2018 Buick Regal GS Review and First Drive

Buick has made something of a late-career renaissance out of being where the other attainable premium automakers simply aren’t.

Bolstered by the cash cow that is Chinese sales, GM’s second-best selling global brand was one of the first to sample the upscale “cute ute” space with the Encore, while also offering one of the only realistically priced three-row luxury SUVs of the past decade in the Enclave.

The 2018 Buick Regal GS is a continuation of the company’s plan to occupy gaps in a bid accumulate cross-segment sales rather than dominate with any one particular model. The sport-oriented mid-size GS hatch serves as the third and final prong in the Regal TourX and Regal Sportback trident that aims to skewer a trio of prospective buyers with a single family of wallet-friendly options.

Whereas the TourX is a wagon pretending to be a crossover, and the Sportback is a hatchback disguised as a sedan, the Regal GS is a European grand tourer masquerading as an inexpensive American luxury ride. The latest in a long line of similarly branded high-performance Buick fare dating back to the muscle car era, the GS proves that evolution is a constant and that Buick will continue to innovate in order to lure luxury buyers out of import showrooms.

ALSO SEE: 2018 Buick Regal TourX Review

Displacement is the Replacement

Whereas the last Regal GS relied on a turbocharged four-cylinder engine to provide its thrills (alongside a briefly available six-speed manual transmission option), the 2018 redesign swaps in a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 that betters its predecessor by a significant margin. With all other versions of the Regal now featuring a 250-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four (only nine ponies off the GS model’s previous pace), the new GS delivers 310 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque, managed by a nine-speed automatic transmission that feeds output to all four wheels.

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It’s quite a personality shift for a car that I had become enamored with during its time in the Buick family, and I was unleashed on the moonshine running roads that crisscross northern Georgia’s Dawsonville-Gainesville nexus, with a detour through the Chattahoochee National Forest to determine whether we could still be friends.

Spirit Animal

For all of its differences, there’s a dose of the familiar in the 2018 Buick Regal GS running gear to help keep drivers anchored. The car continues to offer an all-wheel-drive system that is happy to shuttle torque fore and aft, with a more aggressive dump to the rear on offer at the press of either the Sport or the GS button. Sport driving mode also introduces quicker, firmer shifting from the autobox, as well as increased steering effort and stiffer boots from the Regal’s adjustable suspension, while GS driving mode amplifies those changes to their utmost expression.

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The guttural cry of the 3.6-liter V6 with the pedal to the floor, however, is a definite contrast to the more subdued tones of the departed turbo four. Not that I’m complaining, as forward thrust in the Regal GS feels constant, vital, and surprisingly potent even at higher speeds (with 60 mph arriving in a respectable five seconds). Equally remarkable is the car’s poise: at triple digits, you’d swear you were still obeying the posted letter of the law inside the Buick’s calm cabin, its GS-sharpened dampers clawing at the road without simultaneously leaving scratch marks down your backside.

This calm and collected attitude extends to the sharper corners that so befuddled local law enforcement chasing the high-powered sedans whose booze-filled trunks would eventually give birth to the roots of NASCAR racing in the south. The Regal GS swims where other cars would slosh, darting from one apex to the next with an unexpected confidence. The only thing missing? Paddle shifters, as attempting to row the nine-speed using the console shifter is both distracting and joyless.

About That Interior…

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The previous-generation Buick Regal was sourced from Opel, GM’s once-captive cross-Atlantic division, and the current GS model claims the same lineage, but with many important updates. Gone is the tiny rear seat found in last year’s Regal, and in its place is a bench fit for adult occupation (made possible in part by the car’s nearly three-inch stretch). Fold it flat, and the Regal’s hatch-hidden trunk expands to an enormous 60.7 cubic feet (1,719 liters), a figure that dwarfs similarly sized mid-size crossovers.

ALSO SEE: 2018 Buick Regal Sportback Review

You won’t notice the fact that the Regal GS cribs the Sportback’s non-traditional trunk from the outside, as Buick’s designers have done well to hide its cavernous maw when closed. What will catch your eye are the aggressive details baked into the GS’ sheet metal, including vents and scoops front and rear, GS-specific badging on the grille and the door sills, and of course the bright red Brembo-branded brake calipers hiding behind unique 19-inch rims.

From the remarkably comfortable (massage-capable) driver’s seat, you’ll also pick up on the car’s head-up display as well as the somewhat overwrought plastic fins in the headrest of both front buckets. Those faux honeycomb cutouts, along with a little too much plastic on the door panels and dash, are the only real downsides to what is an effective and cohesive GS styling package, positioning the car just behind some of its more elegant rivals.

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The Verdict: 2018 Buick Regal GS Review

Buick has long positioned the Regal as an alternative to Japanese and European luxury fare, but the 2018 GS marks a turning point for the model. This is no longer the car you buy because you can’t quite swing an Audi lease payment — it’s the one you take home after you take a look at a rival like the S5 Sportback and can’t justify paying an extra $14k for nicer leather and a moderately quicker straight-line sprint. The sedan-slash-hatch’s newfound practicality meshes perfectly with its excellent performance and refined ride, and with a starting MSRP of $39,995 ($45,595 in Canada including destination), the Buick Regal GS undercuts the competition while simultaneously over-delivering on your expectations.

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