First Look: 2012 Buick Regal GS

First Look

Buick returns to its high-performance roots with the 2012 Regal GS, but is it good enough to carry on the legacy of the famed Grand National?

For too many years Buick was adrift in the mess that became of General Motor's badge engineering era. And it's too bad because Buick was always capable of being so much more than GM let it become. Was it a case of not knowing how to position it against Cadillac? Perhaps it was nothing more than corporate laziness and an overall inability to effectively manage a brand that deserved more. Fortunately, when GM was begging on their knees for a bailout, they were also forced to either kill or fix their existing brands.

Pontiac didn't make it, but Buick did and they've done an excellent job so far of revamping their entire lineup with models such as the Enclave, LaCrosse, Regal, and the upcoming Verano. But a high-performance model was still missing, something that proved Buick's ability to kick ass like their legendary Grand National did back in the 80s. Enter the highly anticipated 2012 Buick Regal GS, a car whose engineering roots lay within its Germanic lineage as the Opel Insignia OPC, but has a soul that's pure American. It's powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 270hp and 295lb-ft of torque.

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This may seem underpowered compared to its Insignia OPC cousin, which is equipped with a 2.8-liter 325hp turbocharged V6. However, the GS can go from 0 to 60mph in 6.7 seconds and has a top speed of 152mph. The OPC also has standard all-wheel-drive, whereas the GS has front-wheel. So what happened during its trip across the pond? Simple, the gas guzzler tax, which U.S. buyers would have been stuck with had the OPC's powerplant remained. Regarding the loss of all-wheel-drive, Buick is quick to correctly point out that the GS utilizes one of the world's most advanced front-wheel-drive architectures.

And yes, it comes with a standard six-speed manual transmission and gets 19/27 mpg city/highway. Compared to the Regal Turbo, ride height has been lowered by 10 millimeters and the suspension has been stiffened by 20 percent thanks to front and rear spring rates and rear anti-roll bars. It also receives 14-inch vented brake discs up front with four-piston Brembo calipers. Visually, the GS is instantly eye-catching with its standard 19-inch alloy wheels and optional 20-inchers with Pirelli summer tires. While some may not like the heavy dose of chrome, we actually think it looks good and makes the GS stand out.

Buick has also added larger air vents within the unique front fascia that give the car a more aggressive appearance. Out back, the prominent dual-exhaust notes are also nicely integrated within the rear bumper. The interior has the same straight-forward, sporty and stylish layout as the standard Regal. But now there are 'Sport' and 'GS' buttons located on the dash, which progressively clamp down on the shocks and firm up the car's steering feel. Sadly, the OPC's Recaro seats aren't offered but the GS's standard leather seats have excellent support and there's also a great-looking leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel.

Other additions include metal sport pedals, piano black dash trim, gauge lighting that changes from blue to white when the GS mode is turned on, and a Harmon Kardon nine-speaker stereo. The only options are limited to metallic paint, a sunroof, the aforementioned wheel package, and an IntelliLink connectivity system that's coming later this year. So the question still remains: Is the GS good enough to earn the attention and eternal fame as that of the Grand National? Not quite, but it is something special in its own right.

Buick had no choice but to tone down the Insignia OPC, but the result is arguably the best front-wheel-drive sport sedan on the U.S. market. With a base price of $35,310, you can select all of the options and still come out less than $40k. Is the 2012 Regal GS a bargain sport luxury sedan or the future of high-performance in this segment? The likely answer is that it's an equal combination of both.

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