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 And why has the twin-turbocharged six-cylinder been replaced by a forced-induction-four?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
Engine: 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