When Buick announced that it would not be rebadging the Opel Insignia OPC as the Buick Regal GS, and that instead of the OPC’s all wheel drive and turbocharged V6 we’d be getting a front-drive turbo four performance model, I was a bit skeptical. On paper, the proposed GS just didn’t seem different enough from the turbo model (which I liked well enough as-is) to elicit much initial enthusiasm. But this is why we drive cars instead of just comparing spec sheets: having spent some time alone with the GS, I’m happy to report that my skepticism was entirely unnecessary.
The first three minutes or so of the forty-odd minutes I spent hammering the GS around the hills of the Northern Willamette Valley, I spent familiarizing myself with the GS’s whistling turbo. After some light lag, the turbo starts twisting out a smooth river of torque that seems to swell graciously (rather than ferociously) under the driver’s right foot. Switching from a naturally-aspirated six-cylinder to the GS, there’s a brief adjustment in driving style, requiring subtle turbo management as the boost build. But by the time the first curves in the road appear, the turbo’s learning curve is over and I’ve figured out how to keep 295 ft-lbs at the ready.
Though the ride feels utterly planted and the few short bends are easily dispatched, the sight of the first sharp corner has me rushing for the brakes. This is, after all, a front-drive Buick, and there are no shoulders or guardrails between it and a thrilling adventure in potentially fatal understeer. The GS shrugs off the speed, turns in with surprising sharpness, and before I know it the boost is building again under my foot and we’re away. On the next corner I brake considerably less, and it pitches intuitively into the turn, and then clings furiously to the asphalt as I feed in the throttle. With each successive corner I push a little bit deeper, flick it a little more aggressively in the tighter turns, get on the throttle in the faster turns. In fact, I spent the rest of the drive trying desperately to find out what happens to the GS when it’s pushed to the point where a chassis shows its true colors… without success.
There are two basic schools of performance car preference: first is a car with low but exploitable limits, which delights with its playful incompetence, the second is a car that is so utterly composed that it delights with its sheer poise. My beloved Z3M fits in the first category, at its best when you’re pushing or catching it around corners. The Regal GS is squarely in the latter category, offering the kind of calmly assuring performance that allows extremely rapid on-road pace at while building the driver’s confidence at every step. Between the turbo’s power delivery, GM’s HiPer strut suspension, the stiffer “GS Mode” and some good summer rubber, the GS is able to take improbably high cornering speeds (GM claims .9g on the skidpad) with zero drama… you could tell this car you slept with its sister in the middle of a sharp curve, and it would simply shrug its shoulders and tug you to the next corner. But more than grip, the GS puts its power down so smoothly under so many circumstances, AWD would be an unwelcome addition.
More power and AWD or rear-drive elicit something of a Pavlovian response in auto enthusiasts, but the GS proves that a well set-up front-driver with a good manual transmission can be as much fun as anything else. It’s not a madhouse, eye-rolling, tongue-lolling kind of fun, like you get from, say, a CTS-V. It’s a quietly confident, real-world, hustle-you-home kind of fun that tugs incessantly at the corners of your mouth. The Buick yin to the Cadillac yang, if you will… at the same $35k-ish price point as the nowhere-near-as-fun-to-drive base CTS sedan. With apologies to John Lennon, A middle-class hero is something to be…
By Edward Niedermeyer on October 19, 2011