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2012 Buick Regal GS Road Test

The 2013 Buick Regal GS is a quick car, but not quick enough to justify its price.

What It Is
The 2012 Buick Regal GS is the brand's attempt to appeal to a younger audience drawn to European sport sedans.

Best Thing

Good power and sharp, responsive handling.

Worst Thing
Outclassed by similarly priced cars.

Snap Judgment
Buick's trying hard with the Regal GS, but, unfortunately, it just can't cut it against more sophisticated competitors.


Car enthusiasts are a tricky bunch to please. Take the 2012 Buick Regal GS, for example. On the surface, it sounds like a homerun. It has a more powerful engine than the standard Regal, looks pretty cool, has some neat technology to make it handle better, and even comes with a manual transmission. A slam dunk for the sporty-sedan crowd, right?

Not quite.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The standard Buick Regal is a good car. A very good car, really. It's reasonably priced, offers a lot of features, is comfortable, and so on. If you're looking for a premium sedan that straddles the line between standard-issue family cars like the Toyota Camry, but without the price tag of an Acura or Lexus, then the Regal is a great choice. Enjoy it.

To a certain extent, the 2012 Buick Regal GS is exactly what you'd expect: a faster and better handling version of the Buick Regal. But as it sits, this particular Regal GS costs more than $38,000, flying in the face of the "more for less" bargain that underpins the rest of the Regal lineup. Still, there is a 270-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood. The suspension has three different modes. Its styling tweaks look pretty awesome. And there's the manual transmission, too. Is the Regal GS a true sport sedan, able to run with the big dogs? Or is it making promises it can't keep? We took one for a week to find out.

What We Drove

The 2012 Buick Regal GS starts at a base price of $35,310, including the $860 destination charge. That sum—we won't call it "princely," but it's certainly a lot for a midsize Buick—gets you a lot of standard equipment such as leather upholstery, eight-way power driver's seat, dual zone climate control, and super-bright HID headlamps. It also gets you the 270-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder, six-speed manual transmission, adjustable suspension, 19-inch wheels and tires, and huge brakes from Brembo. Of course, that's not enough, so our test car was also fitted with a $1,145 audio system upgraded that included a 7-inch touch-screen display; a $1,000 sunroof; $700 worth of even bigger 20-inch wheels and tires; and a $195 "carbon black metallic" paint job that looked straight off your uncle Jeb's bass boat. Add it up, and you get an out-the-door price of $38,350.

At least you'll be safe. The Regal GS, like all Buick Regals, earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick award thanks to its "Good" ratings in front, side, rear, and rollover crash tests. It has six months of free OnStar service, including automatic crash response, and of course stability and traction control are standard. However, absent from the options list are more advanced features that are showing up on lower-priced cars now, such as collision warnings, lane departure warnings, and even blind spot warnings. However, you can get a $1,875 rear seat entertainment system, with screens built into the front seat head restraints.

The Commute

Currently, the 2012 Buick Regal GS is available only with a manual transmission; a six-speed automatic is on the way for this summer. While automatics are obviously preferred for heavy traffic, a manual can be easy to live with if it's mated to an engine with plenty of low-end power. Unfortunately, this isn't one of those cases. While Buick says that most of the engine's torque—that pulling power you feel when launching from a stop—is available at about 2,500 rpm, we never quite found it. Instead, during heavy traffic we found ourselves downshifting constantly to get this 3,800-lb. Buick moving. If you spend more time stuck in traffic than you do on the open road, do yourself a favor and wait for the automatic.

However, once in the proper gear, the Regal GS has no problem keeping up and passing most everything you're going to encounter. The six-speed manual's operation is slick and smooth, and the clutch strikes a nice balance between having enough heft to feel like you're doing something, but not so much that your left leg outmuscles your right after a few miles. Give it enough gas from a stop, and you won't have any problem getting up to freeway speeds, whether that speed is 15 mph or 75 mph.

As for the rest of the commute, you're in a Buick Regal, which is no bad thing. The interior is nicely laid out, with big, clear gauges, a comfortable driver's seat, and a very good audio system. The cupholders pass the Oversized Travel Mug test, and there's a convenient connection for your preferred mobile device, either through USB or a good ol' auxiliary port. Storage space is a little tight, with only small door pockets, a shallow center console bin, and a tiny coin holder to accommodate your stuff; the glovebox is mostly eaten up by the humungous owner's manual kit.

The center stack is awash in buttons, but they're all clearly labeled, and the attractive design is backed up with an expensive feel when you push them. Note that Buick could probably cut the number of buttons in half if it reduced some of the redundant controls. For example, you can select radio stations through the steering wheel, through the control knob on the dash, through the touch screen, or with a multifunction knob on the center console. It's nice to have choice, but Buick's Department of Redundancy Department needs to dial it back a bit.

If you see a sedan and immediately think "carpool," you may want to reconsider with the Regal GS. The rear seats are definitely on the tight side for taller passengers, and the short bottom cushion and bolt-upright seating position might make shorter ones break out into a spontaneous Catholic mass if the trip is too long. At least there's a decent cupholder and storage bin in the fold-down armrest.

The Grocery Run

When maneuvering through a parking lot and loading up with groceries, kids, or both, the 2012 Buick Regal GS is a mixed bag. On one hand, the trunk is quite large—even bigger than you'll find on a Honda Accord—but the opening is small enough that putting anything far inside is a hassle. If you're planning on loading up anything taller than a grocery bag, then forget it; the trunk simply doesn't open wide enough. Longer objects can be accommodated thanks to the fold-down rear seatbacks, albeit at the expense of passenger space of course.

Your kids will probably find the tight rear seat just fine. LATCH points for your booster seat are easy to find between the seat cushions, and GM incorporates belt positioning clips in the Buick Regal to keep the shoulder belt on your kids' shoulders, rather than across their necks. However, you might need to help even elementary-school school-aged kids to buckle up since the seatbelt receiver tended to get stuffed down into its pocket, making it hard for little hands to reach.

But by far the biggest problem in the Buick Regal GS is the poor outward visibility. This is a common problem on many cars these days, but at $38,000 and change, and with a sharp navigation system display dead center in the dash, we'd think a backup camera would be part of the GS's package. Sadly it's not, and you'll have to rely on too-small mirrors and still-don't-trust-'em backup sensors to make sure you don't bump into another car. Considering the small rear window and high trunk lid, a camera would be more than handy.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The Weekend Fun

With your (not too tall) suitcases in the trunk, your cupholders filled with your favorite bladder-buster soda, the kids in the back seat and your main squeeze next to you, the 2012 Buick Regal GS is a fine road car. It's a little noisy, granted, but that's mainly the tires' fault. There's only a little bit of wind noise around the top of the doors, and the engine itself is smooth and quiet. Even when you wind it out, the engine is virtually vibration-free, with a distant, muted growl. Granted, you'll have to limit how many things you pack inside the cabin, but overall it's a comfortable car.

It's when the road starts to twist that things get interesting in the Regal GS. The suspension uses GM's magnetorheological shock absorbers. That's a long way of saying that with the push of a button, you can change how stiff the suspension is. Leave it alone, and the ride is surprisingly comfortable, although the performance tires make themselves known over sharp road imperfections with a "thump." Press the "Sport" button on the dash, and the suspension firms up a notch, with those bumps now a "THUMP," but otherwise still tolerable. Then there's the "GS" button. Press it, and the lighting on the gauges turns red, indicating you're in for something special. The suspension immediately gets sports-car stiff. On the freeway or around town, it's ridiculous. But if you're the type of person who enjoys a twisty mountain road (alone, of course), then that GS button is what you'll be pressing each time the road bends.

The problem is, even with the suspension firmed up (and steering; the GS alters the power assist as well), the Regal GS still isn't all that satisfying to drive. The engine's powerful, but no more so than, say, a V-6 Honda Accord or turbocharged Hyundai Sonata. And the handling? It's good, but not great, and for $38,000, there are far more entertaining vehicles to be had.

Summary

After spending a week with the 2012 Buick Regal GS we reaffirmed our belief that the standard, non-GS Buick Regal is a darn fine premium sedan. It's priced right, has plenty of features, it's comfortable and quiet, and it looks good in an inoffensive way.

However, we can't quite get behind the 2012 Regal GS itself, and it all boils down to price. If it cost $34,000 as it sits, it'd be a bargain just like the rest of the Regal lineup. The problem is, with the options piled on it racks up a sticker that's well over $38,000, and at that price it's playing against more sophisticated machinery like the Audi A4, the Infiniti G37, and front-wheel drive versions of the Acura TL. Buick succeeded in making the Regal faster with the Regal GS, no doubt, and it's more fun to drive than the standard Regal. But it's not fast enough, it doesn't handle well enough, nor is it distinctive enough to justify that price. Where regular Buick Regal deserves a look, and maybe even your money, the Regal GS is trying too hard to be something that it's not, and sport sedan enthusiasts should probably skip it.


Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $38,350
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 19
EPA Highway: 27
EPA Combined: 22
Estimated Combined Range: 396 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership Rating: Poor

Notebook Quotes

"The Regal GS is a fine car just like most Lexus’ are fine cars. And if one had the money and the desire to buy a Regal GS, he probably would not be let down. But outside that very subjective vacuum, the Regal GS does not compare favorably to the competition." –Jason Davis, Associate Editor

"It’s a wonderful long-distance car and a worthy handler. But there was something that, when coupled with the expensive price tag, felt incomplete about the car. It should have better engine response and more torque. It should have less weight and feel more nimble. It should have better leather on the seats for that kind of money." –Jacob Brown, Associate Editor

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