2015 Buick Regal GS

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In 2012, when the current Regal sedan came out, you could order it in GS trim.'15 GS lead

Remember GS?

In Buick’s better days, the Gran Sport badge meant something good under the hood.

Specifically, it meant … this car hauls ass.

In a gentlemanly manner, of course.

And the ’12 Regal GS revived this tradition.

It had a high-boost, 270 hp turbocharged engine (a reboot of turbo’d ’80s-era Regals, which at the time were among the quickest cars you could buy) and could be ordered with – what’s this? – a manual transmission.

That was something – and still is.

There are not many mid-sized sedans, sporty or otherwise, that still offer a third pedal. Not even the Nissan Maxima (the one-time “four-door sports car”) which is automatic-only these days.'15 GS interior 1

But the GS’s turbo’d engine got toned down to 259 hp last year and while the loss of 11 hp may not seem like that big a deal, the Buick’s cred as a performance car is suffering because in the interval between its 2011 launch (as a new 2012 model) and today, the horsepower available in other cars has tracked upward like the face value of a Mark in Weimar-era Germany. I just got out of a 707 hp Dodge Charger Hellcat.

It makes 259 hp seem pretty weak.

Of course, the Regal GS does not operate in the same class as the Charger Hellcat.

But it does compete in the same price range as – among others – the BMW 3 sedan.

And that’s probably a problem.'15 GS road 1

While the non-GS Regal is still a very appealing alternative to prestige-branded luxury-sport sedans like the BMW 3 because it costs much less ($27,065 to start vs. $32,950 for the base BMW 320i) and offers more engine (the same 259 hp turbo four as in the GS, just for a lot less) …when you get to the GS (which starts at $37,385) things get a little iffier.

Arguably, it needs more than just an available manual transmission to set it apart from other Regals.

WHAT IT IS

The Regal GS is the sportiest version of the Buick Regal mid-sized sedan.

It comes equipped with the same engine as other Regals, but the GS is the only Regal available with a manual transmission. The GS package also includes a high-performance Brembo brake package, standard 19-inch wheels/sport tires (20 inch wheels and summer tires are available) as well as more aggressive suspension/transmission tuning and unique (flat screen/LCD) instrumentation.

 Base price is $37,385 for a front-wheel-drive GS with six-speed manual transmission. With AWD and six-speed automatic (mandatory with AWD) the asking price climbs to $39,810.'14 GS flat screen

Rivals for your attention include other sporty entry-luxury mid-sized sedans like the Lexus ES350 ($37,700-$40,400) and the new Acura TLX ($31,445-$41,575). Neither of those two offer a manual transmission – and the Lexus does not offer AWD. The Acura does offer AWD as an option, but if you want it, the price jumps to well over $40k to start.

The Regal GS can also be cross-shopped against sportier – but slightly smaller – models like the BMW 3 and Audi A4, both of which can be had with manuals (and AWD) but not with more interior room.

WHAT’S NEW '15 GS wifi

Like some other GM models, the ’15 Regal (base and GS) now comes standard with in-car WiFi, so you can get online in the car.

Siri Eyes Free text to speech capability is also now part of the standard equipment roster.

The Cadillac-esque flat-screen instrument cluster continues and all Regal trims – not just the GS – get a new eight-inch touchscreen monitor (similar in look/function to the Cadillac CUE system) in the center stack for the GPS, audio and infotainment systems.

WHAT’S GOODdiabeetus

You can still get a manual… in a Buick.

Brembo high-performance brakes  . . . in a Buick.

Quick enough to unsettle Wilfred Brimley.

Roomy in both rows.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

A GS should be capable of more than merely middling acceleration.

Especially when it stickers for almost $40k.

Not as roomy in back as ES350.

Manual unavailable with AWD.

UNDER THE HOOD'15 Regal engine

It’s hard to find a Porsche with a manual transmission these days. So a manual-available Buick deserves some chutzpah points.

But, the other half of the equation has been watered down some.

The 2.0 turbo engine that’s standard in all Regals now – not just unique to the GS – is still powerful. It’s just not as powerful as it used to be. Eleven hp has been lost along the way. The boost delivery is also subtler – and the final drive ratio (a CAFE friendly 2.77 in automatic-equipped cars) is less aggressive.

Add AWD and the end result is 0-60 in about 7.3 seconds

This is ok, but no longer particularly dramatic relative to rivals like the price-equivalent BMW 3.

Or relative to the 2012 GS.

The manual (and 270 hp) Regal GS I test drove a couple years ago was much quicker: 6.2 seconds to 60.

And felt it, too.'14 Regal stick shifter close up 2

With the manual, you could launch the thing hard – bringing up the revs (and the boost) with your right foot, then sidestep the clutch with your left.

Holy Metamucil!

I just did a burnout  . . .in a Buick!

Bark the tires on the 1-2 upshift, too.

Channel your inner Beavis and Butthead.

Cool.

Forget about all that with the automatic – and the AWD.

No skittering tires, no tire smoke.

Settle down, Beavis…  '14 GS AWD badge

By the numbers, the automatic/AWD GS is several steps behind the Lexus ES350 (6.5 seconds to 60) and not even in the same race as the BMW 328i (5.4 seconds to 60).

Gas mileage is 20 city, 31 highway with the manual and FWD; 19 city, 27 highway with the automatic and AWD. That’s not bad when compared with the FWD-only Lexus ES (21 city, 31 highway) but the BMW 3 offers 24 city, 36 highway in the lower-priced 320i and nearly the same (and very impressive) 23 city, 35 highway in the much quicker (and no more expensive) 328i.

ON THE ROAD'14 Regal road 1

Again, the dilemma.

If Buick is serious about positioning the Regal GS as a performance alternative to cars like the Mr. Softie Lexus ES, it ought to deliver more performance than a Lexus ES.

The 2015 GS doesn’t. A Lexus ES350 is quicker.

The BMW 328i is much quicker.

Which might be ok if the GS cost significantly less than the ES350 or the 328i.

But it doesn’t.

More boost – and more power – would be welcome.

Arguably, is essential.

The GS ought to offer more of both than non-GS Regals. And at least as much – if not more than – rivals like the BMW 3 and Lexus ES.

The available six-speed manual does add excitement – even when you’re not actually driving the car. When people notice the third pedal, they do a double-take.

No – really?

Yeah, really!'14 Regal road 2

And it’s fun to be able to chirp the tires – not just coming off the line but also on the 1-2 upshift. You can do that with a manual transmission.

You can’t do that in the automatic-only Lexus ES.

So, there’s that.

And the automatic GS’s shift programming in Sport mode is surprisingly aggressive. You can almost chirp tires on the 1-2 upshift in the FWD version. And with a little aftermarket reprogramming, I bet you could chirp ’em.

Cue Beavis: Buicks are cool… Heh, henh, henh, henh…

It has surprisingly high (remember, Buick) cornering grip, too. Especially with the 20-inch wheels and “summer” tires. Even more surprising, the ride is still Buick.

It’s like driving an Electra 225 that doesn’t spit hubcaps into the shrubs when you take a corner at faster-than-AARP velocities. This is particularly impressive given how heavy this car is (again, it’s a Buick).  '14 GS Brembo

 

The AWD version weighs in at 3,981 pounds. As compared with 3,295 lbs. for the BMW 3 Series and 3,549 lbs. for the Lexus ES.

They did a helluva job managing all that unsprung mass – without killing the ride quality.

Good brakes, too.

Brembo brakes.

Like that third pedal, it’s surprising to find such things in a Buick.

In a good way.

AT THE CURB'14 Regal side view

One of the Regal’s biggest draws is its size – its room inside –  relative to price-competitive sporty sedans that also offer a manual transmission.

The BMW 3 and Audi A4, for instance, offer manual transmissions. But they’re both smaller cars – with much less room in the backseat especially.

At 190.2 inches long overall, the Regal is nearly 8 inches longer than the BMW 3 (182.5 inches) and has several inches more backseat legroom (37.3 inches vs. 35.1 inches).'14 Regal interior

The Lexus ES has more backseat legroom – an amazing 40 inches – but you can’t get a manual (or AWD) in that car.

Buick has made a number of changes to the Regal’s interior, chief among them the new instrument cluster with Cadillac-esque flat screen speedometer in place of the previous all-analog cluster. Various different displays can be dialed up at will, including oil pressure and temperature, transmission fluid temperature (automatic models) and so on. This – along with the also-new touchscreen off to the right at the top of the center stack – adds to the premium-car vibe.

But it doesn’t make the GS any sportier.'14 Regal close up dash

Buick does include a very nice leather-wrapped steering wheel, with thumb notches and a flattened lower section (to bettter clear your knees during high-performance maneuvering). But how about a turbo-boost gauge? Why hide (or rather, not proudly announce) that this is a turbocharged performance car?

Some audible clues would be nice, too. How about some whistle when on boost? Or – as is becoming fairly common in other performance cars – an “active” exhaust that really snaps and crackles when you hit it?

The GS needs such stuff – urgently.

On the outside, things are pretty much the same as last year – other than a few subtle tweaks to the headlights and taillights.

It’s a tasteful-looking but not head-turning car.

THE REST'14 Regal last

Buick has added a number of technology and safety features to the roster of standard and available equipment, including the previously mentioned in-car WiFi, which lets you surf the Net in the car and outside the car (within a radius of about 50 feet) when you’re parked. Text-to-speech Siri Eyes Free is also included with this package.

All GSs come with cross traffic alert, lane  change alert, side blind zone alert and forward collision alert and collision-mitigation braking, which means the car will warn you with visual and auditory cues if you fail to notice something in the vehicle’s path that you probably ought to slow down for to avoid hitting – and will slow the car down for you automatically if you don’t notice it in time to slow the car down yourself.

This is all nifty, as far as gadgetry goes. But – to repeat – it doesn’t do much to enhance the performance car bona fides of the GS.  Beavis & Butthead pic

What would do that?  How about 300 horsepower instead of 259? That would instantly transform the GS from a peppy Buick to a bad-ass Buick.

And isn’t that what a GS Buick ought to be?

Just like that, the Regal GS could give BMW 3 drivers more than a run for their money – and do the Mike Tyson to Evander Holyfield on cars like the Lexus ES.

You’re either in – or you’re out.

Buick needs to make up its mind.

The demographic Buick craves is my demographic. Generation Xers who are in their 40s and uh, responsible now – but still hear their inner Beavis and Butthead calling sometimes. Doing a burnout in a Buick – or at least, knowing that you could – is exactly what my crowd craves.

Forget the blue hairs. They’re never going to give up their ’96 Regal for a car like this Regal.

Probably, that ’96 Regal is their last car, period.  '14 Regal Haptic

Small gripes: Buick, like Cadillac, is into fitting its cars with these flat-panel “haptic” inputs. They look cool – like the flat panel on your microwave – or the console controls on the bridge of the starship Enterprise.

And the idea is good. Easy wipe-down, no cracks for dust/dirt to sneak into. But they don’t work as well – as easily and straightforwardly – as knobs and switches. The sensors sometimes don’t quite sense your finger taps/swipes. They sense too much – or too little. Or not at all.

And then you have to tap/swipe again.

Luckily, the Regals’s haptic inputs are limited to the seat heaters and cabin temperature settings. The other controls are pretty straightforward – physical knobs and buttons.'15 GS rear view

THE BOTTOM LINE

I can’t help thinking of Brando’s famous line from On the Waterfront:

“I coulda been a contender.

Buick is never going to be BMW – but it could be an alternative to BMW.

The GS would be that – if it had more engine.

Or a lower MSRP.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Buick no longer manufactures unique automobiles. They are derived from mix-and-match drive trains and bodies from elsewhere in the GM stable, just as once-popular brands did before the axes fell. Tweaks and pinches to fashion Buicks from Opels does not bode well as a sustainable business model when Chevy concurrently sells thinly disguised versions of those same basic offerings.

    • Buick exists for the Chinese market and it is the best the business model GM has at its disposal right now. The other brands were dropped because GM had turned all its brands into clones of Chevys and could only save Cadillac. Buick however was its best brand in China and the sales there would sustain it. Mix and match from all over GM may be what Buick is, but in China they can’t get a Chevy just like it. The market firewalls will keep Buick going for a good while longer.

  2. If Buick couldn’t even be bothered to keep the Gran Sport’s previous level of performance, they should have cancelled it.

    At this price,…..with these pretensions….. the GS is a joke.

    • Hi Mike,

      Yeah. It’s a shame. It’d be so easy to make the car credible. Probably just dial in a bit more boost. As it is, a V6 Camry or Accord will run away from a GS – and it ought to be the reverse.

        • Hi DB,

          I’ve heard those rumbles, too.

          The RWD architecture is available (Caddy CTS). And that turbo 2.0 is surely capable of at least 350 hp.

          I think the biggest fly in the soup is GM’s ambivalence about Buick’s role. Cadillac is – clearly – GM’s luxury-performance line. Where does Buick fit in? Is there room – enough buyers – for a not-quite Cadillac luxury-performance line?

          They sell scads of Buicks in China – but that market is very different (it’s a lot like the U.S. market was 30 or 40 years ago). This market is “mature” – a nice way of saying, saturated.

          There are too many brands and models of cars, not enough buyers.

          Not enough, that is, to make a decent profit.

          Yet they continue to segment – and add more to the mix.

          I’m convinced it’s unsustainable – that a major crash is coming.

          • Maybe it should have been Buick that went by-by instead of Pontiac – or even Oldsmobile. If the GM 5 were truly tiered the way they promoted them, when they decided to scale back it would have made sense, mathematically speaking, to cut 2 and 4, leaving 1, 3 and 5.

            • I agree, Phillip –

              If it were my call, there’d be Chevy – which would be the “bread and butter” stuff (like Toyota) and then Cadillac (luxury).

              I don’t see how Buick makes any sense in the current market. 40 years ago, sure. But not today.

              Same goes for GMC.

              The trucks are basically nicer Chevys…. or not quite-as-nice Cadillacs.

              • Why wouldn’t they drop Buick in North America, and only have it in China? Its not like we even have all of GM’s brands, why bother with it here anymore?

                It seems like it only drains resources from Caddy, and I imagine most Chinese buyers don’t know the history of Buick, so its not like they need to be “Buickish” like here.

                  • The way Chevy and Cadillac now dig around in each other’s parts bins makes Buick a has-been in the US. Instead of encouraging customers moving upscale to a Buick, Cadillac is downmarketing to the unwashed masses. Wallowing in Chevyland will not attract the Lexus/M-B buyers. Like Packard learned 50 years ago, the well heeled prefer to remain arms length from the common rabble.

                    • Hi CC,

                      As I see it, the same arguments that led to the retirement of Pontiac apply to Buick, too. Pontiac had become little more than a marketing arm, re-selling essentially the same versions of cars also sold under different GM badges.

                      Pontiac made sense when Pontiac had its own in-house engineering (and engines) and there was a real difference – functionally/mechanically – between a Pontiac and a Chevy. It stopped making sense when a Pontiac (like the Firebird) had become a slightly restyled Chevy (the Camaro).

                      Same applies to Buick.

                      Also, there’s the additional problem of there being not much place for a mid-tier brand these days. Something that’s purportedly “nicer” than a Chevy… but not quite as flashy (and as pricey) as a Cadillac.

                      In part, because Chevys are pretty damned nice. Is a loaded Tahoe meaningfully less nice than a GMC Yukon?

                      Having Buick made sense when Chevys were pretty bargain basement – and there was nothing really in between Chevy and the much more expensive Cadillac.

                      But the lines are really blurred now… and I can’t see how one can make the case for Buick in 2015.

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