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First Drive: 2012 Buick Regal GS


On paper, Buick seems to have applied the rice-rocket treatment to its popular BUICK REGAL to create this new GS model. It's taken a tiny, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and turbocharged and intercooled the bejeebers out of it to produce 270 horsepower and an even hairier 295 lb-ft of twist; bolted on paving-stone-sized front brake rotors (14.0 inches in diameter, 1.2 inches thick) clamped by impressive-looking Brembo four-piston calipers; starched up the suspension with stiffer springs, anti-roll bars, and (adjustable) Sachs shocks; and dolled up the exterior with more aggressive fascias, rocker panel extensions, and a spoiler. That looks like a recipe for a raucous, rambunctious, torque-steering screaming meemee. Having sampled this car's European counterpart-Opel's extreme-performing, harsh-riding Insignia OPC-I girded my kidneys and established a death grip on the wheel as I dumped the clutch to roll onto the "Lutzring" road course at GM's Milford proving ground.

Turns out such concerns were unfounded. While Buick is successfully appealing to younger buyers, the tuner set is not yet in its sights, so the GS' engineering team put as much or more effort into refining the car as it did souping it up. The direct-injected engine exhales through a larger 3-inch diameter exhaust system that reduces backpressure and is tuned for a mellow, grown-up tone-no fart-can blattiness. That reduced pressure and the recalibration of the engine controller, cam phasing, and boost control result in an increase in output of 50 horsepower and 37 lb-ft relative to the cooking-grade turbo, and 95 percent of peak torque is on tap from 2300 to 4900 rpm.

 To prevent all that twist from arm-wrestling the driver during a hard launch (GM claims the GS puts more torque to the ground than the Acura TSX V-6 and Audi A4 Sport), the front suspension is upgraded with the LaCrosse's HiPer Strut setup. This cake-n-eat-it-too solution starts with the low cost and space requirements of a strut suspension, but mounts an upper knuckle pivot point on the strut. This allows the front wheels to pivot about an axis that's 35-percent closer to the tire centerline, dramatically reducing the scrub radius-a dimension critical to torque-steering. The steering axis is also more vertical than that of the strut, which helps keep the tires more square to the ground when cornering-also good for handling. The icing on the cake: This setup weighs about 20 pounds less than a comparable control-arm arrangement.

 Little of the front-drive GS' suspension is shared with the AWD Opel OPC, and the GS is tuned for North America's scabrous road surfaces. Relative to the BUICK REGAL Turbo, the front and rear spring rates and rear anti-roll bar stiffness increase by 20 percent. The front bar carries over, but the geometry of its attachment to the HiPer Struts provides some effective increase in rate. Buick's Interactive Drive Control System is standard on GS, and its three suspension-mode settings roughly equate to the top two on the Turbo's optional IDCS, plus a firmer GS mode that also alters the steering assist and will eventually increase the shift speed and firmness of the six-speed automatic when it arrives in mid-2012. The base GS is fitted with what look like the Turbo's 245/40R19 all-season Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires (the compound and construction is unique) mounted on GS-specific wheels. Enthusiasts will want to opt for the 255/35ZR20 Pirelli PZero summer rubber. GM claims they're good for 0.90g-plus cornering (compared with 0.84 for the GS on 19s and 0.82 for the Turbo).

 Styling tweaks inside and out are similarly restrained. A deeper front fascia gulps more air through larger openings; the rear lets it out through more prominent exhaust outlets; rocker-panel extensions accentuate the modest suspension lowering; and there's satin-chrome trim and a small lip spoiler on the decklid. The latter contributes -0.11 to the lift coefficient, resulting in modest net downforce while the overall drag coefficient only rises from 0.335 to 0.340. Inside are nicely bolstered leather sport seats; a leather-wrapped, flat-bottom sport steering wheel; metal sport pedals; piano-black ebony trim; and gauge lighting that switches from blue to white when GS mode is engaged. Lots of BUICK REGAL options come standard on the $35,310 GS, like the Harmon/Kardon nine-speaker stereo, park-assist sensing, and rear side airbags. The only options are paint color, navigation, a sunroof, and the aforementioned dubs. All in, the GS price tops out in the $39K range.

 But back to my hard-launch acceleration down the pit entrance to the Lutzring with all the nannies off. Even with a bit too much wheelspin, the helm doesn't tug at all. The car launches hard -- harder than GM's conservative 6.7-second 0-60-mph and 15.2 second, 98-mph quarter-mile estimates would suggest. Shifting up through second and into third puts the car in turn one, where there's noticeable roll in the softest damper setting, less in Sport, and virtually none in GS. Second-gear full throttle on the exit through an uphill lefthander uncovers no steering-wheel shimmies or tugs even as the front axle crests a rise-have they really tamed 295 lb-ft at the front wheels? Down onto the flat asphalt apron of the carousel we encounter the closest thing to uneven pavement on this course, which upsets the body just a bit in the softest mode, while the GS setting locks out such motions without feeling overly harsh. The next several bends show off the car's high steady-state cornering grip and present an opportunity for matched-rev heel-and-toe downshifting to second, which is easily accomplished with a size-9 driving shoe. Pulling from low rpm the engine delivers a uniform surge of power, with no discontinuities, lags, or surges. It just feels like 3.5 liters pulling. Braking hard for the tight esses near our photographer reveals the same subtlety from the center pedal-there's no initial grabbiness or bite, just smooth, solid, linear retardation with no evidence of fade. I might wish for a bit more clutch-pedal effort/resistance, for even more steering feedback/feel than the GS mode allowed, and I wish it were 100 pounds lighter.

With the BUICK REGAL GS, Buick is serving up a gourmet helping of nouvelle refinement and performance. But the big-name chefs down the street at Acura and Audi are selling their established crowd-pleasers (TSX V-6 and A4 Quattro) for the same price. Perhaps the proof of this pudding will be in the testing. Stay tuned.
.hdr {color:#ffffff;font:bold 12px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#343434;} .hdr1 {color:#000000;font:bold 09px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#aba9a9;} .hdr2 {color:#000000;font:09px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#dddddd;} .hdr3 {color:#000000;font:09px verdana,arial,helvetica;background-color:#FFFFFF;} 2012 Buick Regal GS BASE PRICE $35,310 VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door, BUICK SEDAN ENGINE 2.0L/270-hp*/295-lb-ft* turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic (mid-2012) CURB WEIGHT 3700 lb (mfr) WHEELBASE 107.8 in LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 190.2 x 73.1 x 58.0 in 0-60 MPH 6.7 sec (mfr est) EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 19 / 27 mpg ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 177 / 125 kW-hrs/100 miles CO2 EMISSIONS 0.88 lb/mile ON SALE IN U.S. Fall 2011 *SAE Certified

(Source)


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