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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I just did a burnout . . .in a Buick!
Bark the tires on the 1-2 upshift, too.
Channel your inner Beavis and Butthead.
Forget about all that with the automatic – and the AWD.
No skittering tires, no tire smoke.
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.
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?
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).
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.
Like that third pedal, it’s surprising to find such things in a Buick.
In a good way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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