When it reintroduced the Regal a few years back, Buick was proud to boast that it was virtually identical to the Insignia, a model sold by GM’s German subsidiary Opel in Europe. Other than putting on a more conservative Buick grille and swapping out the badges, very little was lost in translation.
|Engine: Turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 259 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual (in FWD only) or six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city and 27 highway for AWD automatic
Pricing: $37,830 to start or $40,195 for AWD
However, when it finally came time to introduce a more powerful Regal, Buick whiffed. There was definitely more power from the turbo engine, and the rest of the package looked the part, but the GS was still 20 horses and two driven wheels down on Opel’s performance model on which it was based. Now that the whole Regal line has been refreshed for 2014, is the new GS better than ever?
Down on Power, But Only by a Little
The Regal’s exterior changes can only be described as evolutionary: minor freshening touches front and back, including new HID headlights and LED jewelry. Mechanically, it uses a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with gasoline direct injection and a twin-scroll turbo with 259 horsepower and a remarkable 295 lb-ft of torque, which is focused from 2,500 through 4,000 rpm.
However, unlike past years, the GS doesn’t have a power advantage over regular Turbo models, so it arrives 11 horses down from pre-facelift levels. That’s fine since there are plenty of other ways to distinguish the two. The large front fangs remain, while there’s now a subtle trunk-lid lip spoiler too.
The GS still uses the torque-steer-reducing HiPer strut setup front suspension and larger front brake rotors with new Brembo calipers. It also gets 19-inch machined wheels with all-season tires, or optional 20-inch polished versions with sticky performance rubber. There’s also continual damping control and more responsive suspension settings compared with the regular Turbo.
AWD System With Surprising Sophistication
Thankfully, the GS can also be had with the new Haldex-based all-wheel drive setup, meaning serious fun all year round for those living in cold climates. To maximize grins, the GS version is enhanced by an electronically-controlled limited slip differential that, using a series of hydraulic clutches, can drastically and quickly alter torque output across the rear axle. And while the default ‘nice-weather-on-pavement’ torque split is about 50:50 front-rear, the system go to nearly everywhere in between: fuel-saving front-drive-only while cruising steadily on the highway to 90 per cent heading to the rear in ultra-slippery or wildly changing grip situations.
Unlike simpler systems, the GS’ AWD output is tuned to be completely variable based on throttle position, g-load, steering angle and about a hundred other factors. Two of the most notable include pushing the sport or GS buttons, which sharpens the engine’s response, increases the steering effort, firms up the shocks, decreases shift speed and directs more power to the back.
It was pleasantly surprising to discover that the Buick is happy to adopt a tail-out drift in slippery conditions when pushed hard – especially in GS mode and with all the electronic nannies disabled – rather than defaulting to safe, scrubby understeer. With everything engaged, the GS will still find traction anywhere it can, keeping things nice and benign. The system increases curb weight by 250 pounds or so, and carries a small fuel mileage penalty – 19 mpg city and 27 highway vs. 21/30 – but the increase in performance more than makes up for the extra mass.
In everyday situations, the car proved to be quiet, stable and never lacking in power, while the six-speed automatic transmission seemed happy enough to slip into top gear when needed. Very little lag and plentiful torque made for a relaxing experience.
Paddle shifters would be a nice touch, but otherwise, there were few complaints about how well this car is put together… Sure, it might not be the most spacious ride in the back seat, and the optional moonroof – which is a square foot of glass at most – must have the worst dollar/area ratio ever given its $1,000 price tag.
Price to Purse Over
The GS pricing starts at $37,830 – including $925 for destination – for front-drive manual models, while the AWD/automatic combination is $40,195.
That price includes a heated steering wheel, 12-way power heated leather seats, an eight-inch customizable info screen mounted in the gauge cluster, navigation, bi-xenon HID headlights and more. With all that, there are still a couple option packages worth checking out.
“Driver Confidence Package 1” costs $890 and includes a ton of passive warning systems for blind spot, forward collision and rear cross traffic alerts. Throw in the second “DCP” for another $1,695 and you get full-speed adaptive cruise control that will brake automatically if needed and will also throw the binders on by itself if it detects a potential front-end collision.
The list of potential competitors is long and impressive, both from the traditional European luxury automakers, and others from Japan. The GS even has some internal competition from Cadillac’s equally excellent ATS, which can be had with a similar turbo engine and AWD for similar bucks.
Although Buick sold over one million cars last year, the bulk of those sales are to the Chinese, who love the brand. In China, a Euro-based high-performance sport sedan makes sense to that very unique market where the Buick logo and brand is something to aspire to own. In North America, however, you have to have a real love of unique cars to even know the Buick Regal exists at all in its current form, let alone actively search out a GS compared to a BMW 335i or Audi S4. Lowering the average buyer age from blue hair to a nice salt-and-pepper mix couldn’t hurt either. Despite the tiny potential for actually moving Regal GS to customers, Buick should be applauded for making it seriously attractive and entertaining.