Hot Buicks are some of the most adored American cars of all time. So when Buick decided to bring over the European Opel/Vauxhall Insignia to the US market for the first time, the excitement over receiving their OPC/VXR performance variant was palpable.
Confirmation that the big brushed-alloy fangs would make it across the pond to US buyers for the first time brought many GNX rumbles to the surface. Would this hot Buick be able to inherit the Banker’s Hotrod legacy?
A turbo engine and all the autobahn-ready handling seemed like a perfect statement of intent for Buick at the time. The Regal GS would be emblematic of the new Buick, and the new General Motors, after years off the fairway.
The US version of the Vauxhall Insignia VXR should have been a credible Audi S4 and BMW 335i competitor, but the trip overseas was not smooth sailing. The loss of two cylinders of turbo engine took power from 300-plus on the continent to 259HP stateside.
Buick broadened the 2015 GS marketability with the addition of a stickshift option for the front-drive car, and a new auto-only AWD variant like our test car here.
As the miles ticked upward during our week in the GS, the mystery of the car became even more perplexing. A loaded sticker price of $46,000 did nothing to make sense of this fairly small and slow sports sedan.
The Regal GS has some real performance chops under its panels, and we investigated thoroughly via an HD drive video and the 100 or so photos included here.
Read on to help solve this riddle wrapped in a Buick….
The exterior design of the 2015 GS is sexy and eyecatching from all sides. A tweaked nose brought the HID projectors to the outer edge of the nose from their inboard position in 2013-2014, while tweaked finishes, grille details and new LEDs updated the car to Buick’s global style flagship.
The best features stayed present and accounted-for in the quick refresh: those fangs up front in distinctive contrast silver alloy are scary sexy on the road and stopped. The giant spider-spoke polished alloys are also some of the meatiest contact patches this side of a 911 Turbo.
Out back, new LED brake lights form a chic downward checkmark when lit at night, while the silver the trunk and tailpipe finishers now match the satin pewter effect of the nose. It is a cohesive and convincing sports-sedan design — but one that is quite color-sensitive. This red is much less appealing than the same car in white or black.
The cabin of any German or European car is often the part that translates worst to America. Strange symbols that might make sense to a German speaker are totally lost on us.
But not in a Buick!?
Yes, sadly, the cabin of this Regal GS does have major cultural differences that are not endearing. While the sport seats and flat-bottomed steering wheel are divine, the rest of the cockpit is deeply compromised.
More than anything, the Regal GS inside just feels like Old GM, unfortunately. The Chevy and Cadillac etc cabins have made such big strides since 2010. Useful tech and consistent controls are a mainstay, as are better detail fixtures. Things as subtle as the wiper or blinker controls can have a big impact on perceived quality. Not to mention ease of use.
The Regal GS lets you know it is from the old school right as you set off. As heard in the video above… a shift into Drive from Park is accompanied by a ghastly clonk of the doors locking automatically. It is an unfamiliar throwback as unwelcome as the old chrome GM seatbelt buckles burning your hands in summertime. The Regal GS also had a few interior creaks and squeaks coming from somewhere under the dash.
Once on the road, the GS continues to flummox. Its controls are very unusual for everyday items. The GS button on the dashboard does not appear to change the car whatsoever… aside from it lighting up to show it is on.
A new center stack and control interface for 2015 is immensely improved: with unique climate contols operated electrostatically as you tap them with a finger. Up top, another family of buttons operates infotainment and nav features, paired with the touchscreen.
But it still feels strange inside. It is an extremely narrow vehicle, as evidenced by the very skinny center console. Inside, the dimensions are comparable to a Subaru WRX sedan. Perhaps the previous generation WRX, at that. It is tight up front around hips and shoulders.
Average Americans will also struggle with the back seat. Entry is cramped, and comfort is woeful for tall people. Three across is a nonstarter, despite three seatbelts. Very narrow back there, with a low roof and steep seatback angle.
A true three-pronged power outlet below the console air vents is a nice surprise. But the hideously cheap and low-quality pleather on the seatbacks gives new meaning to déclassé.
Here’s where the GS should be earning its keep: the performance and speed metrics so aced by the GNX 30 years ago.
In our hands with the automatic and AWD, however, the Regal GS feels like it needs 100 more horsepower. There is so much grip and corner confidence… but the engine on full throttle cannot cash the exterior’s checks.
It is much, much too slow.
Premium fuel is recommended to get the most of the turbocharged powertrain. But even so, the Regal GS is too slow to ever keep up with a WRX. We’d estimate a sprint time of 6.4-seconds on 93-octane fuel, and 7.8-seconds on regular gasoline. In ideal conditions, MotorTrend got the GS AWD to 60-mph in 6.2-seconds.
That is within a half second of the time delivered by the Regal Turbo and Regal Turbo AWD. A slightly, slightly lower torque peak for the GS is all that sets the engine apart from Regal Turbo.
This engine is a performance bargain in the Regal Turbo, but is laughably bad versus the Dodge Charger HEMI or even Hyundai Genesis V6. Despite those cars being a full two sizes larger, they are both much faster and engaging on throttle.
Lastly, the transmission is slow-witted, has ratios spread way too wide and too tall, and lacks paddles on the steering wheel. These are glaring, perhaps unforgivable problems for a car seeking to compete with BMW.
Okay, here is where the major disconnect happens. All the above critiques seem manageable if the price were $35,000. But as tested, this Regal GS AWD stickers at $44,670. In the context of the Cadillac ATS sedan, let alone any of the Germans, it is hard to see the GS feeling worth the money. Unless you have a GNX in the garage, too, perhaps.
How could this GS be so unloved?
It really comes down to two things: the engine and the price. If the car used its flypaper stickiness to rocketlaunch to 60-mph, we could understand some of its quirks. But it is no quicker than the $32k Regal Turbo.
The irony here is that the GNX was defined by its turbo engine. A motor so triumphant that it gave new life — and a cult following — to a fairly jumbo cruiser coupe.
The price just feels like a mistake on GM’s part. Why and how could this tiny machine cost so much? It is partly due to a triple threat: Forex currency rates + the global Lehman crisis + German labor.
Unfortunately for Buick devotees excited for the GS to revive Buick’s speedy credentials, this car is a major letdown.
There is a silver lining to this storm cloud, however. And its name is Regal Turbo.
Available with front drive or AWD, the Regal Turbo on a pair of GS alloy wheels would be a far better value proposition at its $35k prices versus the GS at $45k.
At the end of the day, if you love Buicks and love Nurburgring-ready handling, this is one of the only American four-doors that can nail the carousel corner of the Green Hell.
Back from that fantasy camp though, the Regal GS’s competition from WRX the Charger is just much better. The Regal GS is a major disappointment.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.