2012 Buick Regal GS Review
It’s a mild surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. Buick, the traditional brand of soft comfort and prestige just south of Cadillac, introduces a new model that comes only with a stick shift.
Imagine. This comes at a time when only about 5% of customers buy manual transmissions, when some observers actually are predicting the death of the stick shift.Yet it’s only a mild surprise because Buick has spent the last couple of years repositioning itself as a brand that veers away from its traditional older buyers and toward younger folks more interested in performance machinery that also is environmentally friendly.
The arrival of the 2012 Regal GS sports sedan raised the question: When was the last time Buick came to market with manual-shift cars? There’s more than one answer. Obviously, back in the 1930s, almost all cars had manual shifts operated by gangly floor-mounted levers.
The last time Buick introduced a car without an automatic transmission was the 1949 Special, according to Buick’s archives. Super and Roadmaster models had optional Dynaflow automatics, but not the Special. The next year, the Dynaflow—a pure torque converter without shift points (similar in feel to modern continuously-variable transmissions)—also was offered as an option on the Special.
But the last Buick to be introduced with a manual gearbox was the Skyhawk, in 1989. An automatic transmission was optional, as is the case with the 2012 Regal GS.
However, the GS automatic is not scheduled to debut until the middle of the 2012 model year, which indicates the bravery of the suits at Buick, who apparently believe there is a supply of enthusiasts out there intrigued enough to keep the line going while others await the automatic.
The GS does have enthusiast appeal; with giant air scoops flanking the grille, it has an aggressive look coming at you on the highway. The question is whether it will attract the sorts of customers who currently favor cars like the Acura TSX, Audi A4 and Volkswagen CC. These are four-cylinder cars (the TSX has an optional V6) that are distinguished from standard mid-size family fare. The latter two, like the GS, enhance horsepower with turbochargers.In the Buick GS, that translates into the 270-horsepower, 2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine, which Buick officials say proudly has the highest specific output (most power for its size) of any engine now produced by General Motors.
Moreover, they note that, with 135 horsepower for each liter of displacement, the GS is the most power-dense engine ever certified by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
It drives the front wheels of the 3,710-pound GS through a six-speed manual gearbox with a shift linkage that features short throws and a positive feel with only minimal resistance. With progressive clutch engagement, it makes for a combination suited to spirited driving but not onerous in stop-and-go traffic. According to Buick’s tests, the GS can accelerate to 60 miles an hour in 6.7 seconds.
Like other Regal models, the GS is based on the German Opel Insignia, which means it offers a European-style rigid structure and a taut suspension system. As a front-wheel drive car, it ordinarily would have a tendency to forge ahead in corners, a characteristic referred to as under-steer.
But the Buick engineers adjusted the suspension system for sharper turn-ins and mitigation of so-called torque steer, which feels as if the steering wheel is trying to jump out of your hands under hard acceleration while turning. The GS displays little torque steer.
Moreover, the GS has three driver-controlled settings—standard, sport and GS–that stiffen the suspension and, in the tightest GS mode, delivers a higher steering effort. It is the setting of choice for rapid miles on curving highways.
To further attract the attention of enthusiasts, Buick equips the GS with front brakes by Brembo, the famed manufacturer of brakes for exotic and race cars. They authoritatively arrest the GS from extra-legal speeds.For additional performance, the GS offers high-performance summer tires on 20-inch alloy wheels. They replace the standard all-season tires on 19-inch wheels.
Despite the stalwart 270 horses under the hood, the GS takes some pains to boost fuel economy. It manages 19/27 miles to the gallon on the government’s city/highway test cycle. Premium gasoline is recommended but not required.
Inside, the GS has a functional layout with multi-adjustable front seats that could grip the torso better in rapid motoring. The outboard rear seats can accommodate a couple of adults as long as they are not of Big Gulp size. The center-rear position, as on most cars, mainly welcomes watermelons and Capuchin monkeys.
With a base price of $35,310, the Buick GS comes with a fair list of standard features: Full safety equipment, including traction and stability control, eight air bags and tire-pressure monitoring; ultrasonic parking assist; pushbutton starting with remote locking; leather upholstery; premium audio system with XM satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity, and GM’s OnStar communications system.
The test car also had an option package that included a motorized sunroof and a navigation system with a seven-inch touch screen. It had a bottom-line suggested retail price of $38,650.