Since the mid-1960s, Buick's Gran Sport sub-brand has produced a handful of performance-oriented variants, giving a few semi-luxury sedans and coupes a much-needed shot in the arm. With the exception of a few vehicles in the '80s and '90s, these were the cars that had buyers asking, "That's a Buick?" long before GM's marketing wizards caught on and monetized the sentiment.
2018 Buick Regal Sportback GS First Drive
Sporty Hatch Gives the Regal Adrenaline-Fueled Upgrade
The Gran Sport name is back in the form of the 2018 Buick Regal Sportback GS, and like the best GS models of yore, it totally transforms the character of the standard Sportback. With a more powerful engine, upgraded brakes, sport suspension tuning, adaptive dampers and sport bucket seats, the GS is undoubtedly the enthusiast's choice in the Regal lineup. (For a broader view of the Sportback lineup, check out our Regal Sportback First Drive.) Even so, Buick's propensity for comfortable, luxury-lite vehicles shines through, making the Regal Sportback GS a classic jack of all trades, master of none.
Unlike the 2014-'17 Regal GS, the Sportback GS uses a different engine than other Regals. But its 3.6-liter V6 is far from unique — you'll find it under the hoods of numerous vehicles across GM's lineup, including one from Buick's stable. In this iteration, the motor produces 310 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque, the same output as the LaCrosse full-size sedan. Compared to the standard Sportback, the GS boasts an extra 60 hp, while torque is down 13 lb-ft compared to other all-wheel-drive models. A nine-speed automatic transmission routes power to all four wheels. Even in this performance trim, the mandatory engine stop-start system cannot be defeated.
Mechanical enhancements aren't limited to the powertrain. Brembo front brakes increase the car's stopping performance, while the adaptive suspension system allows the driver to switch between a cushy cruiser and a sporty sedan on command. Visual enhancements, including revised front and rear fascias, a trunk lip spoiler, and new exhaust enclosures round out the changes to the exterior.
Other than the metal pedals, faux-carbon trim, a flattish-bottom steering wheel and larger driver information display, the interior of the GS looks nearly identical to that of the standard Sportback. Aside from the aggressive-looking front sport seats, that is. These thrones are superior to those in the regular model, and they grip the sides comfortably without squeezing. And lest you think they're too hardcore for a Buick, they also feature thigh adjustment, four-way power lumbar, adjustable side bolsters, and heating, ventilation and massaging functions. They are also certified by AGR, a German consortium that promotes healthy back posture. Take a seat in the welcoming chairs and you're instantly aware of the car's sporting intentions before the ignition button is even pushed.
A Buick That Can Hustle
Drive the Sportback GS like an everyday commuter and it feels exactly like the standard Sportback. In the Normal driving mode, the steering is light and devoid of road feel, and the brakes have good response without feeling abrupt or mushy. As the AGR certification suggests, the seats feel great and withstand hours of driving without revealing pressure points or feeling swampy. The generous amount of seat bottom tilt and the thigh extenders are a boon to tall drivers, most of whom will have no problem finding an agreeable position. Unfortunately, the front seats aren't as friendly to rear passengers. Unlike the sculpted rear seatbacks of the standard car, the hard shell of the GS seats means that if the backseat passenger doesn't fit, knees are getting squished. Luckily, there's plenty of legroom in the back, so only two tall occupants sitting in tandem will run into this problem.
Now we leave the suburban sprawl and head to the mountains to sort out the GS. In Normal mode, the steering is too light to place the car in a corner with absolute confidence, even though body roll is fairly well-controlled. Tap the button for the Sport or harder-edged GS mode, and the wheel becomes slightly heavier and the transmission shifts to lower gears. In these spirited driving modes, the acceleration response from throttle input is quickened but not jumpy, and the transmission won't upshift in between sets of corners while driving uphill.
We've experienced plenty of cars with a Sport driving mode that hangs onto lower gears with minimal throttle application. Luckily, the Sportback's nine-speed is also smart enough to upshift when you're barely pressing the accelerator, even in GS mode. Curiously, paddle shifters are not on the table; those wanting total control over gear changes will have to settle for a manual shift gate. On the suspension front, selecting Sport or GS mode also stiffens the dampers to keep the Sportback level while taking a set of turns. Thankfully, ride quality is barely affected with the dampers in the sportier GS mode, so there's no reason a driver couldn't cruise around indefinitely with GS mode engaged.
Between Standard and Luxury
While the Regal Sportback starts at $25,915, the base price for the GS is a lofty $39,995. (All prices include destination.) For that, you get features equivalent to those you'll find in the all-wheel-drive Essence ($34,795), the GS' aforementioned mechanical and luxury upgrades, along with niceties such as blind-spot monitoring, driver-seat memory settings, auto-dimming exterior mirrors and more. From there, you can add the Sights and Sound package, which brings navigation, HD radio and a Bose audio system; the Appearance package, which adds LED headlights and wireless device charging; and the Driver Confidence II package, which brings additional driver aids, including adaptive cruise control and a head-up display.
In terms of price and place in the market, the GS, like the Regal Sportback itself, occupies the space between standard and true luxury vehicles. It's not much more expensive than fully loaded versions of other midsize sedans, but its interior quality is a step above many. Its practical hatchback body style is a plus, and the enjoyment of a naturally aspirated V6 among a sea of turbocharged four-cylinders cannot be ignored. However, the GS is not the only option for those who crave a little more from their semi-luxury sedan. The Acura TLX A-Spec and Lexus IS 300 F Sport are a little more expensive and have typical trunks, but their richly appointed cabins might justify the higher price tags. The hot-rod Ford Fusion Sport isn't as decadent, but its twin-turbo V6 is mighty. But the real spoiler is the new Kia Stinger GT. It combines the best of all worlds, with a twin-turbo V6 rated at 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, a hatchback body style and standard rear-wheel drive(!).
The Bottom Line
The 2018 Buick Regal Sportback GS adds a little edge to the Buick lineup, and it's undoubtedly the driver's choice for those considering the Regal Sportback hatch. However, it's not a bargain-priced sport sedan, and it faces tough competition from both sides of the standard/luxury line it straddles.