The official reasoning behind GM failing to bring the Opel Insignia OPC, according to Buick PR staff, is that the all-wheel drive, twin-turbo V6 powered sedan with 321 horsepower “didn’t fit with the brand image”. Right. The real reason is likely that a Buick Regal GS outfitted like this would cost far more than the already expensive $35,310 that GM wants for a car. And if the market for a $35,000 manual transmission Buick is limited, well – imagine who would buy a $45,000-$50,000 AWD Regal.
The 270 horsepower Regal GS is, say it with me front-wheel drive. If that means “wrong wheel drive” in your books, close the browser window immediately and go back to The Car Lounge. GM has something called a HiPer strut front suspension, a modified MacPherson strut design that reduces torque steer and increases steering feel by playing with the suspension geometry and separating the steering and suspension components. When paired with the adjustable shocks and sticky rubber available on the Regal GS, the system allows the Regal to maintain exceptional composure through the sweeping curves (and crappy pavement) of Northern Michigan.
The sweet chassis is backed up by a 2.0L turbocharged Ecotec making 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. While torque steer is present, it’s manageable and only presents briefly. 60 mph comes up in 6.7 seconds according to GM – the Regal GS feels much faster than that. No hero-launches were attempted during our drive, but the Regal GS is what the British rags would call a “fast point-to-point car”. The Regal GS really shines when covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time. A broad torque band, a composed chassis and a docile nature can allow most people to exploit the considerable performance of a Regal GS. On paper, it may not be as impressive as an Audi S4 but in the real world, on an open road, there’s little to suggest that the Regal couldn’t hang with the 4-ringed car. The Brembo brakes on the Regal GS are also outstanding, with great feel through the pedal and strong, consistent performance even with repeated hard uses.
In typical GM fashion, there are more than a couple of flaws that are tough to overlook. The steering is weighty when the “GS” button on the dash is activated, but offers as much feedback as a bad boss. The 6-speed manual seems so promising but delivers so little. The shifter’s throws are a pastiche of every negative adjective in the auto journalism handbook – rubbery, dead-feeling, long and inaccurate. Furthermore, the pedals are totally unsuited to heel-and-toe shifting, making rev matching out of the question unless your feet are child-sized. Heretical as it may be, opting for the automatic gearbox on the Regal GS might not be a bad thing. (At launch just the manual transmission is being offered). Only the most fanatical DIY-shifting types need apply for this dreadful bit of engineering. The interior of the Regal isn’t bad overall, but has a very particular “General Motors” feel. Many of the buttons, cabin materials and readouts are sourced from the common parts bin, something that is barely acceptable on a vehicle that’s ostensibly positioned as a luxury car. The center console is a mess of buttons that’s confusing to the eye. The front seats do a good job of keeping you in place without being uncomfortable, but the back seats are tight. Don’t expect to use them for anything more than taking friends to dinner.
The subtle additions to the exterior, like larger wheels, tasteful chrome accents and dual exhausts help the Regal GS keep a low profile. Order it in an understated color like black or silver and you’ve got a genuine sleeper on your hands. The big hurdle for the Regal GS will be finding buyers, even true enthusiasts, who may not be able to look past its discreet exterior (some may consider it boring) and the front-drive/turbo 4-cylinder powerplant. The notion of “wrong-wheel drive” is laughable given that the Regal GS is a far superior driving machine to the dreadful base CTS trim levels and Audi has no trouble pushing the A4 2.0T (which is about as engaging as a PBS telethon) onto the status-hungry masses.
Which is exactly the problem. A lot of people need to tell their friends just how good their purchases. Think how ridiculous it sounds to the average person that someone bought a turbocharged, stick shift Buick for $35k. Others have suggested it’s not quite up to snuff compared to the competition – that’s nonsense. The Regal GS has enough power to get you some serious speeding tickets. And unlike a BMW 335i, your fuel pump won’t explode. The big problem with the Regal GS is getting consumers to sign on the dotted line. The Regal GS would probably be a fine product for anyone who ever bought a turbo Saab, but how many of those were sold in the last decade or two?
Derek Kreindler originally drove the Buick Regal GS in August, 2011. Buick provided airfare, lodging and meals for the trip to Traverse City, MI.