Mini Comparison: 2012 Buick Regal GS And 2012 Volvo S60 R-Design

By Seyth Miersma

January 30, 2012

—Ann Arbor, Michigan
Recent back-to-back, weeklong tests of the 2012 Buick Regal GS and the 2012 Volvo S60 R-Design had got us to thinking that the two mild-performance variants could very well be vying for some of the same car-shopper dollars. With the Buick well down on power (by 55 horsepower and about 59 pound-feet of torque), down on driven wheels (front-wheel drive versus all-wheel), and down on price (about $8000 cheaper), this is certainly no direct comparison test. But, both Buick and Volvo seem to be playing to customers that are perhaps fatigued by the mainstream sport-luxury choices here (BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, etc.), and each car offers a compelling out-of-the-box answer to the sports sedan question.
Both the GS trimmed Regal, and R-Design trimmed S60 have been massaged for more performance versus their base-model counterparts. In this regard, the hotter Regal has certainly seen the bigger transformation. The powerful and smooth-spooling 2.0-liter turbo four under the hood helps to offer brisk, if not blistering acceleration, while the beefed up chassis and suspension components keep the extra power from getting out of hand in this front driver. GM’s new HiPer Strut system helps to separate the steering and suspension functions, which in turn decreases the amount of scrub experienced by the front wheels, when under load. The long and short of it is a powerful front-drive car that isn’t dynamically compromised when accelerating and/or cornering at speed.
The R-Design S60 makes use of all-wheel drive, of course, and is well set up to deliver the extra power and torque (it’s up 25 horsepower and 19 pound-feet versus the standard S60 T6) usefully to the road. Standing starts in the Volvo feel quite a bit quicker than the GS, as you’d expect, though the Swede’s automatic transmission does hold it back a bit in terms of driver involvement.
Despite the power deficit, the Regal is often more compelling to drive than the S60 because of its very good six-speed manual transmission. We loved this MT when we first tested the Buick, and were quite happy to find our impressions confirmed this second time around. The shift lever offers a nicely mechanical feel, with a solid, metallic experience each time you slot into one of the easy-to-find gates. The S60’s automatic, meanwhile, doesn’t even have a paddle-shift option, and is really best left in Drive most of the time. Volvo offers individual gear control via the shift lever on the tunnel, but response time is on the slow side, and the physical action is gummy and a bit unsatisfying.
Setting aside the powertrains for a moment, it’s hard to pick a winner in terms of overall handling for these two sportish sedans. The truth is that both err on the side of comfort, even with the dynamic chassis settings at their most aggressive, with smooth ride quality being more apparent than truly sharp handling. The S60 feels more fluid and a little bit less nose-heavy than the Regal GS, and probably offers just a very slight advantage in terms of steering feel and weight.
So both cars are comfortable, quiet, sweet-riding, and a decent bit quicker than their more basic versions. Of the two, we’d recommend the Buick GS for those seeking more of a driver’s car, because the manual transmission is so good, and the R-Design S60 for those looking for more of a luxury car with added performance. That analysis is backed up by the Volvo’s cabin feeling a bit plusher than the Buick’s (although the overall suite of technology is much better realized in the Regal than the S60). Outside impressions seem to heavily favor the Volvo’s overall looks and design to that of the Buick, too.
Price-wise, both the GS and the R-Design are interestingly well suited to face their “real” mainstream competition. We think the GS compares very favorably to rear-drive, entry-level luxury cars like the Lexus IS250, and the Infiniti G25, and could at least reasonably bear scrutiny versus the new BMW 328i, and the Audi A4 2.0T Quattro—all of which are similarly priced. Volvo has clearly done its homework on the segment as well: the BMW 335ix or the Lexus IS350 AWD are similarly priced but less powerful, and the Infiniti G37x costs a few grand more and offers a lot less torque.
Volvo and Buick are most likely not the first brands you think of when you’re considering a sporting luxury sedan, but it turns out that the Regal GS and the S60 R-Design are both strong competitors in that class. The outright comparison between the two is fairly close after our testing—and closer still when price is considered—and each is a definite cross-shop candidate within its own price bracket.  
2012 Buick Regal GS 6MT
Engine: Turbocharged inline-4, 2.0 liters, 16v
Output: 270 hp/295 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 6.3 sec (est)
Weight: 3710 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 19/27 mpg
Base Price: $34,220
2012 Volvo S60 R-Design
Engine: Turbocharged inline-6, 3.0 liters, 24v
Output: 325 hp/354 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 5.3 sec (est)
Weight: 3877 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 18/26 mpg
Base Price: $42,950