Less Turns Out To Be More Than Enough
When General Motors first announced that the U.S. would be getting some sort of hotted-up Regal, we were told it'd be just like the Opel Insignia OPC that continues to light fires within the hearts of European enthusiasts. That car boasts a 325-horsepower 2.8-liter turbocharged V6, six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive. We've had the chance to drive the Insignia OPC and will say without hesitation that it is, in fact, the bee's knees.
Imagine our disappointment, then, when we found out that the Regal GS was fitted with a 270-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Oh yeah, and it's front-wheel drive.
But here's what everyone seems to forget: The Regal GS may be down on power compared to the Insignia OPC, but it still produces 295 pound-feet of torque, just like the Opel. The Regal is also about 500 pounds lighter than the Insignia OPC. And sure, all-wheel drive is nice, but the Regal uses what is arguably the world's most advanced front-wheel-drive architecture – GM's HiPer Strut system. Finally, according to our Buick man, the Insignia OPC would have been hit with a gas guzzler tax had it been ported directly over. By contrast, the Regal GS achieves up to 27 miles per gallon.
There's plenty of goodness to the Regal GS package, and after a long stint of hustling this hottest Buick along northern Michigan's finest backroads, we aren't all that disappointed after all.
The engines may be wholly different, but park a Regal GS next to an Insignia OPC and you'd think they were the same car. Aside from a different set of wheels and a couple of trishield badges, the GS is visually identical to the OPC. Everything from the fangs in the front fascia to the large dual exhaust tips out back have been carried over to the American car, and truth be told, we're smitten with the way this thing looks. It's bulgy, brash and uses an interesting blend of curving lines to create an aura of sharpness.
We've gushed over the OPC's design for years now, so instead, let's focus on the new bits for the Regal GS – i.e., the wheels. The standard wheel and tire package uses 19-inch alloys wrapped in all-season rubber that's similar to what is in use on the mid-grade Regal CXL Turbo. Our test car (and every other Regal GS you've ever seen a photograph of) uses the optional 20-inch wheel package with 255/35-series Pirelli PZero summer tires. Honestly, we don't love the chrome look of the larger wheels, and instead of going off on a "When will GM learn that not every car needs some sort of chrome treatment?" rant, we'll use this space to politely remind buyers that your local wheel and tire outfitter will gladly sell you a much more handsome set of 20-inch rollers for a small fee. We could tell you to just get the 19s, but after falling in love with the amount of grip available with the 20-inch set, we'll bite our tongues.
Moving inside, we have one very nitpicky complaint about the GS' interior – the shift knob for the six-speed manual transmission. Normally we aren't this whiny, but with a manual transmission, the shifter is one of the most important points of communication between driver and car (see also: steering wheel), and the sensory feedback you get from gripping a nicely shaped, thick shift knob heightens the whole cog-swapping experience. Here, Buick has chosen to use the same shifter as the CXL Turbo, which feels like it'd be more at home on a shift lever that clicks through a P-R-N-D-L gate. So often, our fingers felt oddly smashed against the Reverse gate release button on the back of the shift knob, and on a few occasions, we couldn't get a solid grip on the shifter for far throws into fifth and sixth gears. This would be such a simple fix.
We'll reiterate that the above complaint is immensely nitpicky, and the only reason it's a talking point is because the rest of the cabin is so nicely done. The steering wheel has been carried over right from the OPC, with its flat bottom and bulgy-in-all-the-right-places design. Interestingly, the backside of the helm has what feel like placeholders for paddle shifters, but Buick officials tell us that cars equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission (an optional extra that will be available later in the model year) won't have paddles. Not that you want the autobox, anyway.
American customers don't get the supremely comfortable and supportive Recaro seats available on the Insignia OPC, but after a few hours of butt-in-seat drive time, we're nonetheless pleased with the thrones being offered to us oversized 'Muricans. They're comfortable and offer ample amounts of bolstering for both our love handles and thunder thighs.
Other than that, the interior is the same as every other Regal, save the nifty 'Sport' and 'GS' buttons on the center stack (the latter turns the instrument back-lighting from blue to white). The center stack is still a bit button-heavy, but the fit of the panels and graining of the plastics are quite good. Anyone who says GM isn't capable of crafting a really nice interior has clearly never sat inside a Regal. Buick will be offering its nifty new IntelliLink infotainment system on all Regals later in the 2012 model year, and we were given a quick glimpse of some of its features. Check it out in the Autoblog Short Cut below (pay attention at 2:55 for an embarrassing – yet hilarious – moment for our narrator):
We had no doubts that the Regal GS' exterior and interior would be just fine – it's the powertrain and chassis that were the cause of our initial disappointment, remember?
Let's start with the engine: GM's 2.0-liter Ecotec turbocharged inline-four. We've previously enjoyed this engine under the hood of the SS-badged Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, as well as the Pontiac Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Red Line, may they all rest in peace. Currently, Buick uses a detuned version of this Ecotec in the Regal CXL Turbo, where it produces 220 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, but a healthy dose of engine recalibration means that same engine now produces 270 hp and 295 lb-ft in the GS.
At launch, the only transmission offered will be the six-speed manual, and that's just fine with us. Aside from our overly critical issues with the shifter itself, the transmission is a joy to use. The clutch is nicely weighted with a linear action, though there's quite a bit of overall travel to the pedal. And while it seems odd to criticize the manual transmission shift knob from one side of our mouth and praise it from the other, we do admit that the shift action is engaging and solid. We would greatly appreciate shorter throws, especially in the horizontal gaps between second and third, and fourth and fifth, but the direct six-speed gate makes for very little in the way of complaints.
Now, 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of twist is a lot for a front-wheel-drive car to handle, but GM's HiPer Strut suspension does a phenomenal job of keeping things in line. We tried a couple of hard straight-line acceleration runs, and the steering wheel never moved. Occasionally, with a heavy foot on the throttle while coming out of a slow corner, we did notice a dose of torque steer, but it's gone before you even realize what has happened. Buick officials claim a 0-60 time of 6.7 seconds, but judging by our time in the car, that feels extremely conservative. We'll bet our bottom dollar that real-world testing results in times in the low-six-second range.
Other performance enhancements include unique (read: stiffer) spring rates on the GS versus the standard CXL Turbo, and the ride height has been lowered by 10 millimeters. Keeping the power under control are a pair of 14-inch vented brake discs up front, with four-piston Brembo calipers clamping down to keep things from getting squirrely during quick stops. After long stretches of hard braking into turns, we noticed very little brake fade, and the HiPer Strut suspension works to keep the car's front end calm and collected during sudden deceleration, too.
Three suspension modes are available while driving – normal, Sport and GS – and as you'd expect, each one is significantly more dialed in than the one before it. Buick executives tell us that even the most hardcore GS mode is still the sort of setting that you'd feel comfortable using in the city, and while we found our drive through downtown Traverse City to be a bit bouncy with this setting, it wasn't teeth-chattering. Get the car on some smooth pavement, though, and GS mode is exactly what you want. Here, the Regal stays flat and composed through the corners, with no noticeable body roll making things wishy-washy during quick turns.
The turbo-four/front-drive package makes for a very well-sorted driving dynamic – the Regal GS never feels over- or under-powered, and it's tossable, light and more engaging than you'd think. We'd bet that the Insignia OPC is a total hoot to drive, but so is the Regal GS.
Buick says the Regal GS aims squarely at the Audi A4 and Acura TSX V6, the latter of which is the comparison we naturally made in our own minds. In this case, the Regal's dynamics trump the Acura, hands down, and while Buick would love to have a legitimate A4 or BMW 3 Series competitor on its hands, the simple fact is that the Regal GS isn't quite potent and poised enough to tackle the Germans. Then again, isn't that what the Cadillac brand is for?
Pricing starts at $35,310 for the Regal GS, and the only available options are some premium paint colors, navigation, a sunroof and the 20-inch wheels with summer tires. Check every box and you'll end up just under $39,000. That's pushing awfully close to the $40K mark, but keep in mind, an Acura TSX V6 with the tech package will run you about $39K, as well. We'll take the Buick, thanks. (Isn't it nice to be able to say that again?)
As a complete package, the Regal GS is a pretty slick deal, though it competes in a weird section of the market. An honest Opel Insignia OPC would be a nice thing to have on our shores, but in order to even make the project worthwhile, Buick says it would have to price it significantly higher than $35,000 (think: $50,000). It'd also be nice to have an M3 fighter from the Buick brand, but again, isn't that what Cadillac's V-Series is for? The new ATS is on its way, and we hear the ATS-V should have Bimmerfiles shaking in their boots.
In the meantime, we'll let Buick continue its path toward domination in the entry-level aspirational luxury segment. It's not the OPC we had hoped for, but the 2012 Regal GS is in no way a disappointment. We dare you to drive one and not walk away impressed.
New Car Test Drive
Sporty Regal GS and efficient eAssist broaden newly redesigned lineup.
The Buick Regal is a luxury sedan born and built in Germany, and it acts like one. Sportier than the other Buicks, the midsize Regal is smaller than the full-size LaCrosse, larger than the compact Verano. Regal is based on the same structure as the European-market Opel Insignia, which earned major product awards when it was introduced. Though quiet like a Buick, its German underpinnings give the Regal a European handling feel.
Regal was redesigned and introduced as an all-new product for 2011. For 2012, the Regal lineup expands to include a broad range of powertrain choices. The 2012 Regal lineup includes an inexpensive model with a four-cylinder engine, a mild hybrid version of the same car called Regal with eAssist, a sporty Regal Turbo, and a high-performance Regal GS.
The Buick Regal models compete with versions of the Lexus ES, Acura TSX, Volvo S60, Volkswagen Passat, Audi A4, and Mazda 6. The Regal uses front-wheel drive and comes with Stabilitrak electronic stability control and traction control.
The Regal is an attractive car, seemingly blending styling elements from American, European and Japanese designs. We're not sure the optional rear spoiler improves its sleek lines.
A welcome refuge on miserable commutes, the Regal cabin is attractive and comfortable, a mix of sporty and luxury much like an Acura TSX. Secondary controls operate with tactile clicks that feel like quality, and the navigation system is easy to use. Doors close with a solid thud. Bluetooth for hands-free cell phone operation and heated front seats are available, but we were surprised to note the absence of a rearview camera or memory for the seats listed among the options. The back seat is suitable for two but not three.
Underway, the Buick Regal is among the quietest cars in its class. We found it rides smoothly, absorbing bumpy pavement, a benefit of its rigid structure. Its fully independent suspension has been tuned for ride comfort, but it handles well on winding roads, and the steering and brakes are up to spirited driving.
Regal comes standard with a 182-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic. This engine, called Ecotec, delivers 19 mpg City, 31 mpg Highway, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
With eAssist, Regal earns an EPA-estimated 25/36 mpg City/Highway. Regal with eAssist is equipped with the same 2.4-liter engine along with a traditional 6-speed automatic transmission, and it drives similarly to the standard Regal. The difference with eAssist is that a small, battery-powered 15-kW motor-generator provides extra thrust when accelerating. Buick says this results in a 25-percent improvement in fuel economy, partly because the four-cylinder engine doesn't have to work as hard. To save gas, the engine shuts off whenever the car is stopped and seamlessly restarts it when the driver steps on the accelerator. Like most hybrids, eAssist uses regenerative braking, a system that recharges the battery whenever the driver steps on the brakes. Some call this light-electrification technology a mild hybrid, but there is no all-electric mode and it costs a lot less than a full hybrid gas-electric powertrain.
The sporty Regal Turbo comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine rated at 220 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Yet in spite of its dramatically increased performance it offers an impressive 20/32 mpg. As if to highlight their sporty role, the turbocharged models only come with 6-speed manual transmissions. (An automatic is expected to be added soon, however.) The Regal Turbo is intended to compete with the Acura TSX, Volvo S60, and Volkswagen CC.
The new Regal GS features a high-output turbocharged engine making 270 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. It's the highest output engine GM has ever made in terms of horsepower per liter. To manage all this power, Regal GS comes a special front suspension that makes steering quicker and sharper, computer-controlled shock absorbers with three selectable ride modes, heavier springs and stabilizer bars, Brembo four-piston front brakes, and a choice of Goodyear GS-A or Pirelli P Zero tires on alloy wheels. Subtle exterior trim differences include a special rear bumper fascia that integrates the dual exhaust tips.
The Regal GS is quicker and more agile than the standard version. The Regal GS can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds, according to Buick. At the same, the Regal GS earns an EPA rating of 19/27 mpg. The Regal GS is pleasant for everyday driving, the 6-speed manual shifts well. Drivers who like European sports sedans with manual gearboxes will like the 6-speed manual, but we can't help but think most drivers will prefer an automatic with this car.
The 2012 Buick Regal ($26,670) comes standard with a 182-hp 2.4-liter engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, electric rack-and-pinion power steering, and 18-inch painted alloy wheels. Standard features include leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, power driver seat, power windows/locks/heated mirrors, tilt/telescope steering wheel with redundant controls, AM/FM/XM/CD audio, USB, Bluetooth, split-folding rear seat, trip computer, keyless entry, and OnStar w/turn-by-turn navigation (with six months service included at purchase, by subscription thereafter).
Regal with eAssist comes with 17-inch alloy wheels with low-rolling resistance tires, a economy mode for the air-conditioning system, low-drag underbody aerodynamics, special instrumentation and other features related to the fuel-saving eAssist technology.
Regal Turbo ($29,875) comes with a 220-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, 6-speed manual, larger brakes, variable-assist power steering (hydraulic), upgraded audio, power seats, remote keyless entry.
Regal GS ($34,450) comes with a 270-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, 6-speed manual, Brembo brake calipers, a higher-numerical final-drive ratio, bodyside chrome, body-color rocker sills, extended range for the remote keyless entry, special sport seats, high-performance front struts, tire repair kit (in place of spare), 19-inch wheels.
Safety features include six airbags standard, rear-seat side-impact airbags optional. Stabilitrak electronic stability control is standard, along with ABS and Quick Brake Assist. Rearview camera not available.
The Buick Regal is a world car designed for use in varied international markets and shares all its body panels with German-sister-division's award-winning Opel Insignia. It's characteristic of contemporary sedans with a sloping roofline that's visually extended by the edge of the rear lamp housings and a brief trunk lid with a subtle built-in lip spoiler.
Shiny bits on the sides are limited to the window surround trim and a front fender-mounted turn indicator. There are no rub rails or chrome strips along the side, and a simple character line sweeps down and aft behind the front wheel and carries through the rear door. The lower edge is void of trim but it does get the textured paint protection to minimize stone chips. All the wheels have plenty of spokes yet nothing cross-laced your car wash will abhor.
Regal gets the majority of its Buick-ness at the ends, both slathered with abundant chrome trim. The lengthy nose carries a prominent waterfall grille framed by lamp clusters. On the turbo, the daytime running lights are right-angle segments that look like arrows pointing out and up toward the rear-view mirrors.
A large chrome spear is anchored with big Buick crest on the trunk, and the sweep of the lamps mirrors that of Regal's big-brother LaCrosse.
Regal makes a clean profile. It is six inches shorter than the LaCrosse and is longer than all but one of the cars Buick mentions as potential competitors.
The Regal cabin is a welcoming place where leather comes standard. The Regal feels comparable to other cars in this entry-luxury class. It's comfortable and quiet. Its character changes based on color.
An ebony cabin is mostly black, with light stitching is the seats and trim, a light headliner, some trim matte-finish silver and other chrome, with dash, door and console sweeps done in piano-black trim. With light-cabin trim, the upper and lower doors, lower side pillars and the dashboard are chocolate, the mid-doors, seats and carpeting a light tan or cream color, and the trim sweeps are woodgrain. While the latter is the warmer of the two and gives a more luxurious impression, others will find it busy and prefer the sportier, more monochromatic look of the ebony interior.
The seats are comfortable with good support for long trips. Bolsters are low for comfort and ease of getting in and out. Regal GS comes with special sport seats. Some drivers find the headrests farther forward than they preferred, a common complaint as safety regulations continue to tighten.
Rear seats are quite comfortable for occupants to around 5 feet, 10 inches. The back seat is best limited to two passengers, and we found no center headrest. That sloping roofline, even with a section carved out of the headliner, limits rear headroom, a problem the Volkswagen Passat and Mazda 6 don't have. Rear legroom and toe space in the Regal is good, better than most in this class, the Passat and Mazda 6 being the exceptions. We'll call the center fold-down section an elbow rest because it's wide and short, and note rear passengers do have AC vents and reading lights.
A contemporary control layout places the tip computer/message center between watch-dial-like speedometer and tachometer, and below numbered fuel and coolant gauges; like everything else these are illuminated in icy blue.
The navigation system is easy to use and has a nice display. We found the 7-inch screen easier to read than the Ford systems though it isn't as large as those in the latest Chrysler models. The screen is top center for good line-of-sight use and is as intuitive as any other GM system. The system can be operated by touching the screen directly or by using a more easily accessible multifunction controller on the center console behind the shifter. Surprisingly, no rearview camera is available.
Myriad white-on-black buttons cluster on the center panel for audio, car, and navigation details with left/right temperature climate control below. Behind the ashtray a large piece of chrome frames the shifter and it, like the chrome lips on the gauges and rotary dash controls, readily catches sun glare. The matte-finish sweep around the shifter floats above the console, suggesting it will easily catch and trap detritus or cords for small electronics. Cubby storage is adequate. Some storage is available under the asymmetric center armrest, and the oddly contoured door pockets hold quite a bit. A pair of useful cupholders resides on the center console.
The steering wheel is the most sporting ever found in a Buick and the redundant controls handy on the road. Given the sporty implications we were surprised to not find shift buttons on it, but the shift lever does have a manual gate. The instruments and navigation system are easy to see day and night. Outside visibility is quite good by modern safety-car standards.
The trunk is quite useful, with moderate lift-to-load and lift-to-unload dimensions, flat side walls, securing points and 14.2 cubic feet of volume because it's fairly long. Press the release on the remote and the trunk lid pops open, helpful when carrying an armload. The split rear seats fold down and there's a lockable pass-through though it's a long reach through the trunk to lock it.
The Regal is firmly sprung for a Buick yet quiet by any standard. Rough road surfaces admit a little noise from the rear tires and there's a bit of wind noise from behind at speed, but the new Buick Regal has to be among the quietest cars in its class. Even with the engine at maximum it's barely above background noise and doesn't give any audible hint it's working hard.
The Regal rides well, with minimal intrusion from road imperfections. It has a very solid feel, and one of substance in keeping with its weight. Driving it hard or fully loaded at speed will belie that, however. While bred on the autobahn it has been tuned for comfort and the rear suspension damping is quite soft. An Interactive Drive Control System, standard on Regal GS, optional on the Turbo, allows the driver to select different suspension settings and steering sensitivity. Pressing the Sport or GS buttons while cruising along noticeably firms up the shock damping, a good thing to do when driving hard. The normal mode better filters out vibration and bumps in the road, however.
The Regal is an excellent touring car for extended ventures or simply long commutes where the soothing could be beneficial, but it is not a sports sedan. The turbo makes it a sporty sedan, while the Regal GS is more of a sports sedan. It's front-wheel drive, however. True sports sedans are rear-wheel drive.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder that comes standard provides 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It needs to be revved to get the most out of it, and a 3600-pound Regal with a pair of people in it can use every one of those ponies. It's quite satisfactory around town or on the open road, but you'll be pushing it when climbing a mountain grade or passing a truck on a two-lane.
Regal with eAssist adds to this a small electric motor to assist the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in certain situations, boosting the fuel economy rating to an EPA-estimated 25/36 mpg City/Highway. It works just like the standard model except the electric motor gives it a 15-hp shove when taking off from intersections or going up hills, resulting in better acceleration performance and better fuel economy, the best of both worlds. The engine shuts off when you stop for traffic signals, for example, then seamlessly restarts when you step on the accelerator.
The Regal Turbo adds about 40 horsepower but far more important close to 90 pound-feet of torque and at much lower revs. This makes the Regal more relaxed, downshifts happen less often, and it feels much more powerful than the 1-second quicker to 60 mph implies.
With the 6-speed manual gearbox, clutch effort is easy. Shifting is smooth from the short shifter. It reminds us of a manual on an upscale German sedan.
Fuel economy from the standard Regal is an EPA-estimated 19/30 mpg City/Highway. By comparison, the Mazda6 gets 21/30 mpg, the Audi A4 is rated 23/30 mpg, the Acura TSX 21/30 mpg, and the Volkswagen Passat 22/31 mpg.
The steering provides good feedback, feel and directional stability. It doesn't have the crispness or feel of a sports sedan. It's tuned for easier cruising. Brakes are up to the task, and both the gas and brake pedals are calibrated such that they require some foot travel before you get into heavy braking or kick-down acceleration rather than the instant bite of a sports sedan.
The Regal GS delivers 270 horsepower and 290 foot-pounds of torque from its high-output 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, direct fuel injection, a complete 3-inch exhaust system, and 20 pounds of peak turbo boost.
The 2012 Buick Regal GS is the first hot-rod Buick to come along in many years, and it's a treat to drive. Stand on the throttle while in second gear at a slow speed and it'll break the front tires loose on wet pavement (if the traction control is turned off). Stabilitrak keeps the front wheels from spinning, however, important in the rain. We were impressed by the quickness and smoothness of the powertrain, the steering response, and the braking power when you really need it. More important, it isn't a hammer. The ride is firm but it isn't harsh. Overall, the Regal GS feels like a refined car.
The Buick Regal brings a stylish alternative to the entry-premium midsize sedan segment. It musters visual appeal, soothing quiet and smoothness, quickly deciphered features, comfort and economy conducive to long drives and a better than average warranty. We find the Regal Turbo deserves strong consideration for the modest cost premium. The Audi 4 and Acura TSX are sportier, the Mazda 6 and Volkswagen Passat are larger, the Lexus ES is more expensive and arguably no better.
G.R. Whale filed his report from Los Angeles; with NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reporting from New Jersey.
Buick Regal ($26,670); Regal Turbo ($29,875); Regal GS ($34,450).
Russelsheim, Germany; Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Navigation ($1145) includes 7-inch color touch-screen, auxiliary input jack and USB port, iPod support; Sunroof ($1000).
Buick Regal Premium 2 ($29,515).
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