Quick Drive: 2012 Buick Regal GS

By Tom Martin

June 21, 2012

 —Austin, Texas
The guys at Winding Road have really enjoyed this car, which might be significant news for more than a few of you. Basically, the Regal GS is another data point in the “Buick is back” story line. But that story is only of interest to observers of the industry and not to real buyers, unless the car itself is more than “not bad.” To be relevant, Buicks have to have some distinctive and desirable characteristics, and the Regal GS does.
The GS is the sportiest Regal, both in styling and in content. Based on a 2.0-liter EcoTec four-cylinder turbo, the GS has 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The car weighs 3710 pounds, which is on the heavy side for its size, but fortunately that mass has been deployed to create a rock solid body structure that is the foundation for a firm, well-damped suspension. Yes, Matilda, we just said that another Buick has a firm, balanced suspension, which leads us to think this is, and will be, a habit from now on.
[Click here to read our review of the 2013 Lexus ES350]
The Regal is a front-driver, which means the GS isn’t exactly aimed at de-throning the competent but rather dull BMW 328i, and while you can’t hide which wheels are delivering power to the tarmac, the Regal suspension tuning actually feels a smidge tighter than the setup on the 328i. Despite this, the Regal’s ride quality seems about as good as your typical BMW (which is to say, very, very good).
While the suspension on the Buick is quite nice, it turns out that the powertrain is what makes it special. The turbo torque, which arrives from circa 1500 rpm, is ample and makes shooting through gaps in the city a pleasure. The GS isn’t really fast, but it feels pretty quick and exploitable. The big thing though is the pace-to-stress ratio, which is rather high, meaning that the GS gets going with relatively little effort, or so it seems.
This, we would opine, is something many buyers are looking for, and we think they care about this much more than they care about acceleration times when you wind the car out to redline. This same pace-to-stress ratio is the complement of the well-known ride/handling balance so often discussed in reviews of cars like the BMW 3-Series. Turns out the GS is pretty great in both regards, which is a fantastic combination of traits.
A few other comments are in order. First, lots of people, especially women, seem to like the design of the Regal. Fortunately, the interior doesn’t undo what is accomplished on a walk-around, being tasteful and conservative, if a little too plastic-laden to appeal to the Audi crowd. And while we weren’t in love with the steering (nor are we in love with 3-Series BMW steering), we want to note that the front seats in the GS are very firm yet comfortable. Finally, it must be said to Buick’s credit, that the car offers a choice of manual or automatic six-speed transmissions. So there you have it, a fun to drive, quick Buick with a firm suspension, nifty styling and an available manual gearbox. Pigs can fly, I guess.
Maybe the hard part for enthusiasts to understand is where the Regal GS fits in the automotive pantheon. From our time in the car, Buick isn't trying to build a 335i or an Evo (or a successor to the GNX). Instead, the company is trying to build something that is nicer than an Accord V-6 or a Maxima; something competitive with Acura, and Lexus (ES/IS), and Volvo, but at a slightly lower price. That means the cars have to look classy, be luxurious and then, in the case of the GS, be fun to drive. Thus, we think the Regal GS is a sporty luxury sedan, not a sports sedan. At that it seems to succeed like few other cars we’ve driven lately.
2012 Buick Regal GS
Engine: Turbocharged inline-4, 2.0 liters, 16v
Output: 270 hp/295 lb-ft
Weight: 3710 lb
0-60 MPH: 6.8 sec (est)
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 19/27 mpg
Base Price: $35,720