2018 Buick Regal GS First Look: Buick’s hottest gets hotter
The GS initials stand for Gran Sport, a time-honored Buick designation that added a shot of adrenaline to the division’s various standard models. Most recently, it’s distinguished a member of the Regal lineup and in 2018 it will adorn a Regal whose adrenaline content has been amplified by almost 17 percent.
That amplification is strictly a function of increased power. The current GS is propelled by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder rated for 259 horsepower. The next generation rocks with 310 horsepower from a GM 3.6-liter V-6 with cylinder deactivation, stop-start, direct injection, 310 horsepower, 282 pound-feet of torque.
The V-6 is paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission, sending power to a GKN twin clutch all-wheel drive system with a distinct front-wheel bias and torque vectoring at the rear. Front-rear torque apportionment can be as high as 50 percent, depending on demand, but the default is front.
The Opel Connection
Although Opel is no longer in the General Motors orbit, the Regal’s foundations are shared with the German brand’s Insignia sedan, architecture that yields a solid feel and, according to Buick, reduced mass. The new liftback unibody is stiffer, as well as lighter, so the substitution of the heavier V-6 for a four adds up to a Regal GS that weighs about the same as the previous version, right around two tons. Buick engineers admit that the V-6 shifts the weight balance forward, probably to about a 60/40 bias, from 58/42.
But based on a very short loop around GM’s Milford, Michigan proving grounds, the new car’s suspension—struts front, a new multilink arrangement at the rear—employs auto adaptive damping from ZF Sachs. While the system entails ordinary hydraulic, rather than GM’s more sophisticated—and more expensive—magnetorheological dampers, it’s can adjust its responses up to 500 times per second according to Buick chassis engineers.
There are three GS drive modes. Normal, which is the default setting, Sport and GS. The Sport and GS settings alter throttle mapping, damping, transmission upshifts, and steering effort, for more aggressive responses.
The brief driving experience yielded several impressions. First, the V-6 feels robust out of the blocks, and the sprint to 60 mph should be quicker by at least a half-second, somewhere in the mid-5-second range.
The 9-speed transmission does a better job of maximizing the V-6 engine’s output than the previous 6-speed, and the management program does a respectable job of optimizing gear selection. However, for a car seeking to compete with Euro sports sedans, the transmission’s manual operation leaves something to be desired. Shift paddles are conspicuous by their absence—Buick’s rationale is that very few drivers actually use them—and up- and downshifts are a little casual compared to some of the Euro dual-clutch automatics.
On the other hand, the new suspension setup yields eager responses, particularly in the Sport and GS settings. And while the suspension is certainly firm in the Sport and GS modes, there’s still enough compliance to take the edge off nasty pavement, which keeps the tires in contact with the pavement, very helpful in hard cornering. Body roll is minimal; grip, provided by a set of low-profile 245-series tires on 19-inch wheels, seems consistent with the sports sedan targeting; and the steering is both quick and tactile, with good on-center feel, and effort building as a function of speed.
The steering wheel (heated) augments the sense of connection between car and driver, with its thick, grippy leather-wrapped rim, as do the seats. Supplied by AGR, the GS perches are well bolstered, without being too aggressive, keeping driver and front passenger solidly planted when the g-loading starts coming from odd angles.
Upholstered in high quality perforated black leather they suggest long-haul comfort, and it doesn’t hurt that the bolsters are adjustable. We should probably note that the seats are also heated, cooled, and equipped with a massage function. They’re exceptional, and the highlight of the sporty black interior, picked out with some tasty white stitching.
Already somewhat familiar from its exposure at auto shows, the exterior of the GS is distinguished from the more mainstream Regal Sportback by its sportier front fascia—vents, grille, chin spoiler, unique grille—rocker panel extensions, and rear decklid spoiler. The new Regal’s proportions are tidy, particularly in the GS edition, thanks to wheels that fill the fender wells.
The new Regal GS and Sportback sedans won’t reach showrooms until February, while the TourX wagon is due to appear in the fourth quarter. However, even though the official on-sale is several months away, Buick was ready to announce pricing at its proving ground show. MSRP for the Regal GS will be $39,990, a price that includes a substantial list of standard features including an 8-inch center dash touchscreen, 8-inch configurable instrument cluster, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, high quality audio, and of course those remarkable seats. Powered by the familiar 2.0-liter turbo four, Sportback pricing will open at $25,915, some $2,000 lower than the previous Regal, according to Buick. MSRP for the TourX will start at $29,995.