Buick Regal GS Long Term Test
GM Built a Decent Sport Sedan...? Yeah Right...
This is a very Exciting Day! Its our first long term test car! Just kidding...It's my personal 2013 Buick Regal GS. I have owned this car for a few months now and, after several thousand miles of ownership, decided it was time to do a write up about this car. There is a lot to be said for the amount of work GM put into getting this car onto the road here in the U.S. Yes, it lacks four wheel drive, and yes we only got the 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder, BUT this may be the best handling front wheel drive sedan on the road today. I know I know, front wheel drive = wrong wheel drive, but for some reason I just have a sweet spot for these cars. There is something about torque steer that excites me. Maybe that's why this car remained stock for all of two days after I made my purchase.
Now that the intro is out of the way, lets get down to the numbers: 270 horsepower, 295 lb/ft of torque. Front wheel drive and an open differential. GM Magnetic Ride Control and 20 inch wheels, wrapped with 255 section Pirelli P-Zero Rubber. All of this for a tick over $38,000 dollars. I'll let that last number sink in for a moment, because I need to allow every member of the BMW 3 series cult to choose the proverbial stone they wish to cast in my direction. Here is my deal: The new 3 series is soft, uninspiring and comes with little to no standard equipment for the same kind of money. The sales people were downright disrespectful to their customer and the test drive was a joke. Moving on over the the Buick dealer...I pulled out of the parking lot in a red 2013 GS, turned off the traction control with my salesman sitting beside me in the passenger seat, and floored it in first gear from a dead stop. When the front tires lit up I wa expecting a dirty look from the now angry salesman beside me. Instead, I was greeted with a shit eating grin and a childish giggle from my right.
I drove other cars, made comparisons in my head and on paper, and for some reason I kept coming back to the Regal. This car reminded me of the Saab 9-3 Viggen of the late 90's and early 2000s. Rough around the edges, hard to drive quickly and very thirsty for premium fuel. The lack of refinement compared to it's rivals drew me in. The GS is a joy to drive quickly once the driver understands he/she must manhandle the car. Those 255 section Pirellis are good for a lot more grip than any car of this caliber deserves. These tires have so much grip, the driver might forget that this car is not running a limited slip differential. This brings me to another point: Because this car is cheaper than it's competition (with comparable equipment levels), the owner has money back in their pocket with which to make modifications.
I said before that I kept the car stock for all of two days. GM's small block and ecotec motors have a massive aftermarket presence. Two days after purchasing my car, I took it back to the dealer and had a computer tune from trifecta performance installed. The result was an increase of 80 hp at the crank (for a total of 350). A week later, I had a Quaife mechanical limited slip differential installed. The total for these upgrades? roughly $1800 dollars. 350 hp, 400 lb/ft of torque and an LSD for a hair under $40,000 dollars. That, my friends, is value.
There are so many things to talk about with this car. I want to talk a bit about the interior, because this has always been GM's biggest product placement failure. GM has always managed to ruin perfectly good cars by producing sub par (shitty) interiors. Look no further than the Corvette: world beating performance and seats out of a church. Thankfully, progress has been made in this area. Make no mistake, you will not sit in a new Buick and mistake the materials for a Mercedes, but GM is definitely making progress. The seats are highly supportive, albeit a bit narrow for those with a large posterior. While not the best looking seats, they certainly get the job done and for that I can only say thank you, GM. The buttons and dash layout are unmistakably GM parts bin, but everything is laid out in an ergonomically sound manner and all the touch points feel up to the task of handling daily punishment. The steering wheel in this car has had me going back and forth for weeks now trying to figure out if I love it or hate it. Automakers today seem more willing to expand the definition of "wheel" however they see fit. The GS is the recipient of a flat bottom AND flat sided wheel. This took some time to get used to. I repeatedly found myself grabbing the wheel in awkward spots while making tight turns (this thing has the turning radius of the Queen Mary). It was only when I made my first trip to Watkins Glen raceway that the layout of this wheel started making sense.
On the track, this car is a bit of a pig. Front wheel drive and a 3800lb curb weight make the GS feel very large on a track full of M3's and MX5's. With that being said the brakes surprised me time and time again, repeatedly hauling the GS down from triple digit speeds with no signs of fade or pedal mush. Credit to the factory Brembo Brakes where credit is due. GM did an excellent job tuning the handling characteristics of this car. Rather than take the Lexus approach and dial out all feel, the GM engineers produced a car which moves around you. By that I mean this car communicates it's handling limits through the steering and suspension movements, not through tires squeel and under-steer. Yes, at the very limit, the car will push wide, but driven at 9/10's this is hilariously good fun to hustle around the track.
Out on the road, the three mode Magnetic Ride control is a boon to ride quality. The system has three modes: normal, sport and GS. GS is supposedly 40% stiffer than the default setting. The standard setting provides a somewhat soft, but not floaty ride. The standard setting feels akin to any other small sport sedan running around these days. Hit the GS button and things get....stiff. Throttle response becomes much sharper, the steering gains a noticeable amount of heft and the suspension becomes crashy and stiff. GS is for driving like an idiot. Just be sure to have a gas station nearby. Unfortunately this car is a victim of the small engine/big car curse. I have averaged roughly 12.5 mpg in city driving with the GS over a six month period. Highway fuel economy is much better thanks to a tall final drive. We have averaged 24.5 mpg overall over an 8,000 mile period. Such is the price we pay for driving with a heavy right foot. The turbo four cylinder is a surprisingly smooth unit. Power is strong so long as the needle remains in the boost range above 2000 rpm. Any requests for thrust below 2000 rpm are met with a pleasing, almost V8 like, bass rumble, but not much else. Power above 3000 rpm is strong, but full boost does not come on until nearly 4000 rpm. GM has seen fit to equip the GS with their Hi-Per strut front suspension, as well as active torque management. Unfortunately the active torque management system has hamstrung the GS in 1st and 2nd gear. With this much power, an owner should expect 0-60 times in the mid to high 5 second range, but GM's software slows the car into the mid 6 second range, even without traction control engaged. All of this means that the GS is best used between 20 and 100 mph. Rolling power is reminiscent of the Dodge neon Srt-4, which is to say surprising. Once the ecotec motor is breathing free of the active torque management nanny, this car come into its own.
In my roughly six months of ownership, I have grown to love this car as a sort of backwards, bastard child of an M3 and Saab Viggen. This is a confusing car for anyone who previously associated Buick with old men and nursing homes. I am still trying to find a description which adequately portrays the importance of this car for GM and Buick. The Regal GS represents the first chapter in an entirely new book for Buick. Who knows, maybe this car has opened the door for another black turbocharged buick from the past to make a reappearance?
I will be providing more updates on this car over the course of my ownership. We will be doing an instrumented test some time in the near future with comparisons between a stock GS and our lightly modified example. Stay tuned for more updates in the near future including more driving impressions.