Buick's 1997 1/2 Regal GS is deceptive. Under its conservative, understated skin is a front-wheel-drive sports sedan that is miles ahead of the previous Regal. With a supple ride and a supercharged, 240-horsepower engine, it responds
enthusiastically, has room for five and is competitively priced. Only the top-line GS has the supercharged engine. The lesser-equipped LS uses the same 3.8-liter V6, but it does not have the supercharger and its output is 195 horsepower.
Typical of General Motors' family of new mid-size sedans built off of the same basic platform -- Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Intrigue and Buick Century -- the Regal is tight, solid and has a bigger interior and trunk. The body structure is stiffer and
the engine is mounted on a separate cradle that is isolated from the body with rubber mounts. With the GS Buick has created a sports sedan that is long on subtlety and short on flashiness, a sports sedan for the mature adult who doesn't want to
flaunt its performance. Our black test car did have 16-inch chrome wheels and dark-gray lower-body cladding, but it still looked discreet. Inside, the light-gray leather seats, with optional heating units, not only looked inviting but were
comfortable places to spend some time. Buick prides itself on the quality of its seats, and it is doing a good job in that area. The bucket seats have side padding for support, yet they are not so contoured as to be restrictive. Seams run vertically so as
to be less bothersome to occupants. In back, the longer wheelbase results in greater kneeroom. The seat tracks that have greater fore and aft travel and the backs of the front seats are sculpted to give more legroom. Carrying skis or other long
objects is accommodated by a lockable pass-through to the trunk. An integrated child seat is available. Like the Grand Prix, the angle of the rear seat back is pronounced, and some folks will find it uncomfortable on long trips. Major instruments
are easy-to-read, dial-type. A trip computer has a digital readout in the lower section of the tachometer. Off to the driver's right, the radio is located up high in the center of the dash where it is easy to reach. This is a new unit, but some of its
switches are still quite tiny. Helping that out, however, are remote radio controls built into the steering wheel. These soft-touch buttons are nicely integrated into the wheel, better than those on its sister cars. The dual-zone heating/cooling
system has push buttons instead of rotary-type dials. Increasing the wheelbase by 1.5 inches, to 109, not only frees up room inside but makes the ride smoother. The benefits of a tight, strong body structure show up in a pliant ride and lack of
squeaks because engineers can tune the suspension to soak up bumps without having to compensate for the body's flexing. The effectiveness of this approach is evident in the way the Regal GS handles responsively without a rough ride.
Buick also says the new body has a built-in safety cage for occupant protection. The supercharged 3800 Series II V6 has the throttle response of a V8, but under full throttle you can feel some coarseness from the supercharger. The level
of noise and vibration, however, seems to be less noticeable in the Regal than in its sister car, the Pontiac Grand Prix. Getting this kind of power to the ground through the front wheels can be tricky, and occasionally they wiggle and fight for
traction when you floor it. Traction control, which is not available on the supercharged Grand Prix, is standard on the GS, and it helps in this regard. Anti-lock brakes, dual airbags and side-impact protection are also included in standard safety
equipment. Price The base price of the Regal GS test car was $22,945. Options included electrochromic rearview mirror, power seats, dual-zone air conditioning, steering-wheel radio controls, chrome wheels and heated seats.
The sticker price was $25,430. Warranty The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: The Regal GS is a sports sedan for
mature drivers who want performance in an understated package. The new model is bigger, quieter and tighter than its predecessor. Counterpoint: Even though the interior ergonomics are much improved, they could still be refined.
SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 3.8-liter, V6 TRANSMISSION: automatic WHEELBASE: 109 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,520 lbs. BASE PRICE: $22,945 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $25,430 MPG RATING: 18 city, 28 hwy.