2012 Buick Regal GS first drive car review: Putting Chuck Taylors in your driveway

2012 Buick Regal GS

The 2012 Buick Regal GS will be recognized easily by the large verticle scoops under its headlights.

Buick calls the Regal the “athlete” of its lineup, and certainly the Buick Regal and Regal Turbo are  physically fit. However, when it comes to maximum Buick jockdom,  it’s the 2012 Buick Regal GS that laces on the Chuck Taylors.

The Buick Regal GS is one of four trim levels for the 2012 Regal line, a model that was introduced just last year with a classic Buick name. All will have four-cylinder engines, all different, which will basically define the differences between the base Regal, the Regal Turbo, the new-for-2012 Regal eAssist and the subject of this review, the new-for-2012  Buick Regal GS.

The base Regal is powered by a 2.4-liter non-turbo 182-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The eAssist has a powertrain that adds a lithium-ion battery pack with an electric motor to the 2.4-liter to raise the Regal eAssist’s fuel economy rating to 26 mpg city/37 mpg highway. The Ecotec two-liter turbocharged four as used in the Buick Regal Turbo produces  220 horsepower and a healthy 258 lb-ft of torque.

2.0-liter turbo engine in the 2012 Buick Regal GS

The 2.0-liter turbo engine in the Buick Regal GS has the highest specific horsepower output in all of GM.

The 2012 Regal GS gets an exclusive 2.0-liter turbo four that has a maximum power output of 270 hp at 5300 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 2400 rpm. The increase over the Regal Turbo’s turbo engine comes primarily by raising turbo boost from 15 psi to 20 psi and reducing backpressure via a larger exhaust system. That’s an impressive two horsepower per cubic inch. Even during the 1960s heyday of the muscle car, one horsepower per cubic inch was a holy grail of performance. Today the Regal GS engine has the highest specific horsepower of any General Motors engine and it’s the most “power dense” (power per overall size) certified by SAE.

The only transmission available at launch is a six speed manual. A six-speed automatic with manual shifting and a higher torque capacity than the six speeds automatics for lesser Regals will be available in mid-model year. The manual, however, was fun to use though with longish throws fore and aft. The pedals are set so heel-and-toe downshifts are possible and the engine easy to match revs. It’s an odd feeling, however, to drive a Buick with a manual gearbox.

It’s a good feeling, however, that the increased power of the Buick GS allows the GS to hit 60 mph in 6.7 seconds (Buick says that’s a conservative estimate)and turn the quarter mile in 15.2 seconds with a trap speed of 98 mph.

More than power, the 2012 Buick Regal GS also gets a suspension upgrade. The Regal GS gets Buick’s “Interactive Drive Control” that’s optional on the Regal Turbo as standard, and the settings are upgraded to Standard, Sport and GS, basically one notch up from the Regal’s setting for each. The system works by changing the valving in the struts and shocks, firming up the suspension, and can be set manually or left change settings automatically on its own. In addition to changing the damping, Interactive Drive Control also decreases the boost on the power steering, firming up steering feel.