We want to love the Regal GS. Its looks are crisply European, as is its dashing corner grip and unflappable high-speed poise. But remember the old Pirelli slogan “Power is nothing without Control” ?
Well, the Regal GS inspires a flip in that phrase:
Control is nothing without powerrrrr.
Since writing up our first test impressions of the 2015 Regal GS with “Deeply Disappointing” in the headline, we have had more than ample chances to change our tune.
An invite to a Buick Regal GS track day appeared out of thin air, and then a fresh 2016 model for a week-long deep dive. With its big price cut for 2016 and sexy black paint… all signs should be pointing upward. One would assume.
We’ll detail some of the serious remaining gripes about the car in this review. But an important caveat to keep in mind: this is not a ‘bad’ car by any means. It just is outclassed, outperformed and out-flanked by the many superior four-door sports cars out there. And perhaps even by its own sibling, the Regal Turbo.
Standard headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary for this Regal GS review. Also including the HD drive review video from earlier this fall. Despite being a 2015 model, both test cars were the top AWD model, and not the front-drive GS stickshift or the front-drive GD autobox.
HD Drive Review Video
The Regal GS’s crisp continental looks are one of its best achievements. The looks excite Buick faithful and draw in curious newcomers as well. Many of the core elements are just as solid in 2016 as they were for the US launch in 2013: the lean overhangs, sloping roofline and pert hood and trunk are all very unique and sexy. The upright windshield angle and standard giant wheels join forces to make the Regal GS seem leaned-forward, and ready to pounce, at all times.
The Regal GS’s birth — or adoption into the US range — was not without drama, though. An emergency refresh tweaked the grille up front and the lighting front and rear for 2015. This mainly relocated the projector-ball xenon lighting from the inner side of the lamp unit to the outer edge. It now lives right under the white LED checkmark at the outer/uppermost edge of the Buick’s nose. This certainly avoids the slightly cross-eyed look of the original iteration, but also loses uniqueness. The Regal Turbo shares the exact same lights for 2015/2016 — and only lacks the lower intake fangs up front versus its top sibling.
Of course, the Regal Turbo is much more demure in general thanks to its traditional bumpers versus the performance intakes of the GS. The standard 19s and optional 20s are still GS-exclusives — and they fill out the stance of the car exceptionally well. Much better than the largest Regal Turbo items, certainly.
That stance is a major asset for the Regal GS. For an AWD sedan, it rides incredibly low and hunkered-down to the pavement — feeling very, very sporty from all sides.
In back, new slimline red light graphics are sexy and modern in the best ways. In the dark with the car ahead of you, the machine seems exotic and far pricier than its $36k base prices would suggest. The unique GS details in back are a pronounced trunk spoiler up top, and a new bumper down below. The rear clip for the GS integrates the huge dual exhaust finisher pieces unseen on any other Regal. These are giant flared elements in matching satin grey that links up with the nose details nicely. But not the chrome trunk accent or the chrome window-surrounds, unfortunately.
Beyond these tweaks for the GS, the 2016 only adds two new colors: a stunning bright white and a new crimson shade.
Overall design score: An A-minus. But the LEDs are fairly poor in their actual execution; do not expect Maxima or Charger-like LED style in the fast lane. These are too dim for that, and disappear altogether in bright light and non-direct nose angles. A mid-range C grade for the lighting.
The cabin of the Regal GS is one of its most perplexing parts. It is uncomfortably tight up front, quite narrow and overall just a downmarket nightmare.
There is some curious appeal to its smattering of GM Performance additions, like the thick-rimmed steering wheel and the extra bolsters in the sides of the seatbottoms and seatbacks.
From the driver’s seat, the Regal GS is easy to adjust and get comfortable for a bombastic fast drive — the steering wheel adjustment range is quite large. Everything falls to hand, even the vastly improved touchscreen infotainment and nav system. The test car included The $1040 Driver Confidence Pack #1 with a six-pack of active safety alerts. These include front collision alter, cross-traffic, lane departure warning and blindspot alerts. None of this is particularly useful, in our opinion. Real active cruise or lane-keeping assist are far more helpful in real life than just bings and bongs going off regularly when you are driving clumsily.
Second big option inside is the $1000 moonroof, which is very nice to lighten an otherwise austere and too-grey cabin.
The sense of low-price details is generally hidden on first glance, but not the second or third. The seats are trimmed with exceptionally slippery and low-quality leathers — feeling as overprocessed and non-organic as any bad American car you can think of. The sport seats are also right in your face when sitting in the back seat.
This back seat is woeful. So tiny and so uncomfortable, the Regal GS cannot even compare with the Maxima or Chrysler 300. Raw numbers show a tight place; they do not capture the discomfort back there. But it is real.
The performance of the Regal GS is extra important. After all, this is the sportiest Buick in decades.
It is also important as a springboard to the next generation of Buick performance cars, like the recent Avista concept teasing a next-gen GNX.
Unfortunately, the Regal GS just does not deliver the thrills it should to rival any $35k sedan. Even the base Acura TLX with its 2.4-liter four-banger and DCT is far more thrilling up the rev range.
The Regal GS launches grumpily and lazily, finally delivering some real surge once deep into the too-tall second gear. A brake-torque launch attempt with this GS AWD resulted in … a non-launch. It stalled and clunked out as we tried to build boost for 2 seconds before lifting the brake. Very, very unpleasant overall.
Up the rev range on full throttle, the engine is totally without character. It whirrs like an economy car, and those exhausts out back offer no sporty sound. A lack of intake, exhaust and turbo noise is very curious — and sorely missed.
But aside all this: the biggest problem is the overall speed. The exact same engine as the GS is standard on the Regal Turbo. That is a vote against the premium-priced GS model right off the bat.
And this 259-horsepower engine is also detuned versus its power outputs in the Cadillac ATS Coupe or especially the new Camaro Turbo.
It all results in a resoundingly dull acceleration character from a stop. At speed, the Regal GS is also no passing hero. It is respectably quick but no more so than any Camry or Accord V6.
Long story short: it is too slow. Way too slow.
But told the long way: the Regal GS does love to stretch its legs. Down wily country two-lanes, the Regal GS inspires serious confidence.
There is GRIP for days — you will not lose traction. The nose is incisive in its bite on hard turn-in, while the back feels plugged-in and actively engaged around corners too.
But as Pirelli never said….
Control is nothing without Power.
This GS makes a better value case than its 2015 predecessor. More standard goodies and about $2k less overall is very welcome — and gets GS FWD base prices into the lower-mid $30s range.
The AWD GS test car stickered at $36,490 (not including $925 delivery charge), and ramped up to an as-delivered tally of $40,550.
This includes the $700 wheel upgrade and $400 paint upcharge, in addition to the mentioned $1k moonroof and $1k safety pack.
The Regal GS makes no sense.
In a world where GM is killing it with their strategy and executions time after time, the Regal GS feels like a relic from a time before. It is old-fashioned in ways that post-Impala Chevys and Cadillacs really are not.
Logically, what other GM model has a big price jump to the performance variant… but the same engine?
And what doggedly pursues the BMW 3 series (in spirit), while offering a car that is vastly smaller and slower than the Camry V6. ?
We still love Buick, and enjoy driving the GS with its Euro-cool looks and fast corner confidence.
But for the next-gen GNX, the recipe for success needs hard reset.
The Regal GS AWD is slow, small and pricey.
The car would not be in our top ten if considering a $40k sport sedan purchase. Perhaps not in the top 20.
Among Buick devotees, we’re sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
As an upside: the Cadillac ATS sedan means the GS is not the only GM sports-exec in your consideration set. The ATS is a vastly better car in almost every way, and also offers AWD.
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.