Versus the competiton:
The verdict: Buick’s high-performance 2016 Regal GS doesn’t do enough to boost its performance credibility over the regular turbocharged Regal with all-wheel drive.
Versus the competition: Despite having the latest multimedia and safety technology, an aging and small interior and an underwhelming engine hold the Regal back from keeping up with more authentic luxury cars.
Buick has done a superb job keeping the midsize Regal fresh throughout the car’s lifespan, which started in 2011 and included a refresh for 2014. Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and other notable safety technology joined the features lineup in 2014, while a stout multimedia system offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 2016. Compare the 2016 to the 2015 Regal here.
The Regal is nearing the end of its life cycle, however, and rumors suggest a new one will be announced as early as calendar year 2017. Similarly sized competitors include the Acura TLX, Infiniti Q50 and Lexus IS, though realistically it is more a direct competitor on price and feature offerings with the TLX than the others. Compare the Regal with those cars here.
Our engine of choice for the Regal is a 259-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which pairs with front- or all-wheel drive in Regal Turbo and Regal GS models. A 182-hp, naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder is standard and comes only on the entry-level 1SV trim. The trim makeup includes 1SV, Sport Touring (available April 2016), Regal, Premium II and GS. A Regal “eAssist” mild hybrid is available to fleet customers only.
I drove the performance-oriented GS, which for 2016 comes with a six-speed automatic transmission only and includes Brembo brakes, lowered suspension with active adjustable-firmness shock absorbers. Compare a Regal GS with the Turbo Premium II here.
The GS performance trim’s styling adds larger, more aggressive lower grille openings to the front and more cleanly integrated dual exhaust tips at the rear. GS models sit lower than the other Regals and wear 19-inch wheels with all-season tires. The attractive, optional 20-inch wheels on our test car are immediately distinguishable from a non-GS Regal and one of the defining characteristics of the car’s exterior. Those 20-inch wheels normally are wrapped in summer tires sized P255/35WR20, but ours rolled on Pirelli winter tires during January testing.
The Regal GS lost a lot of its special flavor in 2014 when Buick decided to use a nearly identical engine in non-GS trim levels. Where there once was a ratings gap, the other turbo engine makes the same 259 hp and 295 pounds-feet of torque, though Buick says the GS version’s torque peak comes 500 rpm lower than the non-GS turbo. The earlier torque production is hardly enough of a distinguishing factor to make the GS stand out as a performance car compared with the non-GS turbocharged Regal.
The GS engine’s responsiveness is mushy and lackluster for a power plant that is claimed to reach max torque at 2,500 rpm. This thing doesn’t come alive until a little over 3,000 rpm. Both the potent V-6 available in the TLX and the turbocharged four-cylinder in the IS 200t are significantly more refined engines with less noise and smoother power delivery.
GS models have Sport and GS driving modes activated by buttons oddly located above the center touch-screen; performance mode buttons typically are closer to the gear selector. GS mode is the more aggressive of the two, though the engine remains poky and slow to respond, lacking any characteristics suggesting there’s a performance engine under the hood.
The six-speed automatic transmission doesn’t do the GS any favors. There are no steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters such as you’d expect from a performance package, and when you activate the manual mode using the gear selector, there’s only a small indicator showing which gear is picked. The transmission’s programming is suited well enough to performance driving, but the gear ratios don’t make up for the engine’s sluggishness. Buick dropped the manual transmission option previously available for the GS with front-wheel drive.
GS-specific tuning of the suspension and all-wheel-drive system are the Regal GS’ more noticeable performance pieces. An active suspension adjusts shock damping to suit road conditions and varies overall firmness in the Normal, Sport and GS modes. With the GS button pressed, the shocks firm up and reduce body motion, helping the GS maximize traction and responsiveness during cornering. There’s a considerable leap in firmness from Sport to GS mode, resulting in a little too much bounciness on the streets of Chicago, which honestly doesn’t take much. The suspension is much more compliant in normal and Sport settings where it drives like an ordinary family sedan.
The Regal GS all-wheel drive is a highlight of the driving experience. GS mode adjusts how the all-wheel drive reacts and right off the bat transfers 15 percent more torque to the rear wheels. An electronic limited-slip rear differential helps transfer torque between the left and right wheels through braking, and you can feel these systems tugging at the car to cleanly navigate through a corner without losing composure, The GS’ rear end will occasionally step out like a rear-wheel-drive car if driven hard enough. The Regal GS’ all-wheel drive has handling prowess similar to that of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive in the TLX.
Unlike the exterior, the Regal’s interior isn’t aging well. It shows in the inconsistent materials and textures in highly visible areas such as the upper dashboard and door panels. Even subcompact luxury cars priced comparably, such as the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA, offer more luxurious trimmings. And top-of-the-line trims of the mainstream Honda Accord and Mazda6 rival the Regal’s interior quality.
Seating comfort is quite good up front with the standard heated leather seats. Backseat room is tight, and the seat’s stadiumlike height towers over the front occupants. It’s a strange seating position for 6-footers like me, and my head touched the ceiling while sitting in the backseat. Plus, the floor hump for the all-wheel drive takes up a large portion of foot space, crowding your feet even when sitting in one of the outboard seats.
An 8-inch configurable instrument panel between a few analog gauges is exclusive to the GS trim level, though it’s far from a full digital dashboard. The screen is configurable into Touring and Sport displays. Touring mode displays a digital speedometer along with digital trip, navigation or media functions. In Sport mode, the digital speedometer is replaced by an analog-style display, while a digital speedometer can be displayed in the middle.
Buick has kept the Regal updated with the latest multimedia offerings, including new-for-2016 standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The latter is available as an update for early 2016 Regal owners; Android Auto didn’t release until spring 2016.
The Regal’s volume and tuning knobs provide welcome usability in lieu of seek buttons and touch-sensitive panels, plus the home and back buttons always provide a way out. Another usability perk is the way various functions can have shortcuts installed at the top of the screen: navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, radio and weather, for example.
All of the above are part of Buick’s IntelliLink system with the 8-inch touch-screen that also includes OnStar’s 4G LTE wireless internet with Wi-Fi capability. A three-month or 3-gigabyte free trial is standard, and subscription packages are available after the trial expires. When activated, the Regal has a fairly stout internet connection that is able to stream high-definition video over a phone if the cellular signal is good enough, which it was in Chicago, though some minor interruptions occurred deep in the city near tall buildings. Once gimmicky, this technology is starting to work well. It has the advantage of an externally mounted antenna for picking up a signal where your phone may not.
The Buick Regal earns five out of five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the Regal good (out of a possible good, acceptable, marginal or poor) in moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints and seat crashworthiness ratings. The small overlap front test had not been performed on the Regal at the time of publishing, which is unfortunate because it’s the only crashworthiness test that distinguishes one model from another in the institute’s large family cars class.
The Regal has a modern selection of optional safety features. Forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert are lumped into a package called Driver Confidence Package #1. Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking where the Regal applies its brakes to prevent or mitigate a forward collision is not part of the first package and requires a pricier Driver Confidence Package #2 for the full suite, which also includes adaptive cruise control. The forward collision system with auto-braking earned the highest rating of superior in IIHS tests. Its sensitivity even is adjustable through a steering-wheel button, easing the tolerance at which the car flashes and sounds an audible alert if the Regal is closing too quickly on a car ahead. The other driving aids are not adjustable in sensitivity, but they can be turned off. See here for a complete list of safety features, and here to see how well child-safety seats fit in the Regal.
The Regal trunk’s 14.2 cubic feet of space compares well with its competitors; the Q50 has 13.5 cubic feet, the IS 200t has 13.8 cubic feet and the TLX has 14.3 cubic feet. Storage space up front is a little lacking with just a few small storage cubbies and slots for a key fob, plus a storage bin under the center armrest that’s smaller than its lid suggests. Perhaps oddest is that the bin itself doesn’t contain the USB ports; they are positioned in the small pocket next to the cupholders. All cables still are out of sight when the armrest is closed, however.
Nailing the Regal GS’ competitive set isn’t straightforward. As tested in GS trim, our Regal was pricier than top-of-the-line midsize sedans at $40,650 with destination, but it was less expensive than a similarly equipped Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS or Acura TLX, and for good reason: The Regal doesn’t have the luxury feel of the others and is closer to the quality you’ll find in the top trim level of a midsize family sedan than in a luxury-brand vehicle. Most midsize sedans don’t offer a sport package like the Buick Regal GS, but the Regal GS isn’t much of a sport package anyway.
Within the luxury segment, the Acura TLX is the Regal’s closest competitor in price and feature offerings. A similarly optioned TLX pushes $45,000 with all of the features the Regal offers for $40,000, such as remote start, forward collision warning, all-wheel drive and an upgraded engine. What’s bad for the Regal is that the TLX’s extra $5,000 feels worth it.