MILFORD, Mich.—When Buick’s invite to witness the unveiling of its new 2018 Regal GS hit our inbox, we didn’t have to think long before replying in the affirmative. For one thing, despite a punishing travel schedule of late, the reveal would take place at General Motors’ Milford Proving Ground.
Any chance one gets to visit one of these asphalt and concrete automotive playgrounds is an opportunity to be seized; the grounds are normally off-limits to members of the press, as they’re home to numerous prototypes being tested away from public glare. For another, Buick is a rather enigmatic automaker. Not as brash or flashy as Cadillac but more refined than the blue-collared Chevrolet, it’s ploughing the same ground as Mazda—a small brand with upwardly mobile aspirations.
Some seat time last year in the LaCrosse left us with the impression of a domestic version of Volvo’s S90 sedan: a relaxing vehicle in which to cruise while ensconced in a subtle but elegant interior—minus a wallet-busting sticker price. Any thoughts that the $39,990 Buick Regal GS would follow that lead were well and truly dispelled by our introduction to the car on Wednesday morning. Rather than aim the latest Regal variant at Gothenburg, its target comes from Ingolstadt: Audi’s A5 Sportback.
Brainy all-wheel drive, brainy suspension
Now, I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. Derived from the Regal Sportback but with some added visual muscle, the new Regal GS is certainly an attractive car. (Then again, we think that about every sportback, since it’s a form factor that is as close to ideal as we can think of.) It has an interior to match, complete with very comfortable sports seats that grip and support the driver, alongside heaters, coolers, and a massage function.
Under that attractive skin is a naturally aspirated, direct-injection 3.6L V6 that provides the Regal GS with 310hp (231kW) and 282lb-ft (382Nm). That’s a 51-horsepower bump compared to the outgoing (turbocharged four-cylinder) Regal GS, although the new model does come with 10 fewer lb-ft of torque.
The engine is coupled to a nine-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel drive system as standard. The AWD system uses GKN’s active twin-clutch system—also found in the Ford Focus RS—which can disconnect both rear wheels from the driveshaft for front-wheel drive efficiency. But it can also distribute all of the available torque to either of the rear wheels, should conditions demand it; you and I might call that torque-vectoring, but Buick’s engineers on-hand were quick to point out that, unlike a real torque-vectoring system, the twin-clutch setup works by reducing torque to the wheel with less grip rather than sending even more to its opposite number.
In normal running, we’re told the front:rear torque split should be 50:50. Switch the new Regal into Sport or GS mode (via handy buttons on the transmission tunnel) and that becomes more rear-biased for sportier dynamics. Those buttons also remap the steering and alter the transmission’s shift strategy, as well as firm up the suspension for more spirited driving. That’s done via the computer-controlled valved hydraulic dampers—no magnetorheological fluid here—which can be tweaked up to 500 times a second.
While a proper road test will have to wait a few months, we did get a chance to try the Regal GS on the proving ground’s ride and handling course—albeit with strict instructions to keep it under 50mph (80km/h). Brief impressions? The engine is gutsy if a little harsh-sounding, and, even in GS mode, it rides well over broken tarmac and rough concrete.
Listing image by Buick