2012 Buick Regal GS - Making Amends with Power Density

In a recent review of the 2012 Buick Regal Turbo we, here at "Drive...He Said," praised General Motors' Teutonic (if Canadian assembled) effort at a premium mid sized executive sedan. We gushed over the exterior and the overall high quality of build. We were smitten by a driving enthusiast's oriented interior, and an electronically adjustable suspension that works on all sorts of American pavement. We weren't crazy about the plethora of center stack buttons. Or the narrow-as-keyhole side mirrors that can spell havoc during lane changes.

While a perfectly adequate means of getting around in style, we noted that the Buick Regal Turbo lacked some of the extra verve featured in sporty front-drive competitors.

Now batting clean-up for Buick is the 2012 Regal GS, as in Gran Sport.

The top-dog Regal gets a massaged version of the Turbo model's direct injected, twin-scroll turbocharged aluminum 2.0 L Ecotec II inline-4 motor. With a larger diameter exhaust and 20 PSI of boost, this Little Engine That Could [and Does] churns out a formidable 270 hp @ 5300 r.p.m. For every single liter of displacement this power-plant  makes 135  horsepower. By comparison the supercharged 6.2L LS-9 v8 in the worship-worthy Corvette ZR-1 makes do with paltry 103 hp / L..

Some will bemoan the 51 hp gap between the Regal GS and its European cousin, the all-wheel drive Opel Insignia OPC V6. We would rather consider the Regal GS' advantages. Such as a whopping 295 lb-ft of output shaft twist on tap at a bargain basement 2400 r.p.m., which is better suited to American-style freeway darting. Or the three-hundred fewer pounds of burden, good for improved fuel economy. And that you can get your Regal GS with a standard, but beefed up six-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed close ratio manual is a no-cost option. We sampled the autobox, a unit which generates shifts as crisp as many manual gearboxes allow. Final gearing is slightly shorter than in the Regal Turbo, to take advantage of the greater torque in the mid-range. We managed to eke out just over 22 mpg in an equal mix of suburban and freeway driving.

In the run to 60 mph, which consumes 6 seconds, the 2012 Regal GS shaves only about 1.5 seconds off of the Regal Turbo's time. However, at the quarter mile mark the GS has more than a two second / 6 mph advantage over junior, imparting a substantially more energetic and surefooted sensation in the process.

Contributing to added verve in the Regal GS are 20% higher spring rates, and a corresponding height drop of a quarter inch. Optional 255/35 Pirelli P Zero performance tires fitted onto 20 inch mirror-polished wheels with their stunning honeycomb design are rubber-cement sticky. To put down the power to the pavement in this 3700 lb, nose heavy, 142 mph front driver,  the Regal GS benefits from GM's new Hi-Per front strut assemblies. This setup creates a steering axis more parallel to center line of  each front tire. which inhibits the tire from pulling away from the steering angle under full power.

Unique to the Regal GS is the "GS" mode button, distinguished from all the others in the center stack by a textured "checkered flag." It was our invitation to put these modifications to the test on the track. With "GS" mode selected, the damper valving stiffens noticeably, nearly eliminating any tendency of the Regal GS to roll or dive even in the most severe undulations or transitions. A quickened ratio for the hydraulic assist steering rack returns decent amounts of feedback from the tires. We found we could enter sharp turns in the Regal GS with a slight amount of understeer which was easily corrected by applying the accelerator. Four piston Brembo brake calipers clamp down onto the equally large 14" rotors to scrub off speed with good pedal feel and without any detectable fade, even if we could smell the pads doing their job.

On more pedestrian roads,  our Regal GS tester was a bit fussier: those steamroller tires tend to produce some tramlining, which had us switching back and forth between GS  and Sport IDCS settings as often as Goldilocks switched beds. While the ride is compliant in most cases, those enormous wheels and tires resonate a fair amount of slapping noise over expansion gaps. Oh, and this car is desperately seeking a proper Blind Spot Warning system to supplement the lilliputian side mirrors.

At an as-tested price of $37,000, with all options sans moonroof and navigation (which would add $2000) the 2012 Buick Regal GS is a more tempting morsel of premium mid-size sport sedan. Consider that it fires salvos squarely hitting the Nissan Maxima and aiming straight between the cylinder banks of Volkswagen's, Volvo's  and Acura's pricier six cylinder models...the CC VR6, the S60 T6 and the TSX. Every so often a car maker grants our wishes and then some. Anyone else notice that the "X" designation is still available for addition to the "GS?"

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  • Image 4: Unless your foot was into the turbo all the time, most midsize 6 cylinder cars over the past 10 years (without turbos or superchargers) have gotten better than 22 mpg, mixed city and highway (mostly city) on regular. Maybe we didn't insist on "stump pulling torque," but the engine was more than adequate

    Hence, where is the fuel saving here, unless the assumption is that most driving will be in unboosted 4 cylinder mode?

    Buick also has to overcome that this isn't a BMW 3 series or Audi A4.

  • Jack,

    We admit our right foot was really into the LHU 4-banger during more than a few hot laps at Road America. Despite such rigors, we managed the EPA's "real world" combined fuel economy rating. All the more amazing since the GS is 200 lbs. portlier than the Regal Turbo. Aerodynamic drag is likely higher thanks to the deeper front fascia and wider tires. And a shorter final drive ratio demands more revs to increase speed.

    To be fair to the Regal GS, we have driven the vaunted and dearly departed naturally aspirated 3.0L N52 magnesium-alloy inline-6 with Valvetronic throttling in the similar weighing BMW E60 528, where we typically saw 20 mpg in combined driving. Forsaking refinement for parsimony, BMW replaced that engine with the 1998 cc N20 twin-scroll turbo-4, which has resulted in reported 20% improvement in mpg of fuel economy in the F10 528.

    If forced-induction is a substitute for displacement, the only way to build exhaust induced boost is to increase the engine load.

    We assume this is why Buick offers the optional E-assist mild hybrid boost system for the Regal 2.4L model. We hope to review one soon.

  • In reply to George Straton:

    I assumed:

    a) a 6 cylinder Mitsu or Honda engine. BTW, the engine controls on the Mitsu I had were junk.

    b) based on stoichiometry, if you pump more air, you use more gas, unless they have somehow overcome that law of chemistry. On the other hand, the hybrid is saving energy (through regenerative braking and maybe through evening out transmission shifts), although the question is how efficiently.

    Thanks for replying.

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