I just drove the most exciting Buick in years - and yes, you read that right
Everyone used to think that Buick was an old-person's car.
This is not a shocking statement - Buick was the original General Motors brand and traditionally sat just below Cadillac in the company's hierarchy. GM spent decades cultivating and satisfying Buick owners. When you sell cars to people for decades, some of them are going to get old.
That's a definition of success, not failure.
Still, GM's challenge with Buick 10 years ago was to convince younger folks that one of the car maker's venerable advertising taglines continued to hold true: "Wouldn't you really rather have a Buick?"
Tiger Woods couldn't pull this off. His reign as a Buick pitchman didn't lead to a big boost in sales among younger customers. What did solve the problem, and make Buick in America more than just an ongoing marketing effort for Buick in China (where the brand remains highly respected), was, unsurprisingly, better cars.
Like the Regal GS.
I'd rather have this Buick!
I won't bore you too much with the underpinnings. The 2015 Regal GS that I recently spent a weekend with is based on a German Opel sedan - Opel is GM's main European division - and built in Canada. My test car stickered at $45,515, and it was a thoroughly loaded. All-wheel-drive. Six-speed auto ( you can get a manual version). The engine is a 2-liter turbo 4 that zings out 259 horsepower. Mine was a luxuriant black, deftly accessorized with Buick's signature "ventiports" on the fenders.
The interior was also black, coolly lit by Buick's familiar blue-green instrumentation, a color some might call a futuristic turquoise. This is a nice place to be, for everyone in the car, although taller folks might find the back seats too snug. Beneficially, as the one behind the wheel, you don't feel cut off from passengers, a compliant that some BMWs owners make due to the "cockpit" design of their driver's side.
Fun, fun, fun ...
Now the good stuff. This car is, with one notable exception, a pleasure to drive. It's one of those cars that does what does well, and does it well at normal, everyday speeds. It will do 0-60 in just over 6 seconds, which is plenty quick. It has a top speed of some sort, but you really don't need to go there.
So okay, it's not blow-your-doors off fast.
But I'd like to keep my doors, if that's all right with you, thanks very much. But if you have a modest need for speed, a intermittent appetite for velocity, the Regal GS has you covered.
It's also fine to drive on the freeway and fine to take for a spin on winding back roads. Various Volkswagen sedans are in theory meant to invite this type of behavior, but it's not clear to me that anyone has ever carved up a twisting byway in a Jetta. The Regal kind of encourages it, in a way that Buicks simply haven't in the past.
Heck, I was so inspired by driving the Regal GS that I broke out my driving gloves, which I normally reserve for only the snazziest performance rides.
With AWD, the GS can also handle lousy weather. I caught the tail end of some snow in New York, and while we weren't talking vast drifts of the white stuff, the roads were at times slick. Matthew DeBord/Business Insider
Matthew DeBord/Business Insider
When stuck in traffic, the Regal boasts a satisfying suite of infotainment options, including SiriusXM satellite radio. And like all GM vehicles, the Regal GS has 4G LTE connectivity, supporting a family's worth of wifi-enabled devices. OnStar is also at the ready, should you want directions downloaded quickly and conveniently to the navigation system without having to fiddle for half an hour with the touchscreen inputs.
But I said there was an exception, didn't I?
That's a firm ride
It's not a big deal, but the car feels pretty stiff. You notice this when bumping around uneven Northeastern pavement - pavement that now seems to demand AWD and that increasingly demands AWD bolted onto an SUV. Forget about a sedan - these potholes require ground clearance!
The stiffness is there to signal that this is car tuned for performance, not for toodling around town and taking leisurely weekend jaunts to quiet places for picnics. You can play around with the driving modes - "Sport" and "GS" are your alternatives to the basic setup - but the firm ride is the price of admission.
This is also the price of admission to the near-luxury car segment, increasingly. Luxury cars have steadily become less relaxing to drive over the past decade or so, a trend that can entirely be traced to German sports sedans and their dominance of the market. You might never have to attack a corner with verve and aggression, but the fact that you can in a BMW has got everyone thinking that they need to emulate this presumed virtue.
Of course, for Buick - a brand with the long reputation for selling very docile cars - this is great. Because if you want to put all 259 of the Regal GS's horsepower to work, test the capabilities of its AWD and even slip the transmission into manual mode and shift (sort of) the old-fashioned way, this ride doesn't disappoint. The GS mode serves up a subtly more crisp and responsive experience than Sport, but Sport is perfectly okay if you don't want to get rattled.
No shame on the valet line
Regardless, you'll smile while driving. But you won't scare yourself. And you'll be perfectly comfortable with a daily commute. Keeping the car fueled won't break the bank - combined city/highway MPG is 22, which isn't great but then again this is a near-luxury, near-performance car, not a set of economy wheels.
Matthew DeBord/Business Insider
Importantly, looks-wise at the valet line the GS won't make you wish you'd bought one of the usual Teutonic suspects. It might even draw some second glances, something that Buick has been highlighting in TV spots for its current ad campaign.
Buick has been trying to get exactly this sort of brand traction for over a decade. GS versions of the Regal from the 1990s were adequate cars, but they fell short, feeling more like revved-up freeway cruisers that honest-to-goodness sport sedans.
GS stands for "Gran Sport" and is a designation that reaches back to the mid-1960s and is evocative of the car maker's performance heritage, so there's something to live up to there.
With the new Regal GS, Buick and GM have. And for what it's worth, drivers both old and young can appreciate that.
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