Buick continues to try to convince everyone that its cars are cool, but we still haven’t seen much evidence of this working. However, the 2019 Buick Regal GS is exactly the car that can help change people’s minds about Buick in 2019. It has big red Brembos sitting inside superbly stylish wheels, bright red GS emblems everywhere, aggressive bodywork and some of the best sport seats in any car today. Buick truly made the GS look the part, and if you can get past the brand’s Wal-Mart greeter personality, you’re going to like the way it drives, too.
The Regal GS is powered by GM’s 3.6-liter V6 that makes a healthy 310 horsepower and 282 pound-feet of torque in this application. That gets mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, which is the only option for the GS this time around. The previous generation Regal GS offered a six-speed manual, but we weren’t missing it too badly here.
With seemingly every car under the sun going the turbocharged route, it was refreshing to see GM use a big, naturally aspirated V6. Even stranger was that the Regal GS before this one was boosted, so you could say GM went the opposite direction of the industry trend. That previous GS made 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinder. So, while the V6 beats it by 40 horsepower, the old GS has it by 13 measly pound-feet of torque. Still, we dig the V6, because this car’s power delivery is fantastic with a snarly but restrained exhaust note to go with. My largest quibble is taking off from a stop. The GS’s throttle response is a little numb from the get-go, but put any revs to it and the car is ready to leap forward at any speed. This immediacy is increased when you put it into “GS” mode, which sharpens up the throttle, quickens shifts, stiffens the suspension, sends more power to the rear wheels and makes the steering heavier.
The nine-speed is seamless and unobtrusive in traffic, but offers up surprisingly quick shifts when you’re flat-out. Most of the time I end up ignoring the paddle shifters on cars with torque converter automatics, so I wasn’t exactly missing them here. You can select the gears via the gear lever’s slapstick function if you really want to, but it’s hardly more engaging than just letting the car go at it. In GS mode it holds gears long enough and resists shifting out of the power band. During fall-attack on a backroad, it works smart and is on-par with the eight-speed in our Stinger GT long-termer. The extra cog in the Buick keeps the revs low cruising at highway speeds, and nets you decent fuel economy, too, at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Truly, this transmission fits the car’s character like a glove. Docile and smooth most of the time, but able to serve up a right bit of fun when called upon.
We couldn’t be happier with the suspension and ride from the Regal GS. On the highway it was far more comfortable than any performance variant has a right to be. Seriously, this thing soaks up bumps that most vehicles with sporting intentions ride harshly and painfully over. We’ll chalk some of that up to the Continuous Damping Control (CDC) shocks that are able to make 500 adjustments per second. In normal mode, the ride is buttery smooth, as I’m cocooned in the soft sport seat. Switch it into GS mode and the shocks stiffen up considerably, bringing about a distinct harshness on rough roads. All of a sudden, your supple ride turns into a comparably agitating one, unless you happen to find yourself on smooth, curvy roads.
In its stiffest setting, there’s still a bit of body roll, but it’s kept in check enough to never get sloppy. The 4,270-pound curb weight is hefty but not unmanageable as it does a fine impression of a German sport sedan when pushed on a backroad. We had mixed feelings about the steering in GS mode, though. It’s just the right amount of weight in normal mode, but becomes artificially heavy and unnecessarily difficult to steer after tapping the GS button. Great steering does not just mean a stiff rack.
You’re probably excited to hear about the all-wheel drive system, but it’s relatively unnoticeable in everyday use. We’re glad it’s around, though, because sending this much power through just the front wheels could be a torque-steer catastrophe. As it is, the GS-tuned all-wheel drive doesn’t slip in straight line acceleration, but also doesn’t give the rear wheels enough go to make the back end squirm about on the regular. It’s a great system for all-weather driving, but look more into the Stinger if you like your big, all-wheel drive sedans with easily achievable slip angle.
The GS’ driving dynamics as a whole fall a hair short of other sport sedans, but it’s a capable and comfortable grand tourer. It might handle well and go somewhat fast in a straight line, but the precision and rawness of a sports car is lacking from the overall package.
We were rather milquetoast on the interior. Since the Regal is essentially a badge engineered Opel Insignia, a lot of that Opel-ness is felt throughout with some questionable plastics. There are some nice materials here and there, but Buick’s overall interior styling just does nothing to move us. Some faux carbon trim, piano black plastic and GS badging doesn’t light my eyes up enough to unglaze them from the unoriginal design.
What did grab my attention on the interior are the seats. These GS-specific buckets have big, electrically adjustable bolsters, so they’re able to fit a range of body types snugly — this needs to become a trend. They have pull-out thigh bolstering and are also heated, cooled and sort-of massaging. The massage function is a bit of a gimmick, as it’s just the lumbar support rolling up and down, jabbing you in the back.
What might be the selling feature on the Regal GS is its hatch. Most sedans have some semblance of utility to them, but the Regal GS — like every Regal aside from the TourX wagon — is technically a sportback. Poke your finger into the Buick logo on the hatch, then lift it up to reveal an astoundingly cavernous area. There’s 31.5 cu-ft of cargo space behind the second row of seats, and an expansive 60.7 cu-ft with those seats down. The area back there is so huge, it’s almost identical to the Regal TourX’s 32.7 cu-ft with the seats up. It even has a low loading floor to boot. This car’s hatch reminds us a lot of our long-term Kia Stinger GT’s, except it’s even bigger.
Your performance-per-dollar value here isn’t too shabby if you compare it to luxury vehicles, but it’s a fair bit of coin thinking about the car in a vacuum. The 2019 Regal GS starts at $39,995, and our tester rang in at $44,110 with options. These add-ons included niceties like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, a head-up display, LED cornering headlights and premium audio with navigation onboard, too. There are few direct competitors. A base Kia Stinger GT with all-wheel drive and way more power comes in at $42,495 (the rear-drive version is even less expensive), so keep that in mind when you’re out shopping for your hatchified sedan. An Audi A5 Sportback will set you back $45,195, but you’re looking at a stripper Audi at that point compared to a fully loaded Regal GS that beats it on horsepower.
Buick has put together an above-average little package here. The car is entirely comfortable to daily drive, and won’t ever disappoint you with passing power. I just worry that folks will write it off entirely after seeing that it’s a Buick. GM couldn’t charge as much for it if this car was a Chevrolet, and that brand’s performance sedan (SS) was somewhat recently nixed, so a Buick made off of an Opel that can be sold at lower volumes is what we get.
It’s half of a luxury car and half of a sport sedan, but doesn’t dive in completely to either of those roles. GM is not aiming it at Buick’s normal clientele, and it’s worth a test drive if you’re an enthusiast looking for a satisfying daily. The looming problem here is a vehicle like the Kia Stinger GT. That car is faster, more luxurious, can be had in rear-wheel drive and arguably looks sharper than the Buick. With those tidbits in mind, the audience for the Buick shrinks considerably. Fans of old-school naturally-aspirated engines who want a little more utility can find solace in the Buick. Beyond that, the GS is just a bit overmatched in its niche segment. It is, though, the coolest car Buick has made in years.