The Buick Regal GS is a conundrum. It's not luxurious enough to be a Cadillac. It's not cheap enough to be Chevy. It's got big vents up front, but a small noise coming out the back. So what is it?
(Full disclosure: Buick wanted me to drive the Regal GS so bad that when I first told Travis that I wanted to drive one, he looked at me askance, and then said, "...okay." Then I went to pick it up at a garage on the west side of Manhattan, where it came nicely equipped with a full tank of gas. I drove it around for a week.)
When I told various people that I'd be getting a Buick for a week, they similarly looked at me askance. Visions danced in their heads of LeSabres and retirees, until I told them it was a fast Buick, in which case, visions danced in their heads of the famed GNXs of yore.
The truth of the matter is, the Regal isn't a Buick at all, not really. It's based on the Opel Insignia, a mid-level car from GM's European equivalent of Chevrolet. Over on the other end of the Atlantic, it's considered a "large family car," but over here, it's really not much bigger than a BMW 3-Series, or an Audi A4.
And belying its roots, it all feels very European.
In its tarted-up, top-of-the-line, version, it's called the Regal GS, and it's got a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, pumping out 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of muscle.
Oh, and because it's so continental, it's got a manual transmission, too. A real one. With three pedals, and everything. But because it's all very European, as I stated, it comes with front-wheel drive. Only.
You can get an all-wheel-drive GS, but unfortunately, that one only comes with an automatic.
I know, the mere possibility of still being able to check off that box on the order form, in a Buick, (a real Buick!) is kind of amazing in itself.
Buick offers a non-GS version of the Regal. And thats all I have to say about that.
But my question here wasn't talk about specifications, about bits and baubles. My question was to find out if it was really a Buick (no), if it was any good (yeah, actually), and who it was for (people).
I'm not going to be winning any bravery points by saying that the regular Buick Regal looks like a lump of car, a beige Beigemobile which people in Florida (and China, these days) use to drive around doing beige things.
But I will say that the Buick Regal in GS form is actually a pretty handsome car. The wheels are bigger, the tires are fatter, it sits ever-so-slightly lower, and, of course, it's got those ridiculously huge vents up front.
I like those ridiculously huge vents up front.
Would they look silly to some? Yes, yes they would. But something about a Buick being silly is incredibly appealing. It's like an old man on a skateboard. It's that touch of the unexpected that makes every day life so bearable.
And when you tell your friends that the car you're driving around with its silly bumper openings and its trapezoidal exhausts is a Buick, it'll definitely be unexpected.
We'll get the pleasantries with the Regal GS out of the way first. Everything falls to hand pretty easily, everything is heated, if that's what you want in summer, the driving position can both be stratosphere-high and subterranean-basement low, meaning that it's going to be easy to use for everyone, and the seats are damn comfy while still supportive.
And they're even aesthetically pleasing. Yeah, I said it. Aesthetically-pleasing seats. Seriously, they're all ribbed-looking, which is much better than the blank slabs of gray leather in some of the other cars of its class.
Alright, now here's why this Buick isn't getting top points. GM's made some great quality strides over the past few years, and that's all good and nice and wonderful. Seriously, well-done for them.
But there are some serious issues they need to work out. You can even see one such issue in the photo above. Yes, that seat design is all well and good, but see the way that leather bunches up? Leather should be soft, yet drawn tight on the seat. Not like a deflated balloon in patches.
And yes, the steering wheel is nice and thick and chunky, which is great. Buick even tried to spice up that rim by offering some contrasting stitching, which is all very nice.
BUT LOOK AT THAT STITCHING.
It looks like a blind child did it. A poorly paid, underfed, blind child, who really could just use a pair of glasses. It's all lumpy and inconsistent, in all sorts of strange shapes and sizes.
Look, Buick, I get what you were trying to do, but this is definitely a poor attempt. And when you're selling a car to compete with the Germans at their own game of sporty-yet-comfortable-sedans-for-people-just-entering-middle-age-who've-done-well-for-themselves-so-far, crappy stitching just ain't gonna cut it.
And it doesn't help that it's on the steering wheel, right in front of your face.
When the rest of the insides are pretty good, it's faults like these that bring it down.
The acceleration in the Buick Regal GS is fine. The acceleration in the Buick Regal GS is adequate. The acceleration in the Buick Regal GS is okay.
But it's called the Buick Regal GS, and that should stand for something, as should those big vents and exhaust pipes, and I'm not sure the acceleration should just be fine, adequate, or okay.
It gets to 60 MPH in a little over six seconds, which is quick enough to make sure you won't be in trouble on the highway, but it's nothing that'll snap your neck, and that's mostly due to the weight hovering around 3,600 pounds. It's got huge amounts of torque, however, so you sort of waft to highway speeds anyways.
If you slam the surprisingly-dead feeling accelerator pedal down, you might trip up the transmission a bit, and the tires might chirp slightly, but it's not like you'll be ripping up epic burnouts with the Buick. The engine doesn't really encourage that sort of thing. It doesn't bounce off the rev limiter when you thrash it, so much as it sits and whines near the top.
And forget about accelerating if you're in just slightly the wrong gear. Put your foot down in 2nd at 5 MPH, and you could be waiting a while.
But if you're in the right gear, it's fine. It's adequate. It's okay.
The brakes feel like enormous anchors, dredged deep into the asphalt, as they slow you down from 220 MPH at the ragged end of the Mulsanne...
Okay, no, they do not feel like that. But the brake pedal feel is really nice and progressive, however, and the brakes haul you to a stop. Like seriously, these can make eyes pop out of your head.
The front brakes say "Brembo" on them, probably because they're made by Brembo, and they're the most impressive part of the GS. It's ironic, because the most powerful and evocative part of a car with a badge that means "Grand Sport" is the stopping part, not the going part.
You might think with those big, gnarly looking wheels that the Buick is a bit harsh, and rattles your bones a bit. But the truth of the matter is it isn't, and it doesn't. The ride isn't old-school Cadillac smooth, but then again, no modern car feels quite as boat-ish.
But the Regal GS feels nice and smooth, even over big potholes. Everything just feels comfortable, like a car meant for average adults, if there is such a thing. Not for senior citizens, but for the person with his or her 2.1 children. Weirdly enough, a sporty Buick is still a Buick, and that means everything stays pretty even-keeled.
It's not a fat pillow, like old Buicks, but it's more comfortable than a comparable BMW or Audi, so it's actually a change for the segment.
Okay, so because the Buick is relatively comfortable, it's not exactly going to be a barn-burner in the handling department. That doesn't mean it isn't fun, or that it feels fat, or it wallows in the corners.
No, it's not as fun as an original 1967 Mini Cooper S, but the steering is actually properly weighted, and not overboosted, giving a not insignificant bit of roadfeel when you're well into a corner. Yes, if you drive it like a nut, you're going to be met with resistance from the front end, but most people who drive this car won't ever come to that level.
But it's got relatively healthy-sized tires, and coupled with the weighty wheel in front of you, it's enough to inspire confidence when turning down the twisties I took it through just north of New York City.
Are you going to be winning the Monaco Grand Prix? No. But there definitely is a degree of fun to knowing that you've got a turbo'd car, with a six-speed manual, and, and, it's a Buick. And since the suspension's pretty smooth, you won't be bouncing around the whole time, either, giving you the will to keep pushing it.
As I said before, the Buick Regal GS that I tested had a real, live, actual six-speed manual transmission, with three pedals, and everything. And it was a peach, for the most part.
My only complaint, really, is that sometimes it feels like you have to push a few lumps of coal out of the way to get it into first, and I'm not sure what that's about, when everything else feels so well-sorted.
The throws were short and sharp, and the clutch was a delight, with a light touch and a precise catch point. It's all very becoming of what is essentially a European sedan, and for people that may be used to manual transmissions in harder-edged cars, it's a definite change.
The GS actually comes with a "No-Lift-Shift" feature as well, which enables you to keep your foot mashed down while changing gears. When the clutch is depressed under wide-open throttle, the engine computer ever so briefly cuts the throttle and reduces the spark advance, enabling the turbo to stay spooled up while you keep switching gears.
I tried it, though to be honest the highest praise I can say about the bit of tech is that it works. The turbo-4 in the GS is really quiet, and doesn't sound all that great, so you end up getting just a sad droning noise as the engine gets pegged near the top of the tach.
You're probably better off just shifting gears like a normal person.
Oh, and there's supposed to be a Hill Start Assist feature, but I couldn't really get it to work on anything that was too steep, and the car would start rolling back in under a second.
But yeah, the tranny overall is definitive, smooth, and easy. No complaints with that.
The Buick Intellilink system in the Regal GS is pretty much the same infotainment system that you see in a lot of GM cars these days, but it's just a peach to use. It's incredible that this is the kind of thing that needs to be lauded in this day and age, but the fact that you can just type out on the touchscreen where you'd like to go in the navigation system is a great leap forward over many.
No more "oh, I have to put in the street, now another button for the house number, now another menu for the city, now another menu for the state."
You just type in "5 Main Street New York City," AND IT KNOWS WHERE YOU WANT TO GO.
Like I said, nowadays you can type verbal diarrhea into Google and it'll know exactly what you want, but getting even a general approximation of where you want to go to work in an automotive navigation system can be a nightmare. And the system knows which button I'm pressing, too.
How about that.
Oh, and it's got all the other gizmos, too, that every other semi-luxury car has. Lane departure warning systems, parking sensors, backup cameras, rear cross traffic alert, automatic headlights, all that is all very well and good. Just fine.
Pandora and Stitcher SmartRadio are available to stream over the audio system, as well.
The one thing I didn't really find much use for, to be honest, was the SPORT and GS buttons. Not that I wasn't pressing them a whole bunch, constantly on the hunt for MORE SPORT and MORE GS, it's just that they didn't seem to do much.
I mean, the SPORT button is pretty self-explanatory, and the GS button is supposed to be a sportier SPORT. They're supposed to quicken the throttle response and firm up the suspension a bit, but I really didn't feel much difference. It was there, slightly, maybe, but I'm not quite sure I couldn't chalk that up to tricks in my head.
Press the equivalent button in a CTS-V, and it's like your driving a whole different beast. Press it in a Regal GS, and you're in for a night of "...are you feeling it yet?"
And really, everything's just fine as-is, so I ended up keeping it in GS mode the whole time. Because why not.
You might be wondering why this is only getting six points, instead of all the points ever, for its Bose Premium nine-speaker sound system. That bit sounded good, very good indeed. Kool Moe Dee's buttery voice flowed out of every orifice like, well, butter.
(Does butter flow? Maybe warm butter. I don't know, just go with it.)
That's great. Love that. Who wouldn't want that.
But the real problem is the engine. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four is too quiet most of the time, and when you do give it the full beans, it just sort of whines at you like it doesn't want to get up and go to school. It's not that the engine itself isn't eager – it is. There's even a little turbo noise that you can hear if you've got the windows down. But it's doing one thing and singing a different song. It's all kind of weird.
And it's not like we live in a world where the fact that it's only got four cylinders is the culprit. Cars like the Fiat 500 Abarth have four-cylinder engines that sound like proper little racers, and massive amounts of money gets thrown at perfecting just the right note coming out the back.
If you're going to be selling it like it's a sport sedan, it should at least sound like one from under the hood.
Alright, so here's my beef with the Buick. No, it doesn't feel totally like the soft lumps that Buicks used to. But no, it also doesn't feel like the sportiest sedan in the world.
Yes, it's got 295 pound-feet of torque, but it's only got 259 horses under the hood (The same as the turbo model, so there's no power gain for the GS). A BMW 328i isn't that far off, with 240 horses, and it'll accelerate quicker as well. And they cost about the same.
Yes, the Buick might have more toys as standard, but it's also fighting an uphill battle. It's a supposedly sporty sedan in a market awash with sporty sedans, and thus, it'll have to distinguish itself on something like value.
And the Regal GS that I tested would be a really good value at something like $35,000.
But it doesn't cost $35,000, it came with a sticker that read $40,715.00, including options and destination charge.
The base price is $36,905, but again, that's BMW 3-series money. And if you're trying to go up against the BMW, the Mercedes, the Audi, the Lexus, the Infiniti, and all the rest, I'm not sure I'd pay that amount of money to tell people I just pulled up in my... Buick.
And since I've spent so much time harping on how it doesn't feel like a Buick, I should say what it really feels like. It feels like a very nice, very well-equipped Opel. An Opel with a manual transmission, which isn't very uncommon in Europe.
Which is kind of who this car is for, really. Someone who fancies themselves as a working-class Continental, as someone who makes things with their hands all day, and then comes home to a dinner involving red wine.
So yes, if we are thinking or purely intellectual pursuits alone, I guess the Buick Regal GS might be, maybe worth $40,000.
But I'm not sure how many people will actually pay that much for one. If only it were just a little cheaper.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4
Power: 259 HP @ 5300 RPM/295 lb-ft. @ 3000 RPM
Transmission: Six-speed manual
0-60 Time: 6.2 seconds (estimated)
Top Speed: 162 MPH
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
Curb weight: 3725 pounds
Seating: Five people
MPG: 20 city/31 highway
MSRP: $36,905 (base)/$40,715 (as tested)