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2012 Buick Regal GS
Preview report: Can a North American Buick be as good as the best from Europe and Japan

By Malcolm Gunn and Bill Roebuck

2012 Regal GS.Buick is a brand on the move, and has become a showcase for what the 'new' General Motors is capable of producing. The Buick brand continues to fashion a hipper image and the new 2012 Regal GS specifically is significantly enhancing the brand's stock.

The GS - short for Gran Sport, a performance label that Buick first used back in the mid-1960s - will be added to the Regal lineup in the fall of 2011, with the aim of showing the world that there really can be such a thing as a performance Buick.

The new model also provides one more engine choice for GM's new midsize platform. At one end of the spectrum, the 2012 Buick Regal will be offered with a new gasoline-electric hybrid combo, called eAssist (see separate story here), that delivers significantly enhanced fuel economy. At the other end, the new GS comes with an enhanced-output, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine and matching performance/luxury content to challenge similar mid-size sedans from Europe and Japan, such as the BMW 328i and the Acura TL.

Just as General Motors' Cadillac division is changing its image with the high-output CTS-V coupe and sedan, the GS will undoubtedly challenge the public's perceptions about Buick, which has traditionally catered to older drivers who cared very little about acceleration, road-holding, steering performance and stopping distance figures. Actually, Buick has a head start over Cadillac, as the 2012 Regal sedan was conceived in Germany, and is arguably the most visually arresting model in Buick's fleet.

The GS improves on the standard-issue Regal's good looks with a more distinctive front end that features a unique satin-metallic grille flanked by prominent twin air intakes plus an enlarged air scoop below the bumper. There's also special rocker-panel trim, integrated trunk spoiler and a set of irregular-shaped exhaust outlets that should replace the faux Buick portholes (still visible on the aging full-size Lucerne) as the marque's next signature styling cue.

The GS also has a slightly lower ride height along with its own 19- and optional 20-inch wheels.

This is all well and good, but what will give this Buick its performance chops is a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that Buick promises will deliver at least 255 horsepower and a stout 295 pound-feet of torque. By comparison, the Regal CXL's optional 2.0-litre turbo engine produces 220 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque. Much of GS's added output comes from increased turbocharger boost pressure along with freer-flowing exhaust plumbing.

2012 Buick Regal has a smart new look.Buick claims the GS delivers zero-to-100-km/h runs in the low seven-second threshold, which is decent, but not spectacular for the 1,680-kilogram sedan.

Initially, the GS will only be offered with a six-speed manual transmission, which certainly runs counter to the traditional Buick image. A six-speed automatic will be added to the lineup once the Regal's new Canadian assembly plant ramps up production. Fuel economy is guesstimated at 11.3 litres/100 km in the city and 7.0 on the highway.

Additional performance-oriented upgrading has also been bestowed upon the GS. Chief among these are special "HiPerStruts" for the front suspension that help reduce torque steer, which is the tendency for high-powered front-wheel-drive vehicles to pull to one side under hard acceleration. The driver can choose standard, sport and extra-firm suspension settings, and for a more sporting feel, the degree of power-steering boost is reduced as suspension firmness increases.

Finally, the Regal's braking has been upgraded with a four-wheel-disc package from Brembo, a company that supplies the stopping power for the world's most elite cars. YouÕll find Brembo brakes on Porsches, for example.

Both driver and passengers will experience more regal accouterments in the GS, beginning with a well-executed all-black interior with satin-nickel trim, leather-covered seats (heated and 12-way adjustable in front), a meaty flat-bottomed steering wheel and a 320-watt, nine-speaker Harmon/Kardon-brand sound system. There's front and rear park-assist warning systems, an electronic parking brake and high-intensity bi-xenon (high- and low-beam) headlamps.

Pricing hasn't yet been formally announced, but expect it to be somewhere around $48,000 in Canada, which is about $5,000 more than the Regal CXL Turbo. That's pricing in BMW 3-series/Acura TL/Audi A4 territory, which is pretty fast company for a brand that has been considered anything but.

However, the tide is changing for Buick and the GS should not be taken lightly.

What you should know: 2012 Buick Regal GS

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive, mid-size sedan

Engine (hp): 2.0-litre DOHC I4, turbocharged (255)

Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt.)

Market position: Performance editions of premium sedans can enhance brand awareness and reputation. The GS should further define the Regal as one of the more competent Euro-based sport sedans around.

Points: GS improves on Regal's already good looks; Significant power bump from GM's turbo 2.0-litre without severely impacting fuel economy; Introducing six-speed manual transmission is a gutsy call; GS suspension improvements should also make Regal more competitive; Adding an AWD option would make it more competitive with BMW and Audi.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; rear-side-impact airbags); anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

L/100 km (city/hwy): 11.3/7.0 (MT, est.)

Base price (incl. destination): $48,000 (est.)

By comparison:

BMW 328i sedan
Base price: $43,000
Reigning Euro-sedan king offers peppy engines and bank-vault build quality.

Base price: $41,400
Redesigned 2012 edition comes fully loaded and is a blast to drive.

Base price: $40,000
Distinctive four-door is available with optional AWD and hybrid power.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest! Bill Roebuck is the editor of CarTest!

Posted Sept. 11, 2011. © TM


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