For The Associated Press
(AP) – The 2012 Regal GS, the sportiest version of Buick’s mid-size Regal sedan, is already on a “hot list” as a potential collector’s car.
Today’s top-of-the-line Regal GS is a 270-horsepower, turbocharged four door with a fine manual transmission, European-style handling, noteworthy road manners, pretty exterior and a heritage of Buick performance.
In announcing the Regal GS for its annual Hot List of collectible cars, Haggerty Insurance agency, the world’s leading insurer of classic cars, noted how the 2012 Regal GS breaks Buick’s stereotype as Grandpa’s car. Truth is, few people would recognize the 2012 Regal GS as a Buick if the badges were removed from the exterior and interior.
Passengers in the test car were astounded to find a manual transmission. They also usually couldn’t guess that the well-powered, mid-size Regal GS had a four cylinder under the hood.
Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $27,940 for a base, 2012 Regal with a naturally aspirated, 182-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.
The lowest starting retail price for a 2012 Regal with a 220-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission is $31,145.
But the highly touted, top-of-the-line 2012 Regal GS _ with the high-output, 270-horsepower, turbo four cylinder and standard six-speed manual _ starts at $35,720.
These prices compare with the $34,250 starting retail price for a 2012 Audi A4 with 211-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and continuously variable transmission that operates like an automatic.
The competing Lexus IS 250 has a starting retail price of $35,640 with base, 204-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission.
The Regal is positioned between the smaller, lower-priced Buick Verano sedan and the Buick LaCrosse, which has a starting retail price of more than $30,000.
Auto enthusiasts, though, point out that the Regal GS has an underlying platform and many mechanical parts from the Opel Insignia sedan that first went on sale in Europe in 2008. (Opel and Buick have the same parent company, General Motors.)
The test GS was a surprise on many levels. Exterior styling was upscale and not brawny, even though rocker panels, a different grille and a slightly lower-to-the-pavement stance differentiated it from other Regals.
The tester also had optional 20-inch, polished alloy wheels that added sparkle.
Inside, the sculpted, leather-covered, front bucket seats held driver and passenger well during spirited driving, quite unlike the flat front bench seats of old-time Buicks.
The GS doesn’t have a regular ignition keyhole; rather, there’s a start button to the right of the steering wheel on the center of the dashboard.
Steering in the test Regal GS was precise. Large brake rotors measuring 14 inches in the front and more than 12 inches in the back had Brembo calipers and worked capably. And the 2-liter, turbocharged and intercooled, Ecotec four-cylinder engine powered the car forward with gusto and very little turbo lag. Torque came on steadily and forcefully, hitting its peak of 295 foot-pounds at a low 2,400 rpm.
Keep an eye on the speedometer. It’s easy to get moving in the Regal GS and not realize the car is going 55 miles an hour on a city avenue or is above 80 mph on the highway.
A nice touch is how the speedometer’s red needle has a tiny red light at the end that appears to illuminate in red the exact speed.
Unfortunately, the test car averaged just 20.4 miles per gallon in driving that was 70 percent in the city and 30 percent on the highway. The government rating is 19/27 mpg.
Road noise came through from the big tires, and in GS suspension mode, the ride was firm to near stiff so that passengers felt just about every manhole and road imperfection. Two other less sporty settings provided less road feel and a less fatiguing ride. There was a bit of torque steer on rare occasion and the tires could be made to chirp in aggressive driving.
Unlike Audi’s A4, the Regal GS is not offered with all-wheel drive.
Still, the Regal’s traction control, electronic stability control and antilock brakes automatically provide traction assist if a driver doesn’t sense he or she is getting beyond the limits of the car.
A caveat: Stability control with the traction control can be manually turned off by a driver for an unassisted, racetrack-style performance drive.
The high-intensity discharge headlights impressed with their ample illumination and didn’t have the abrupt, distracting, HID cutoff line on the road ahead.
Fit and finish inside and out on the test car was excellent, and the Regal GS comes with many standard features, including power driver and front passenger seats, power lumbar support, dual-zone, automatic climate control that worked fast in the test car, Bluetooth phone connectivity, front and rear parking assist sensors, floor mats and leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio and phone controls on it.
Options include a sunroof and navigation system with map display; a rearview camera is not offered from the factory.
Consumer Reports magazine lists reliability of the Buick Regal as below average.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)