Buick continues to fashion a hipper image with the new Regal GS significantly enhancing the brand's stock.
The GS -- short for Gran Sport, a performance label that Buick first used back in the mid-1960s -- will be added to the Regal lineup later this year, showing the world that there really can be such a thing as a performance Buick.
The new model also provides one more engine choice for its new midsize platform. At one end of the spectrum, the 2012 Regal will be offered with a new gasoline-electric hybrid combo, called eAssist, that delivers significantly enhanced fuel economy. At the other end, the new GS comes with an enhanced-output turbocharged four-cylinder engine and matching performance/ luxury content to challenge similar midsize sedans from Europe and Japan.
Just as General Motors' Cadillac division is changing its image with the high-output CTS-V coupe and sedan, the GS will undoubtedly challenge the public's perceptions about Buick, which has traditionally catered to older drivers who cared very little about acceleration, road holding and steering and stopping performance. Actually, Buick has a head start since the Regal sedan was conceived in Germany and is arguably the most visually arresting model in Buick's fleet.
The GS improves on the standard-issue Regal's good looks with a more distinctive front end that features a unique satin-metallic grille flanked by prominent twin air intakes plus an enlarged air scoop below the bumper. There's also special rocker-panel trim, an integrated trunk spoiler and a set of irregular-shaped exhaust outlets that should replace the faux Buick portholes (still visible on the aging full-size Lucerne) as the marque's next signature styling cue.
The GS also has a slightly lower ride height along with its own 19- and optional 20-inch wheels.
This is all well and good, but what will give this Buick its performance chops is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that Buick promises will deliver at least 255 horsepower and a stout 295 pound-feet of torque. By comparison, the Regal CXL's optional 2.0-liter turbo engine produces 220 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque. Much of GS's added output comes from increased turbocharger boost pressure along with freer flowing exhaust plumping.
Buick claims the GS delivers 0-to-60-mph runs below the seven-second threshold, which is decent, but not spectacular for the 3,700-pound sedan.
Initially, the GS will only be offered with a six-speed manual transmission, which certainly runs counter to the Buick image. A six-speed automatic will be added to the lineup once the Regal's new Canadian assembly plant ramps up production. Fuel economy is rated at a reasonable 19 mpg in the city, 29 highway.
Additional performance-oriented upgrading has also been bestowed upon the GS. Chief among these are special "HiPerStruts" for the front suspension that help reduce torque steer, which is the tendency for high-powered front-wheel-drive vehicles to pull to one side under hard acceleration. The driver can choose standard, sport and extra-firm suspension settings and for a more sporting feel, the degree of power-steering boost is reduced as suspension firmness increases.
Finally, the Regal's braking has been upgraded with a four-wheel-disc package from Brembo, a company that supplies the stopping power for the world's most elite cars.
Both driver and passengers will experience more regal accouterments in the GS, beginning with a well-executed all-black interior with satin-nickel trim, leather-covered seats (heated and 12-way adjustable in front), a meaty flat-bottomed steering wheel and a 320-watt, nine-speaker Harmon/Kardon-brand sound system. There's a front and rear park-assist warning system, electronic parking brake and high-intensity bi-xenon (high and low-beam) headlamps.
Pricing hasn't yet been formally announced, but expect somewhere around $36,000, which is about $6,500 more than the Regal CXL Turbo. That's in BMW 3-series/Acura TL/Audi A4 territory, which is pretty fast company for a brand that has been considered anything but.
However, the tide is changing for Buick and the GS should not to be taken lightly.