Recalling this track's frisky bends, howling tires and full-throttle straightaways brings a smile instantly.
Buick invited us to flog their performance flagship, the 2016 Regal GS, around the Illinois track and autocross to show off the machine's latest updates: new colors and a price that is much more approachable.
How approachable!? A cool $3,300 off the base price for the GS takes the entry level to $35k versus near $38k before. Three drivetrains continue for 2016: FWD auto, FWD manual and AWD automatic. The GS AWD we tested out still comes in around $39k with delivery, but bas GS manual spec levels are not cheapened. A straight-up price cut is always welcome.
In this track drive reivew, we'll highlight new learnings about the GS, a wishlist or aftermarket mods roadmap, and close with info in Buick's new 24-hour testdrive program that lets you keep a car overnight.
GS TRACK ATTACK
Our time on track was with the top AWD automatic models wearing GS-exclusive 20-inch alloys with summer tires. This combination makes one of the most fly-paper sticky sedans on the market for 2016. The GS is literally hoovered onto the tarmac at all drive intensities. Pushing the GS AWD harder on track than we could on the road, the expectation was for gentle understeer and persistent stability-control intervention. Not a chance. The GS AWD hangs on around bends beyond all logic. In these high-G maneuvers, the Buick shows what it does better than any Charger or even WRX --- nail laptimes.
Pushing near 9/10ths of what the Regal GS can do is a first-class endorphin rush. The car is supremely capable, and nudges you to get better at driving it hard in order to edge off those last tenths of seconds.
Hyperstrut front suspensions and a predictive torque shift to the back axle means the GS is virtually unflappable on track. When the grip does finally run out, or you haven't planted the Brembo brakes hard enough, the GS loses grip with a smooth and controlled four-wheel-drift. You really sense the lightness of the nose versus most performance sedans, and the balance of all four wheels gripping and tracking with all their might. It is a cohesive suspension and drivetrain tune that goads you to push harder, brake deeper and come on throttle sooner.
Track time also highlights the changes in the "GS" button on the dash. On the roads, we had this on nearly all the time so were unable to really tell the difference between normal, Sport and the GS drive setting.
On the autocross, the Sport versus GS modes are quite different, actually. GS adds a quicker throttle map, higher shift points and firmer dampers all around. It also acts as a 'lock' of sorts for the AWD system --- sending a much higher percentage of the 295 pound-feet of torque to the back axle by default.
In Sport, the GS showed much more body roll around the ultra-tight cones, and was less keen to hold onto first or second gear in the six-speed automatic (as GS mode does.) So the car gets moving more around you, adding to the sense of drama and speed. But it also upshifts at unideal times and then needs a full boot on the gas pedal to zoom forward at corner exits. Normal mode is a nice and fairly dynamic swap among these two fixed drive moods. In the real world, GS mode will almost always be the right button to push, aside from perhaps in lazy traffic or over bumpy roads. On those days, having the ability to soften the GS's hyper-responsive steering and firm shocks is a nice benefit.
The new colors in the GS portfolio this year are the ultra white shown here and a very dark crimson. The white is HOT in the flesh, but can't top black as the color-of-choice for the GS. Black makes the brushed alloy fangs front and rear really pop off the page and into your subconscious. It makes the Regal GS look as feral as it feels around full-throttle track corners. Paired with the price cut, the GS continues its mysterious but exclusive, rare and sexy aura on the road.
As an owner, we would reflash the turbo in a heartbeat to really stonk it up to 300HP or so, and might go for a performance downpipe to let the GS roar more. As it is, the speed of 259-horsepower arriving in a flat power peak throughout the revs feels authoritative, but its sound never tingles the spine like it could.
Around 6.2-seconds to 60-mph is the sprint average among the powertrains, with the FWD stick actually quickest at about 6.0-seconds, up to ~6.6s for the AWD automatic.
Other wishlist tweaks, either on the aftermarket or for a next-gen model?
POWERRRRRR!!! The Regal GS is somewhat confusing to drive hard because the chassis feels like it could handle SO MUCH MORE power than the engine delivers. We'd love launch control, as the GS AWD auto does not like being brake-torque launched. A simple floored throttle makes it easy, but doesn't pre-load the turbo, as is critical for the 0-60-mph times of cars like a Mitsubishi Evo. [The Evo or STi post their best numbers with a brutal 5000-rpm clutch drop, for context.]
The car also would benefit from paddle shifters. And perhaps an eight-speed automatic versus the six-speeds of 2016. In the automatic at least, gear spreads are autobahn ready -- making 4th through 6th gear feel overtall for US roads. They are optimized up for 110-mph to 130-mph passing moves more than 60 to 90-mph blasts, so the autobox hunts a bit more than the best self-shifters. On the flipside, the Regal GS will bomb down any interstate at 90-mph without even breaking a sweat.
For grown-up WRX fans, ST and Si fans, the Regal GS finally makes its true case: as a Legacy GT replacement...! Mild luxury plus wild corners = turbo-boosted smiles.
Yessir, that's my Buick!
FULL-DAY TEST DRIVE
You can reserve a 24-hour test drive online via Buick's new test drive program.
Leave your Focus, TL, A4 or 328i on the lot -- and take on corners in this GS for a full day. You might love what you find.