Someone in the Georgia Department of Transportation deserves a medal. Specifically, whoever green-lit the passing lanes on U.S. 19 north of Atlanta, where I was wringing out the new 2018 Buick Regal GS. In California, passing lanes are reserved for long, straight, boring sections of the road, which means they're few and far between because mountain roads by definition are devoid of long, straight sections. But here, the road widened into two lanes, paralleling each other around the snaking curves and hills of the Chattahoochee National Forest, and giving me ample opportunity to enjoy the Regal's charms despite traffic.

The new Regal GS is a sporty version of the new Regal Sportback, with an upgraded suspension, brakes, engine, transmission, and other bits that put it on the top of the handling heap of the Buick Regal lineup. It fleshes out the Regal family, which is no longer making a mainstream sedan gambit. Instead, the liftback Sportback and GS, and the crossover-like TourX wagon target those who want something premium, good looking, but also a little off the beaten path.

The GS starts with the Sportback, which is one of the best-looking cars GM is currently making. It replaces the standard turbocharged 4-cylinder with a 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V6; that's 60 more horsepower but its 282 lb-ft of torque falls a bit short of the turbo. It's coupled to a 9-speed automatic transmission, which sends power to an intelligent twin-clutch all-wheel drive system that can apportion power to the front, rear, left, right or any combination therein to enhance traction. Inside there are special sport seats certified by the German Campaign for Healthier Backs (Aktion Gesunder Ruken, or AGR), and there's no doubt that these sporty chairs are quite comfortable. Drivers get three modes: normal, GS, and Sport. GS sharpens the car's throttle and transmission, reduces the power steering assist, and gives the shock programming a performance bias. Sport splits the difference between the standard and GS setup, but it also allows you to customize your settings.

It's a short but important list of improvements over the standard Regal Sportback, and it shows in how the car behaves. The GS grips in turns, its all-wheel drive expertly distributing power for the kind of confidence-inspiring hard corners we normally associate with Audi and Acura. It's a sharp contrast to the more leisurely pace inspired by the standard 4-cylinder Regal Sportback and its softer suspension. In GS and Sport modes the transmission anticipates downshifts, dipping the 9-speed into lower gears as you approach a turn, and it does a good job of it. You can also smack the gear selector forward and backward to manually select gears, but we'd prefer steering wheel paddles. The 4-piston Brembo brakes are easily up to the task of slowing the Regal GS again and again in aggressive driving.

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Downsides? Well, the steering is a little too firm in GS mode, feeling more syrupy than sporty, but you can work around that by custom programming lighter steering in Sport. We also miss the low-end torque of the turbocharged 4-cylinder, although the higher-rev acceleration with the V6 is worth the tradeoff. Some may wish for something a little more hard-boiled, but keep in mind this is a Regal GS, not a Grand National, and that your burnout dreams will have to wait for another time. The interior plastics also feel hard and cheap in a lot of spots, something the Regal GS unfortunately shares with the rest of the Regal lineup. But what's forgivable in a base Sportback gets harder to accept in a car with the $44,500 as-tested price of the loaded Regal GS we drove.

Still, we love the shape, love the styling, the utility and comfort are all top notch, as are the infotainment and general control layout. We also like the way the GS drives, even if it's not quite the poor-man's Audi S5 Sportback we were fantasizing about. This is a fun and interesting car with plenty of room for five, tons of cargo space, and some extra oomph and handling when you need it. Such as, for example, passing slower traffic on Georgia's wonderfully fun passing lanes.

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