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First Drive: 2012 Buick Regal GS

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by David Boldt August 2011

Driving on the roads in and around Traverse City, you sense a Germanic feel to both the drive route and Buick's Regal GS platform. The roads are twisty, the surrounding acreage heavily wooded, and the Regal GS, with its Opel base and 2.0 liter turbo, is, well, sehr schnell ('way fast' in Detroit-speak). In short, the Regal GS is a perfect melding of European culture and global design for GM's revived division.

Distancing the brand from the more pedestrian Chevrolet, while carefully avoiding direct competition with Cadillac's lineup, today's Buick is as removed from the division's 'good old days' as Oklahoma's Barry Switzer is removed from Washington's Barry Obama. In fact, Buick's popularity in China is greater than it is in the States.

The Regal GS doesn't represent the first turbo installation under the hood of a Buick. The Bad Boy GNX, produced in limited volumes for the '87 model year, boasted a boosted V6 and an outlandish (given the times) street profile. Today's Regal has been available with a milder 2.0 liter at launch, offering some 220 horsepower. And the new GS, scheduled for formal introduction this fall, bumps the power by a full 50 horsepower, delivering 270 and a mind-bending 295 lb-ft. of torque.

Thankfully, there are few go-fast modifications applied to the exterior. The front fascia is altered to convey a more appropriate level of aggression, but most tweaks are under the hood or behind the 19-or-20-inch alloys. At 270 horsepower, the 2.0 liter turbocharged four offers the highest specific power output GM produces; higher than Corvette, Cadillac's V-Series or Camaro. And with an aggressive first gear ratio in its six-speed manual box, the GS rockets from 0-30 in a claimed 2.8 seconds. Brembo 4-piston front calibers bring the whole package to an abrupt - albeit controlled - halt.

Behind the wheel, we were impressed by the progressive action of the clutch and the fluidity of the six-speed manual. When asking the chassis man, GM engineer Brad Schreiber, what particular car they may have targeted for shifting feel, the answer was Volkswagen. And we wouldn't disagree, as recent VW's have historically provided smooth linkages with positive - although not overtly 'mechanical' - connection. We liked the manual a lot, and given that an automatic is still some four months away, early intenders should learn to like the manual, also.

The turbocharged inline four feels exactly the way 270 horsepower should feel, with impressive acceleration and relaxed - in sixth gear make that 'way' relaxed - over-the-road demeanor. I know the reality of EPA ratings; the GS delivers 27 on the highway. We'd probably enjoy a more expressive exhaust note, though; this may be a Buick, but if the tach is a metronome the exhaust system should provide more bass.

The all-independent suspension features Buick's HiPer strut up front, designed to minimize the tug almost 300 lb-ft of torque can exert on the steering, and a four-link independent rear. Damping is adjustable via three dash-mounted buttons, providing a baseline that is comfortable, a mid-level 'Sport' which is balanced, and a firmer 'GS' that enhances both grip and steering response. We were moved by all three, while most impressed by the composure offered with Regal's most aggressive setting.

The GS benefits from bucket seating that is more supportive than lesser Regals, while interior room is adequate for four, marginal for five. The almost coupe-like proportions of the Regal's roofline impinge on rear seat headroom, but this isn't an SUV aimed at families; it's a sport sedan aimed at executives with an SUV on the other side of the garage.

Buick suggests Acura's TSX, Volvo's S60 and Volkswagen's CC as appropriate for cross-shopping. At a suggested retail of just over $35K, we'd be hard pressed to argue - and think the Regal deserves its share of that near-luxury business.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
First Drive: 2012 Buick Regal GS - Autotrader