It has better handling than anything bearing the same badge, ever, and the 2012 Buick Regal now has the attention of enthusiasts with the new GS model introduced this year.
None of the Regal sedans offers a V-8, or even a V-6 engine, but the turbocharged four-cylinder in uplevel models is a welcome blast of boost from the Regal's base 2.4-liter, 182-horsepower four. It’s just adequate for smoothness and acceleration. Direct injection brings better fuel economy with it, but this Regal seems a little overwhelmed on anything other than flat surfaces, with just a driver aboard. It's only offered with a six-speed automatic, which does have a driver-control mode for hanging around in lower gears when you need. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 19/31 mpg, a notable step down in a class that includes the 35-mpg Hyundai Sonata, and even the base 33-mpg four-cylinder automatic Ford Fusion.
The mid-level Regal has a different powertrain, a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 220 hp. The powerband’s much meatier and friendlier here, and it can spin tires and engage sport mode in more drivers--particularly since it's offered with a well-sorted-out manual transmission, and even the automatic comes with paddle controls for sport shifting. It’s fairly quiet on the move, and eager once you get into the thick part of the powerband. Still, the output on paper pales next to the 270-plus-horsepower posted by the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata turbo models.
New for this year is the Regal GS, which hits those horsepower bogeys and leads the charge for sporty Buicks today and tomorrow. In this state of tune, the turbo four exhales 270 horsepower, through either the six-speed manual or automatic. All-wheel drive isn't offered, but the Regal's tuned to dial out torque steer while it dials up 0-60 mph performance of well under 7.0 seconds.
Its Euro-engineered suspension gives the Regal better handling than most of the Asian competition, and brings it into the realm of the Fusion and more expensive iron like the nimble Acura TSX--especially in GS trim. With struts in front and a multi-link rear end, the Regal has a muted but responsive feel, with a well-damped ride. Base cars now have electric power steering; the hydraulic system in the turbocharged Regals isn't particularly hefty, but it's blessed with good progressive feel. Big disc brakes have a reassuring bite, too.
The Regal GS and the lesser turbo models also have an option for adjustable suspension, throttle and steering response dubbed Interactive Drive Control System. The setup provides three driving modes, with the distinction being that the base setup in the Regal GS roughly lines up with the "touring" setting in the 220-hp turbo car. With the GS, there's also a Sport and a GS mode, which progressively tighten up the handling to a level just shy of the true sports sedans from BMW. The selectable settings in the GS make a meaningful difference that lets drivers filter out harshness in more pedestrian use, and tighten up reflexes for a favorite set of curves. Given the choice, we'd leave IDCS off the mid-level car for better value, and enjoy it immensely in the GS, where it's standard equipment.