From its beginnings as a concept car at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show, the 2012 Buick Regal GS has held the automotive world captive. It's a turbo Buick Regal, and that brings to mind the old G-body Regals with its big turbo, rear-wheel drive and box-it-came-in styling.
But the 2012 Regal GS is also a thoroughly modern, turbocharged Buick with a 255-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection, variable valve timing, a six-speed manual transmission and straight-off-the-boat European looks that should get every red-blooded car guy, for perhaps the first time in his life, to take a serious look at Buick.
And that's exactly the point.
Building a Better (Handling) Buick
We could mention here that the 2012 Buick Regal GS is showing up with a knife to a gunfight. That the 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T comes with a turbo, not to mention 25 more horsepower in a package some 300 pounds lighter. That the Regal, at 3,710 pounds and 255 hp is another bloated Buick.
But that would be ignoring a little thing called control. If you're in this fight, do you want the gun without a handle, or a firm grasp on the knife?
The 2012 Buick Regal GS will be available only with a six-speed manual transmission when it arrives in the second half of 2011. A six-speed Aisin automatic will be available later, but when the fever is hottest for this new Buick, the only model squatting low over its 19- or 20-inch wheels will have three metal-covered sport pedals.
Opting for those 20-inch wheels gets the discerning Buick driver 255/35 Pirelli P Zero high-performance tires, while 19s receive 245/40 Goodyear Eagle RSAs. And whichever alloy rim you opt for, they'll be encircling 14-inch ventilated disc brakes with four-piston fixed Brembo calipers in the front and 12.4-inch ventilated discs with single-piston sliding calipers in the rear.
It's got the right transmission, wheels and brakes, so there was no way Buick would fit a Sunnyside Acres Retirement Villa-spec suspension on the new Regal. Right? Right.
Up front are MacPherson struts, coil springs, a direct-acting stabilizer bar and hydraulic ride bushings. Out back is a multilink independent setup with stabilizer bar. The Regal GS — and other Regals with the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 — is equipped with Buick's Interactive Drive Control System (IDCS). This is a fancy name for driver-adjustable damping and steering assist. The latter of which is (shock!) hydraulically actuated.
More often we're seeing these variable-effort steering units with electric assist, as it creates less drag on the engine and thus, better fuel economy. But with estimated EPA economy of 19 city/29 highway mpg with the six-speed manual transmission, we're excited that Buick has stuck with a hydraulic setup, giving up the percent-of-a-percent increase in return for increased feel through the special flat-bottomed steering wheel. Even though other 2.0-liter turbo Buicks will have IDCS, only the GS will have the optional GS drive mode. This mode tightens the suspension and steering response beyond even Sport mode.
Beyond the Turbo
Ignoring the GNX, the 255-hp 2012 Buick Regal GS is the most powerful turbo Buick to come out of GM. And it starts with an inline-4, not a V6.
The engine powering this Opel in Buick clothes is a 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder. It's got direct fuel injection, variable valve timing on intake and exhaust and a redline of 6,350 rpm. This is good for 255 hp at 5,300 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque at 2,500-4,000 rpm. Thanks to a 3-inch exhaust, higher boost and a tune, this is 35 hp more than the same engine sitting in the Regal CXL.
Mike Anderson, Ecotec global chief engineer and program manager, compared this engine favorably to larger V6 power plants. "We've been combining direct injection and variable valve timing with boosted engines since 2006, and there's no question the Regal GS turbo has the responsiveness and acceleration of a 3.5-liter V6, while delivering the fuel economy of a 2.0-liter four."
A Better Turbo Buick
The old turbo Buicks stole a bit of whiny political banter and turned it into a catchphrase. "Unsafe at any speed" became "sideways at any speed" and a classic was instantly born.
For better or worse, a monster like that just can't exist in 2012. Not with stability control legislation the way it is. Not with vehicle preference the way it is. Buyers today, they don't want the boost to spike, fry the rears and have the car pirouette gracefully off the highway. And that's probably for the best.
The 2012 turbo Buick isn't going to boil its tires at the Friday-night drags, but with a 0-60 time of under 7 seconds and that manual tranny, it's not an un-fun proposition. Instead, GM has redefined the bad-boy Buick. With a unique front fascia, complete with grille and air intakes, a unique rear with trapezoidal exhaust outlets, a body kit and a lower ride on its 107.8-inch wheelbase, the Regal GS stands out against the Acura TSX and the Audi A4, the key competitors, according to Buick.
The Ts are all crossed and the Is are all dotted (except for the uppercase ones), so the 2012 Buick Regal GS should have the competition on edge.
This car could stand as a bellwether for Buick: It's hot, it's quick and it's packed with features, tech and power. If this isn't enough to get 30-somethings out of their Acuras and try to remember where exactly it was that Granddad got that Buick that one time, what is? Or if not, is it at least enough to stop the grandpa jokes?