consider this vehicle
Shoppers for entry-level sport sedans who are looking for something capable of athletic moves on back roads might not find the Regal GS quite what they expect, yet they'll quickly appreciate the comfort that this Buick brings to everyday travel. In some ways, the 2012 Buick Regal GS hasn't strayed too far from the roots of this luxury brand, but times have changed and so has Buick.
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