Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Buick Regal GS brings performance back to TriShield brand

by Sam Abuelsamid

Buick has a long history of turbocharged Regals starting back in 1978 when the first example appeared. That "personal luxury" coupe was one of the first mainstream American products to adopt exhaust-driven turbocharging to recover some of the power lost to downsized engines. Unfortunately, in the era before electronic engine management and fuel injection, those Regals weren't very good. Over the next decade, however, Buick refined these technologies, which led to the formidable GNX, supposedly the quickest production car in the world when it was introduced in 1986.

Fast forward to today and the Regal badge is back. Aside from four wheels and Buick's signature water fall grille, the new Regal has no relationship to the Regals of yore. Unlike the Eighties, when making an American car more "European" meant painting the chrome trim black and stiffening the springs, this sedan was originally developed by General Motors' European operation as the Opel Insignia. As such, it might actually appeal to those considering a BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But to really seal the deal, Buick is using the Detroit Auto Show to revive another one of its historic badges: the GS. Learn about the Regal GS after the jump.

At a sneak preview of the Regal GS, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told us in no uncertain terms, "We are officially not announcing this today." What he meant was that the Regal GS in not yet confirmed for production. However, given that most of its components are already in production and the level of detailed information revealed, all indications say that a Regal GS will debut a few months after its lesser siblings hit the streets.

The Regal GS is based directly on the high-performance OPC version of the Opel Insignia, but instead of using the foreigner's 325-horsepower turbocharged V6, Buick is sticking with its four-cylinder-only strategy for the Regal. The GS is powered by a higher output version of the 2.0-liter direct-injected EcoTec four-cylinder that we've come to know and love in numerous GM products over the few years, with the tell-tale dual portholes on either side of its hood indicating its intentions. In this application, powertrain engineers have re-tuned the engine from its original 260 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque to 255 hp and 295 pound-feet. The GS is also equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox... in a Buick! While we tend to favor three-pedal configurations, we're confident that the GS will also be available with a self-shifting option when it arrives in showrooms.

Back in the glory days of the GNX, turbo Regals offered plenty of capability for ramping up velocities. But when it came time to slow down or chang direction... well, when's the last time you saw a tight left-hander or chicane at your local drag strip? Being a true European sport sedan this go-'round, Buick has apparently covered all the bases when it comes to managing kinetic energy.

To convert that forward momentum into thermal energy Buick went with one of the top names in the business: Brembo. The front wheels are equipped with 14-inch cross-drilled rotors and four-pot mono-block calipers... again, on a Buick! Match it all up with 19-inch wheels wearing appropriate rubber and the GS should haul down in a hurry.

The last time a Regal had any serious performance, the tractive effort was handled only by the car's rear axle. Since this new version is a normally front-wheel drive, having any real credibility means adding an all-wheel drive system. Fortunately, the Epsilon II platform has already been engineered for this. Using the latest edition of the Haldex-based torque vectoring system that served duty in the Saab Turbo-X, the Regal should be able to send power to the wheels that need it most and move the car in any direction the driver wants with ease.

Proper control of a performance car also requires a proper working environment for the driver. In the Regal that means a thick-rimmed steering wheel with a flattened bottom. That last bit should help ease getting in and out of the heavily bolstered Recaro thrones. (Hey GM, if a Buick Regal can sport Recaros, when will we get some better seats in the Corvette?) While ensconced, the driver can use an Interactive Drive Control System (IDCS) to select different settings for the throttle response, adaptive damping, steering and shifting (presumably when equipped with an auto-box).

As we said, Maximum Bob made it clear that GM was officially not announcing anything yet. This is technically a concept for the moment – a show car only – but the smiles among GM staffers when talking about the GS, and the fact that the car is already engineered to go, indicates that we'll likely see the Regal GS in dealer showrooms sooner rather than later. We expect it to arrive sometime in 2011 with a price tag somewhere in the mid- to upper-$30K range.

As much as we like what we've seen of the Regal GS, however, it still doesn't help us understand exactly what kind of brand Buick is supposed to be going forward. Perhaps we can contemplate the answer while letting the brakes cool after blasting some back roads... in a Buick!

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