2012 Buick Regal GS Review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Buick might be one of the fastest-growing automakers in the United States right now, but it still has an image problem. Years of getting stuck behind Buicks driven by well-meaning AARP members going 5 mph below the speed limit has left many consumers thinking the automaker only builds vehicles for people of advanced age. While there is nothing wrong with that, it does limit the brand's appeal.
In 2011, Buick went a long way toward broadening its appeal with the all-new Regal. The Regal offered sleek good looks, a sporty driving character and turbocharged engines; that is, it appealed to a much younger consumer. And it was a hit. Buick wants to keep the momentum going in 2012, so it is adding two new models to the Regal line: the performance-oriented GS and a new hybrid.
The question still remains: Is Buick fundamentally a brand for those in their golden years? If these rides are any indication, we think not.
Premium 1 versions add rear-obstacle detection, 8-way power passenger seat, keyless access and starting, universal garage-door opener, remote starting, and a 120-volt power outlet. Premium 2 trims come with a Harman Kardon sound system and bi-xenon headlights, and the Turbo Premium 2 has rear side airbags, too. The Turbo Premium 3 adds Buick's Interactive Driver Control System adjustable suspension and P245/40R19 tires, while the GS gets front obstacle detection system, Brembo brakes, 12-way power front sport seats, and GM's HiPer Strut sport suspension.
Options start with the eAssist hybrid system, which adds a motor-generator in place of an alternator, and a lithium-ion battery. Also offered are a sunroof, a navigation system, sport pedals and chromed wheels.
Under the Hood
Two new powertrains are offered for 2012. The Buick Regal eAssist gets the 2.4-liter engine aided by an electric motor that can add 15 horsepower or 79 lb-ft of torque. It comes only with the automatic transmission. Its EPA fuel-economy ratings are 25/36 mpg. The new GS trim features a higher output version of the turbo. Thanks to additional boost (20 psi versus 15 psi) this engine makes 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. It is initially offered only with a 6-speed manual transmission; the automatic is due in 2012. The GS with the manual is EPA-
The available navigation system has 10 gigabytes of space for storing songs and a 1-gigabyte flash drive that allows drivers to rewind up to 20 minutes of XM radio stations. New for 2012 is IntelliLink, one of the new breed of systems that pairs with your smartphone to access applications (Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio in this case) and that allows voice command of phones and MP3 players. Like other new systems of this type, IntelliLink is a good idea that will be made better when voice-recognition technology advances.
The Regal's control layout is a bit confusing. It has a multifunction controller on the center console that is used to work the navigation system, radio, and Bluetooth phone. Controls are also available on the dashboard and center-console touch screen. This gives owners several paths to various controls. We find the dashboard buttons to be a jumble, and many of the paths will require some time to learn.
The driver's seat in any trim is quite comfortable, thanks to 8-way power-seat controls and a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The GS's sport seats have enough bolstering to keep drivers in place during aggressive cornering, but we find them a bit too hard for long-trip comfort. The back seat has enough room for kids or average-size adults, but if occupants in the front or rear are tall, legroom gets tight. Tall rear-seat passengers will also want more headroom.
On the Road
Turbocharged trims get Buick's Interactive Driver Control System, which adjusts the shock settings, automatic transmission shift points, steering effort and throttle response. With the low-pressure turbo, drivers choose from Tour, Normal and Sport settings. Tour is the softest — too soft for us, as it allows some highway float. Sport firms things up, giving the car quicker moves.
The GS version has Normal, Sport and GS settings. The GS setting is best for aggressive cornering, keeping the Regal flat in turns and providing heavier steering that is easier to control. While ride quality is generally good, both the Sport and GS modes can cause the ride to get fidgety, and they allow sharp bumps to pound through, especially with the optional 20-inch wheels and summer tires. Those summer tires provide the best grip, and they should be the choice for customers looking for real performance. Be aware, however, that snow tires will be required for cold climates.
The GS also adds Brembo front brakes with excellent stopping power. General Motors claims these brakes are track-ready, so they should always do the trick on the road.
Engine performance is good in any trim. The base 2.4-liter engine responds well from a stop, and is smooth and quiet for a 4-cylinder engine. It propels the GS from zero to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, but it struggles for passing punch at highway speeds. The new eAssist system is paired with this engine. The electric motor adds some power, making the 2.4 feel a little more responsive. It's geared for fuel economy, though, and we could feel the engine strain in cruising situations. That's not an issue because the 6-speed automatic transmission downshifts quickly when the driver steps deeper into the throttle.
The low-pressure turbo is similar to the 2.4-liter from a stop, without any notable turbo lag, but it is more responsive in the midrange and at highway speeds, making passing easier. It cuts the zero-to-60 mph time to 7.5 seconds while delivering excellent fuel economy and even quieter operation. The automatic transmission works well with all three of these engines, shifting smoothly and responsively. Drivers can shift manually through the gearshift, but a car with the Regal's sporty aspirations should have steering-wheel shift paddles.
The higher-output turbo in the GS is surprisingly smooth. It leans toward refinement instead of the drama of other high-power front-drive cars, though there is some exhaust burble. GM's HiPer Strut front suspension eliminates torque steer, allowing the car to accelerate smoothly from a stop. It never feels like it's pulling that hard. Instead, acceleration is linear and still fairly quick, with a 6.7 second zero-to-60-mph time. That's comparable to V6 performance in many competitors. Buick made only the manual transmission available for testing, and we found that it has a light, but mechanical feel with an easy-to-modulate clutch.
Right for You?
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Buick provided MSN with travel and accommodations tofacilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.