2018 Buick Regal GS Review: Muscle Memories

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The driver-focused 2018 Buick Regal GS is returning as more than just an appearance and chassis-tuning package. This time the Sport quotient gets Gran’er by two cylinders and 60 horsepower relative to the base Regals. That’s 310 total for you numerologists. Standard all-wheel drive ensures that all those hooves dig in. Keen observers will note that Buick has essentially shoved the LaCrosse’s 3.6-liter all-wheel-drive powertrain into the Regal GS.

It’s tempting to view this as a classic muscle-car play—like when the original midsize 1965 Skylark Gran Sport packed a 401 Nailhead V-8 plucked from the full-size Wildcat. But this Regal is just 3 inches shorter in wheelbase and a mere 44 pounds lighter than its full-size Epsilon platform cousin (down from 11 inches and 650 pounds for those ’65s). So does the Regal GS drive like a LaCrosse with a half-empty fuel tank?

Nope. True, the hardware is essentially the same, and with near identical weight-to-power and equivalent gearing, they might photo-finish the drag race that will never happen. But this hardware set offers a lot of “knobs” that can be turned to distinguish the more stately and luxurious LaCrosse from the flatter cornering, more buttoned down Regal GS—especially when the drive mode selector is set to its full “Howitzer with windshield wipers” GS mode (to quote a ’65 Gran Sport ad headline). The all-wheel-drive system combats understeer (and torque steer) by sending way more torque aft, the Continuous Damping Control shocks tense up quicker to combat pitch and roll, and the steering assist is reduced by 25 percent relative to the default touring mode (Sport mode steering gets 15 percent less assist). The intermediate Sport setting is programmed to split the difference between the default tour and GS mode settings, but its transmission, suspension, steering, and AWD settings can be customized

Those spool-valve-type CDC shocks can assess conditions and alter damping rates 500 times per second, though in practice conditions never demand that they make that many changes in a single second. When asked to give specifics about the damping rate changes between modes, chief engineer Martin Hayes explained that there’s no set percentage difference between modes. Rather, it’s the strategy about when and by how much an individual wheel’s motion is curtailed that changes. And although the standard Regal Sportback’s ride quality was sort of the target for the GS’ default Tour mode, the 19-inch rolling stock give the GS its own unique feel. Note that the fancier HiPer strut front suspension was no longer deemed necessary, with standard all-wheel drive, as that design’s biggest benefit is in torque-steer reduction.

During a romp through some delightful rolling, twisting byways north of Atlanta, the Regal GS demonstrated a quiet, composed competence. The car’s nine-speed automatic instinctively selected the correct gear for each corner exit, downshifting instantly to land at the perfect spot on the V-6’s broader torque curve. Those four-piston Brembo front brakes bite down on their 13.6-inch discs smoothly and confidently. These bigger brakes are shared with the high-performance Opel Insignia OPC. The 19-inch wheels (down from the last GS’ 20s) and 245/40 Continental ProContact TX tires deliver brand-appropriate ride compliance—even in GS mode—with minimal tire squeal—except when executing a J-turn (which we were encouraged to do!). We never noticed the engine’s cylinder-deactivation “V-4” mode, and the auto-stop/start system did its thing unobtrusively

It’s interesting to note that despite these fuel-saving features and the fact that the Regal GS is lighter than the LaCrosse 3.6 with AWD, the GS earns a lower EPA fuel economy rating: 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined versus the bigger Buick’s 20/29/23 mpg. Hayes explains that the LaCrosse has a wider range of tire sizes and optional equipment that allows a bit more latitude in test car selection, whereas the Regal GS is a stand-alone model with few options, so it is stuck with a wider standard performance-biased tire. Those aggressive fascia scoops are great for cooling the brakes, but they also exact an aero hit.

Styling upgrades include all the yoosh—aggressive flared-nostril front and diffuser-enhanced rear fascias, 10-spoke wheels, a rear spoiler, and GS badging. Inside are spectacularly supportive 14-way power thrones swathed in perforated leather that provide heat, ventilation, and massage and do much to justify the GS’ $5,200 price premium over an Essence AWD model (roughly double the 2017 premium). The pedals get metal covers, and the steering wheel has a flat bottom to make Audi S4 trade-in buyers feel at home.

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