Friday, April 19, 2013

FAST FRIDAY- 2013 Buick Regal GS Six Speed

The last time I drove the Buick Regal GS Sport Sedan,I found it to be the most engaging Buick since the Grand National, although thoroughly different in character. Recently I spent a week behind the wheel of a 2013 model with the six speed manual transmission and came to a slightly different revelation. It's not the return of the Grand National-  it's a modern performance sedan instead.

This realization is not the least bit disparaging but rather an observation. A front drive, four cylinder turbocharged compact sport sedan with tons of power, stick-like-glue handling and highly supportive seats? Not to mention an EPA Highway Fuel Economy estimate of 27 MPG. This is a performance sedan for today.

When I  went to the press launch for the Regal back in 2010 and drove both the 2.4 conventionally aspirated 182 HP and the 2.0 Turbocharged 220 HP versions, I described the Epsilon based mid sized sedans as "well tailored and well mannered" and thought they were an excellent addition to the Buick line up. I found the 2.4 to be a bit sluggish and the 2.0 Turbo to have a very pleasing power band, but didn't think of either as a screamer.

The GS version is highly modified from the base model. The 2.0 Litre Turbo in the GS is the High Output Ecotec 2.0L Turbo with Direct Injection and Variable Valve Timing. It's rated at 270 HP and 295 lb/ft of torque. On paper it exceeds the '87 Grand National's 245 rated HP and falls just short of the  GNX's 274, but since both those engines were underrated, its probably about on a par with the Intercooled Grand National. It is offered with a 6 speed manual or 6 speed automatic transmissions.  

It's dressed up considerably from the base version as well. It has a deep skirted front fascia flanked by Bi-Xenon HIS headlamps and a unique rear one with dual exhaust ports. There are special rocker panels. a rear spoiler, and 19" twin spoke alloy wheels with Pirelli tires and optional highly polished 20s. Peek through the spokes and note the big Brembo calipers. Pirellis and Brembos- not a combination historically associated with Buick. 

The inside is toned up as well. The interior is offered in ebony leather only, with special touches such as a leather wrapped F1 style steering wheel, piano black dash trim. and leather trimmed sport seats with pretty wicked bolsters.  A Special GS Interactive Drive Control system offers standard, Sport and GS settings for the suspension. GM's Intellilink is standard, along with a pretty killer 336 watt Harmon Kardon Audio system with 9 speakers and XM Satellite radio. 

Options are few, and colors are limited. A total of five colors are available- Quicksilver and Smoky Gray are standard, White Diamond, Carbon Black Metallic and Crystal Red Tintcoat are optional. Perhaps this is one area where they could take a cue from the Grand National and make them in black. The rest of the option list is equally short- 20" polished wheels and performance tires, power sliding sunroof, GPS Navigation

My test car was finished in the Crystal Red Tintcoat and features the meaty 20" wheel package. I found it to be quite a handsome and purposeful looking car and others seemed to agree. I found neighbors in the driveway admiring it, and found it to be a topic of conversation from the couple at the table next to mine when I parked it at an outdoor cafe. All good signs as far as I am concerned. 

But enough looking, time to see what happens when the rubber meets the road. Touch the starter button and the 2.0 Turbo comes to life. It's smooth, Buick V8 smooth and the exhaust note is quiet. Shift into first and the car feels powerful, but doesn't play all of its cards. In fact, you could drive the GS in drive and your impression would be a smooth, well balanced sport sedan with a poised ride, excellent handling and crazy good brakes. The engine has an excellent torque band, but the automatic felt like it was always one gear too high. The six speed manual, however, is ideally suited to the car. The shifter is quick and precise- you'd swear that Audi did it- and it's a pleasure to run through the gears. It's much more Sweden than Skylark to drive. 

One thing that still annoys me are the suspension settings. There are three modes- Standard, Sport and GS. There's a discernible difference between Standard and GS but the Sport is just kind of there. And annoyingly, the car doesn't recall the setting past the next off cycle, so it's touch the button every single time you start the car. Of course I found it happiest in GS suspension mode.  Steering and ride are both tightened, and the Turbo soars up to redline without the slightest hesitation. The car is now crazy fun, and sticks like glue to the tarmac. The Brembo brakes are killer and bring the GS down out of harm's way in no time flat. 

Last year I said  that the Regal GS is the most fun I've had behind the wheel of a Buick since the Grand National. And the six speed only reinforces my conclusion. It's a nicely balanced, wonderful all around performance sedan- posed ride, excellent handling, superb brakes, and a 270 HP turbo that wails when you stomp down on it. 

But I still want to see Buick go all black and give us a Darth Buick with 300 HP.

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