Isn’t it a shame when you fall for a car and no one else seems to comprehend why? Something that remains completely overlooked and under-appreciated; an unloved slab of ingenuity that only you happen to notice? This is exactly how I feel about the 2016 Buick Regal GS in all-wheel drive trim. It sits un-promoted and criminally unnoticed while the Acura TLX, Volkswagen CC, Volvo S60, Lexus IS 250, Infiniti Q50, and Audi A4 continue to sell. But let’s think about this for a second.
If you talk to anyone about Buick, they’re either going to say that it’s an old person’s car, or that it’s made a huge push to change its image – and both are right. For decades, Buick’s had a tough time breaking the stigma that it’s just another American luxury brand that offers cushy rides to geriatric fuddy-duddies, with nothing doing in the performance department. (Yes, I know all about the Grand National, and how it was a badass freak of 1980s nature, that’s a separate diatribe for another time.)
But during a recent press conference with marketing chief Rob Peterson and the Regal’s lead engineer Mike Mueller, they noted that Buick is currently GM’s second largest brand. This year also marks the second consecutive year of growth for Buick here in America, and it actually outsells rivals like Acura, Audi, and Lincoln. Retaining a title as the “#1 domestic brand for women,” and offering things like the drop-top Cascada and upcoming redesigned LaCrosse, it’s actually an exciting time for GM’s other luxury automaker.
For the Regal, sales are up 63% as of September, and a Consumer Reports “Top Pick” ranking now puts it above the mighty BMW 328i in the sports sedan segment. GM gave me the chance to spend an entire day on the track with a turbocharged, all-wheel drive GS version dodging cones and hitting the Autobahn Country Club’s open track for some hot laps. A few weeks later, I got to experience the car once more — this time on my terms, for a full week-long review.
From the outside, the GS doesn’t look all that intimidating. In fact, its lines mirror that of its base, non-boosted brethren pretty closely. Unique, vertical intake slots sit on either side of that blacked-out grille to help channel air into the intercooler, and it rocks a shiny set of 19 or 20-inch wheels with low-profile Pirelli P-Zero rubber, but it’s otherwise unassuming. Since we love sleepers here at The Cheat Sheet, the choice to not make the sporty version look insane was a solid move for a multitude of reasons. Never mind the integrated decklid spoiler, big Brembo brakes or slightly lowered stance – no one will expect a Buick to spank a WRX.
It’s obvious that the Regal could stand to be a bit more stylish in some ways, a hair more aggressive in others, and maybe sport something other than chrome for its wheels. Small gripes aside though, my biggest issue with this car’s design is that it doesn’t rock a Cadillac badge and the sharp lines to go along with it. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty slick-looking sedan, especially when viewed from the back.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Unassuming lines make this a great sleeper, so you’ll be able to fly well below the radar.
+ Small touches — the shark fin antenna, the beautifully tubed rear taillights, a low-profile decklid spoiler, functional front air scoops, well-proportioned wheels, Brembo brakes that aren’t red (for once), and an integrated exhaust that isn’t tough on the eyes.
+ The GS is very well-proportioned and is snub-shaped enough that it doesn’t really have a bad angle.
– Fake hood vents/ports will never win performance-minded customers. These things are an unnecessary expense and are as pointless as the fake lower air scoops on the sides of the front bumper, which are an eyesore themselves.
– Buick needs to offer something other than chrome wheels. An anthracite or hyper black finish on those rollers would look fantastic, and Millennials love having choices when it comes to color.
– While the front grille and lower air dam are better looking than on other Regal trims, the GS could stand to have a forward protruding front splitter along with some Cadillac-inspired “edginess” in place of all those soft curves.
Mmm…a turbocharged luxury sedan with all-wheel drive and a solid lump of torque. When I tell people that the Regal GS has more torque than a WRX and a transmission that shifts smoother than Hugh Hefner at a Hooters holiday party, I typically get “I call bullshit, man.” But this car has a solid little 2.0-liter engine that produces 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
The small snail on the Ecotec four may be slight in stature, but it offers near-instant boost. Paired with direct injection, some wide-range O2 sensors, and a beefy ignition system, the Buick goes from hum-drum to hellion in no time. Almost all of the gears on the GS have been reworked to provide more power, so when the throttle opens up in GS or Sport mode, the revs will hang well north of the 4,000 RPM range in order to keep the boost built up. You know what else is cool? Turbocharged cars with fuel disclaimers that say “premium recommended, but not required.”
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Minimal turbo-lag with enough torque to keep the mid-ranged snail spooling happily.
+ GS and Sport modes actually can be felt: Re-timed shift points keep the revs high and the throttle open.
+ Driving the GS around town with neither of the sportier buttons engaged yields a refined, smooth shifting machine that isn’t tougher on gas – and you can use regular unleaded like everyone else.
– A 19/27 EPA efficiency rating isn’t great. While this probably has more to do with the all-wheel drive model weighing nearly two tons, it’s still a downer.
– Shifting manually through the Hydra-Matic six-speed suffered from engagement delays, so even in GS mode there’re still some soft spots that need firming up.
– Buick is doing away with the six-speed manual version. If you want to row your own gears, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Even though the GS has a lot going for it both in style and functionality — there’s a fair deal of room both inside the cabin and the trunk — you can tell Buick borrowed heavily from Cadillac here. Despite the expanse of negative space in the center stack and across parts of the dash, the interior is still a respectable blend of sporty sensibility and clever tech, with soft-touch materials all showing up at the right place.
Interior pros and cons
+ The Buick-level cabin is a quiet, well-laid-out space that requires zero guesswork. There’s a fantastic feel to the meaty, heated steering wheel, solid rear visibility, and a gauge cluster that’s as cool as it is customizable, giving the GS a fantastic advantage.
+ Details like trap-door cubbies, aluminum race pedals, tasteful stitching, touch-sensitive HVAC controls, extra USB ports, and the use of something other than fake wood or faux carbon fiber for trim pieces are all greatly appreciated.
+ The leather-clad sport seats have multiple heat settings, offer memory settings for both driver and passenger with eight adjustability options, give tons of lumbar support, and are just bolstered enough that entering and exiting doesn’t suck – every single seat in the car looks just as good as it feels.
– No power steering wheel switches, a somewhat snug rear seat, no ventilated seat options, and a rear cabin feel that’s a bit bare bones make you wonder if this car belongs in the luxury segment.
– The simplistic, uninspiring arrangement center stack on the GS is a far cry from what you’d find in something like the Cadillac CTS4, but I guess GM has to sell Cadillacs too.
– Touch-sensitive temp controls are a tad tedious to use, and aren’t as responsive as those found in Cadillacs.
Tech and safety
This is where the GS really starts to shine. While some of the controls may seem overly simple to some, I’d rather deal with a cut-and-dry infotainment setup than an overly complex one. The GS has an 8-inch color touchscreen that’s been reworked with an enhanced version of Buick’s IntelliLink system – and it works pretty damn well. Toss in safety perks like the $1,040 “Driver Confidence Package #1″ and Apple CarPlay connectivity, and the Buick of the future is here today. Plus, who doesn’t love a car with its own WiFi?
Tech pros and cons
+ Forward collision warnings, rear cross traffic alerts, lane departure alarms, blind spot monitoring, variable cruise control, and driver/passenger memory seats all for just over a grand? Sign us up please.
+ Navigating the infotainment system is about as easy as it comes, and I love that GM utilizes 3-D mapping, so bridges, stadiums, building, and any other prominent structure pop-up once you zoom in enough.
+ While on-board WiFi is great and all, scrolling through all of the Multi Information Display (MID) options is where the real fun is. Want to see what your lateral G-Force pull looks like while hitting a corner? The GS has all of that and more.
– Even when activated, real time traffic didn’t always show up.
– Some lag can be detected when jumping around in the touchscreen. While it may not be a nail in the coffin, there were times when I wondered how this system would perform after a few years of abuse.
– There are no surround-shot cameras on the GS, so don’t expect an overhead view or any corner angle viewpoints.
The drive is where the GS really comes alive. Even though it’s pretty luxurious, this car has been designed to do one thing really well: haul. We’re not talking about straight-line speeds — with its adjustable Yaw dampening suspension, electric limited-slip differential, H-Arm control arms, and Haldex all-wheel drive system, carving corners and owning apexes are what the GS loves to do.
While Sport mode is spirited enough for around town fun, pushing the “GS” button really gives you the goods. The variable dampening suspension tightens up along with the steering, throttle, and shift points. Once engaged, I was thrilled by how the revs remained high enough to keep the turbo spooling, the way the Brembo calipers kept the brakes balanced, and how the car never felt out of control. In Cincinnati, I found this to be true around town as well: The GS offered me near-Caddy level ride quality around town, and firm fun when I wanted to push that little button. This is one of those cars you just have to drive to believe. It’s very good at doing its job quietly, comfortably, and confidently.
After a week behind the wheel and a full day at the track, I can confidently say that the 2016 Buick Regal GS is something worth considering if you want a kick-ass little sedan. It may not have a manual gearbox or all of the bro respect that goes along with a WRX, but not everybody wants that. This is a car for the guy who wants a 2016 Cadillac but can’t quite justify coughing up the money right now – and kudos to GM for recognizing this fact. Where else can you get this much — with Pirelli P-Zero rubber, adaptive dampers, all-wheel drive, turbocharging, and every imaginable track-inspired add-on for $34,990? Buick just shaved off $3,320 for all GS buyers just to sweeten the pot, making this car one of the best performance deals out there.
But even after all that, I still found that the GS was a strange combination of disheartening and ingenious. As amazing as this it is, GM has one hell of an uphill battle on its hands if it wants to compete with all the turbocharged, all-wheel drive cars enthusiasts pine for these days. It may not be Euro or JDM-looking enough for some, but that’s part of a larger problem for Buick brand: People don’t take this car seriously, even when they should.
Out of five stars, it’s a solid 4.5. Bravo, Buick.