Short Drive: 2012 Buick Regal GS

It didn't take long for armchair quarterbacks to start whining after the 2012 Buick Regal GS was officially unveiled. Sure, it looks like a carbon copy of the European Opel Insignia OPC -- but wait? Where's the all-wheel-drive? And why has the twin-turbocharged six-cylinder been replaced by a forced-induction-four?

Turns out there's a method to General Motors' madness -- at least when it comes to spending time behind the wheel. While we won't be able to do that on public roads for another few weeks, we did recently flog a few pre-production prototypes around the automaker's proving grounds in Milford, Michigan.

One look at the OPC's spec sheet may set enthusiasts' hearts aflame, but such a niche vehicle could potentially struggle in North America -- particularly under Buick's stewardship. Nancy Huber, program engineering manager for the Regal GS, describes the Insignia OPC as a "really raw performance machine." Fun, but engineers wanted something a little more well-rounded wearing a Buick badge.

That particularly applies to powertrain options. While the OPC's 325-hp, twin-turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 is certainly a powerhouse, it also tends to guzzle premium fuel, a trait not aided by the standard Haldex all-wheel-drive system. The Regal GS ditches both in pursuit of a few extra miles per gallon, and adopts a version of GM's direct-injection, turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4, and front-wheel-drive.

In GS form, that engine cranks out 270 hp at 5300and 295 pound feet of torque -- 95 percent of which is available from 2300-4900 rpm. With either the standard six-speed manual or the available six-speed automatic transmission, the GS should achieve 19/27 mpg (city/highway). Performance wise, Buick claims a 0-60 mph time of about 6.7 seconds, a little slower than the Opel, which blasts to 62 mph in six seconds flat. Despite claims that the U.S.-spec improves balance, the Regal GS shares its 58/42 (front/rear) weight distribution with the OPC, although the Buick does weigh some 280 pounds less.

Luckily, much of the OPC's magical chassis hardware migrates stateside. Sachs-sourced adaptive dampers provide three levels of firmness; the stiffest -- dubbed GS mode -- also triggers changes in steering assist, throttle response, and on automatic cars, shift timing. Brake components -- including 14-inch rotors and four-piston calipers up front are sourced from Brembo, and high-performance linings are used at all four corners. GM's HiPer Struts are also ported over for the front suspension, and feature discrete yokes and hub carriers. This, along with shorter spindle lengths, helps curb torque steer, even in high-power applications.

Skeptical? So were we, until we had a turn behind the wheel. Though it lacks the feel of a rear-drive vehicle, the Regal GS is surprisingly agile. Even when driven hard into corners, the car remains astoundingly neutral; understeer rarely rears its head. The HiPer Strut design inherently removes some feedback from the steering rack, but it's fairly well weighted -- at least in GS mode. We'd like a little more time to sample the other suspension settings over public roads and plan to do so later this month. Stay tuned.

Pricing starts at $35,310, including destination fees. That's roughly $6000 more than a base Regal Turbo, but it also includes content like 12-way power front seats, leather seating trim, bi-xenon HID headlamps, a 336-watt Harman/Kardan sound system, Bluetooth phone pairing, and, later next year, a new IntelliLink infotainment system. Options are limited to pearlescent paint, 20-inch wheels shod with Pirelli P-Zero performance tires (a must-have indulgence), a sunroof, and navigation.

Considering a base front-wheel-drive Acura TL comes in at $36,490 and a Volvo S60T5 at $32,025, the GS' asking price isn't egregious, but it does knock on the doors of several rear-drive performance sedans, including the Infiniti G37. Our limited drive didn't give us enough time to give a definitive answer on the Buick's value, but we eagerly await our next change behind the wheel.

2012 Buick Regal GS

Base Price: $35,310

2.0-liter, turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Horsepower: 270 hp @ 5300 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 2400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel Measurements
L x W x H:
107.8 x 73.1 x 58 in
Legroom F/R: 42.1/37.3 in
Headroom F/R: 38.8/ 36.8 in
Cargo capacity: 14.25 cu ft
Curb Weight: 3710 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 19/27 mpg

Can someone tell tonkatoytruck that the Toronado was NOT a Buick. I really hate it when people who think they know a thing or two about cars spew garbage. The Regal is a great car and exactly where Buick needs to be. I also wish it were it were a true kick in the pants with more power and AWD (not sure what REAL wheel drive is tonka?) but I understand there is a price point to meet. I don't think anyone would go wrong buying this car. Also, who in the hell needs a Buick that can haul a boat? GMC is in the same dealership.
Too much money for too little performance. Buick may fool enough of the general public to sell these cars, but the enthusiast will not be impressed. Leave it to an American car company to be afraid of bringing in a true performance Buick. There are many cars in this price range that will outdo the Buick in many categories. It's a real shame.
The car should be about 3,100 lbs.
I'm thinking the Buick guys are trying to pick up the performance cars from Pontiac and Oldsmobile. Since Cadillac has the CTS-V models in coupe, sedan AND wagon.. THAT would be a lost cause. Dump Buick and bring back Pontiac! Big Goats for old goats, and smaller frisky goats for the young goats!
Is this the most powerful FWD car in America!?!
@tonkatoytruck- ummm before whining, how about getting something basic straight. Seeing how you apparently like the Toronado, I would think you would know it wasn't a Buick. It was in fact an Oldsmobile. Yes GM company, but different "badge". Were you maybe thinking Riveria? Either case, quit your complaining, obviously you are not half the car guy you think you are. Adapt, adapt adapt...
Horsepower is never out of style and that is what the original Grand Sports were all about (and the reference to towing a boat is, as well). A four cylinder, front wheel drive vehicle is just transportation and that is sad. Retro is in. Just ask Camaro, Mustang, and Dodge owners of the new body designs. If Buick wants to cater to the A to B drivers, then it should not have the GS badge slapped on it as if it were an afterthought.
If Buick lost it's way, that is no prescription for a way back for the masses. Is it possible that more than 2% of the market needs to tow a boat? The Lacrosse is a roomy sedan that has an engine option which does just fine bolting down a freeway. Buick needs to make cars for a new generation if they want to survive. It's been proven that there aren't enough buyers for what they provided before. It's evolve or die. Nostalgia is far too often overrated.
Buick lost its way a long time ago. "Raw performance machine?" Who is stupid enough to hire someone who believes their own dribble. Buick needs to go back to what they were known for. Large cars that were comfortable for a family of four, polished enough to hit the town for dinner with friends, and plenty of engine to tow a boat or just bolt down the freeway. Slapping a GS badge on it and calling it a day is sacrilege for all those GS's that came before this abomination. Go make an Opel if you want good gas mileage. Make a Buick for those who grew up inside one and still find the Toronado the best design to ever come from the badge. And another hint, it has to be real wheel drive.

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