2012 Buick Regal GSPosted on June 6th, 2012
Turbocharging gives five-passenger sedan extra muscle
By Nina Russin
In 1965, Buick engineers shoehorned a 401-cubic inch “nailhead” engine under the hood of its midsized Skylark sedan, and designated the model “GS.” The engine was the same block Hollywood stunt car builder, Max Balchowsky, used for his Old Yeller race cars, some of which appear on the vintage circuit today.
The Gran Sport was Buick’s answer to the Pontiac GTO and Chevrolet Chevelle SS. The GS developed a devoted following of car enthusiasts who loved its combination of elegance and power.
The sedan’s popularity prompted product planners to continue the GS moniker through the mid-1970s. Shortly thereafter, Buick renamed its high-performance car the Grand National. The model, named for the Grand National NASCAR series, was the darling of the drag strip, with a turbocharged, intercooled V-6 engine which outperformed many V-8 competitors.
Although the new Buick Regal GS takes its name from the 1960s muscle cars, its true roots are in the Grand Nationals of the mid-1980s. Turbocharging gives the Regal GS’ four-cylinder engine the highest specific output of any production engine in General Motors history. Equipped with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions, the 2012 Buick Regal GS is a millennial muscle car for a new generation of drivers.
Pricing for the Buick Regal GS begins at $34,835, excluding the $885 delivery charge. Twenty-inch alloy wheels on the test car add $700, bringing the MSRP to $36,420.
Power to the ground
Anyone old enough to have driven the first-generation of muscle cars knows that speed and performance don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Although the cars of the sixties were known for their quarter-mile performance, steering response and braking were not particularly good.
Today engineers have solved those problems, thanks to onboard computers, more sophisticated suspensions and much better tires. The new Regal GS can go head-to-head with the best Europe has to offer.
Three suspension settings allow the driver to adjust damping and steering weight according to his needs, so the sedan truly does run on rails. A high-performance strut design reduces the tendency for the chassis to push in the corners.
The GS has a slightly lower ride height than other Regal models: the lower center of gravity enhances high-speed performance. In short, power developed under the hood makes it to the pavement, where four very large wheels with very good tires keep the sedan glued to the road.
Test drive in Arizona
This week, I had the chance to drive the new Regal GS on two-lane roads and highways through the Superstition wilderness east of Phoenix. Not is the four-cylinder engine’s performance virtually indistinguishable from a V-6; some drivers might mistake it for a small block V-8.
What elevates the turbocharged two-liter block above competitive products is its low-end power. Part of this comes from turbocharging, and part from the dual exhaust system which allows the engine to breathe better.
The exhaust-driven blower enables the engine to achieve peak torque, 295 foot-pounds, at 2400 rpm, which is a mild dip of the throttle. The engine’s compression ratio is relatively low, 9.2:1, so while the manufacturer recommends premium fuel, the car will run on 87 octane.
Although a manual gear select option enables drivers to hold onto gears longer, zero-to-sixty acceleration is quite impressive in pure automatic mode: in the mid six second range. Direct gasoline injection gives driver exceptional throttle response, which can make the difference between a good commute and a bad one in our toll booth-to-toll booth society.
For my 100-mile test drive, I kept the transmission in fully automatic mode around town and shifted to manual gear selection in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. Although the extra control always makes driving more fun, I have to say that the automatic transmission is good enough that the manual shift option is almost extraneous.
The GS suspension is super-refined: it is compliant without being floaty, even when driven in the softest setting. The stiffer settings truly make the driver feel one with the road. The Brembo brakes are firm without being grabby, stopping the sedan in a linear manner.
Engineers did a good job of isolating passengers from road, wind and engine noise, to produce the quiet interior Buick is known for.
A wrap-around instrument panel and heavily bolstered front seats make it clear that the Buick Regal GS is first and foremost a driver’s car. A tall floor tunnel essentially eliminates legroom in the second-row center position. The roof’s sharp rake somewhat limits headroom as well. I had a few inches to spare, but a taller man would feel cramped.
In keeping with its luxury positioning, keyless entry and start are standard equipment. So is Buick’s new IntelliLink feature, which enables the driver to interface with his smart phone for apps such as Pandora and Stitcher radio. Other standard infotainment features include USB connectivity, Bluetooth interface and Sirius XM satellite radio.
A voice recognition button on the steering wheel enables the driver to use this technology with minimal distraction. The driver and passenger can also call up functions using the touch screen center console display.
The sport seats provide plenty of lower lumbar support. I did find them a little tough on the hamstrings after sitting for a couple of hours, since they are hard and the seat bottoms are rather long. The steering wheel is small enough in diameter for women to feel comfortable. The wheel tilts and telescopes so smaller drivers can maintain a clear view of the road ahead.
Audible and visual alerts warn the driver of obstacles in blind spots. I am surprised that the Regal doesn’t have a rearview camera. With the sedan’s large rear pillars, a rearview camera would make it much easier to monitor cross traffic in a parking lot.
Standard dual-zone climate control keeps both the driver and front passenger comfortable. A 120-volt outlet behind the center console enables kids to plug in games on long road trips.
Designers did a good job of adding storage areas throughout the passenger compartment, including large cupholders in the center console, bottle holders in all four doors, a good-sized glovebox and center console bin. The trunk has plenty of room for groceries and luggage. Second-row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor for longer items.
The Buick Regal GS comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, high-intensity discharge headlamps, daytime running lamps, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. Standard OnStar automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel if the driver is involved in a serious collision. Buick builds the Regal GS at its Oshawa, Ontario Canada assembly plant.
Likes: A luxury sport sedan with excellent power and performance, a quiet, elegant interior and appealing exterior styling.
Dislike: A rear backup camera is not standard equipment, making it difficult to monitor cross-traffic in parking lots.
Model: Regal GS
Base price: $34,835
As tested: $36,420
Horsepower: 270 Hp @ 5300 rpm
Torque: 295 lbs.-ft. @ 2400 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 6.7 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 19/27 mpg city/highway
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