Something a little different bearing the "GS" nameplate |
The Buick Regal has a bit of a checkered past. The first two generations were marketed as performance oriented “personal luxury cars”, basically 2-door coupes loaded with all the bells and whistles available at the time. This lead to the well-known Buick Regal Grand National, and even rarer 1987 Regal GNX (Grand National Experimental), whose performance blew away writers and enthusiasts in the mid-1980s. In 1988 however, the Regal took a sharp turn and was moved to GM’s front wheel drive W-body platform, and all performance trim levels were dropped. In 2004, the Regal was finally dropped and replaced by the LaCrosse (sold as the Allure in Canada), only to be reinvented yet again for its re-launch in 2009. Fast-forward five years and I am standing in the driveway looking at what I believe is the most aggressive looking car Buick has produced since the 80s, the refreshed 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD. For someone like myself who has always had a bit of an affinity for GM’s performance cars, I couldn’t have been happier to be given the keys to Buick’s latest performance offering, and was hopeful that it would deliver.
The exterior of my GS trim tester was loaded with subtle hints that this Regal was more than your average mid-size sedan. Both front and rear facia are unique to the GS and have a very aggressive and sculpted look with big vents up front and a rear splitter out back. The gorgeous 19” rims are wrapped in high performance Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires. Behind them you’ll find a set of massive Brembo brakes. The GS certainly looks its part; it doesn’t make itself too obvious, but any car guy would be able to tell with a quick glance that there was something special about this one.
The interior is also well done and continues the “hint of something special” theme. While the overall layout is identical to the standard Regal, the GS has a phenomenal set of soft leather seats that are plush enough for extended drives, yet well bolstered for more spirited driving. The GS also has a nice pair of polished aluminium pedals and a thick flat-bottomed steering wheel, another nice hint that this car is intended for a little passionate driving every now and then. The digital gauge cluster is also a point of interest, as the version in the GS has the ability to display things like g-forces and oil temperature, both of which lend themselves well to the performance-oriented driver. Taking that even further, pushing the “Sport” or “GS” buttons on the dash results in the entire display changing to a more traditional speedometer and tachometer, as opposed to the digital speed numbers used in the standard display. Of course, being the loaded top-line trim level with a hefty MSRP of over $48,000, my tester was packed with all the little nice to have features; laser cruise, backup camera, power moonroof and a plethora of parking and driving nannies.
The true measure of the Regal GS though, is how it feels behind the wheel, and happily the GS doesn’t disappoint here either. Pushing that little “GS” button on the dashboard transforms the car from a comfortable and docile mid-sized sedan, to what feels like a well-tuned performance car that would be just as suited for some laps around the track, as it would be commuting through rush hour. GS mode adjusts the dampening of the suspension to completely firm the car up; this delivers plenty of bounce and harshness if used on city streets, but allows the car to remain almost completely flat as it defies the laws of physics to carve through corners like no Buick before. The steering feel is also tightened up, as are the gear changes from the 6-speed automatic. Also a pleasant surprise, despite the Regal’s front drive based platform, the optional AWD system in my tester did a great job of pushing power to the rear wheels when asked and I experienced almost no torque steer, even when pushing the car a little bit. Additionally, the Brembos are more than just pretty; they actually do an excellent job stopping the 3700lb Buick. Between the versatile suspension, tight steering and proper brakes, the GS really feels much more nimble than its weight would suggest. This is a car that you just want to drive, and drive hard.
Under the hood is where I think the GS lets itself down just a little bit though. Equipped with the standard 2.0L turbocharged direct-injection engine putting out 259hp, I was left wanting a little more low-end power to take full advantage of the GS’s very sporty handling dynamics. That said though, the 2.0L is a stout little power plant that makes light work of highway passing and has plenty of top end power to push through corners; it really would benefit from a more aggressive exhaust note though. The 6-speed automatic, the only transmission available with AWD, is well sorted and quick, but it almost feels like Buick forgot to install the paddle shifters which I would have expected, and used. The fuel economy I got out of the turbo-four was right in line with my expectations; edged on by the car’s exciting dynamics I went about my week and averaged 10.7L/100km.
I really think Buick has succeeded in building a car that is exceptionally good at just about everything you could ask of it. As a performance car, the Regal GS AWD ticks all the right boxes and is exciting enough to have an absolute blast behind the wheel, but not quite fast enough to get you into any serious trouble. As a mid-sized family sedan, it has all the comforts and features you’d expect, save for any extra rear headroom, and it looks mature enough that you don’t look like a boy-racer riding around in it. The GS is a great option for a young professional, and car enthusiast, who’s looking for a fun daily driver that isn’t just another Audi A4 or BMW 3-series. This Regal is something unexpected that can still run with the best of them and look good while doing it.