By: Jag Dhatt
Tofino, BC: Say the word Buick and for many, one image comes to mind. An elderly, retired person, most likely a grandparent. I can confirm this because an uncle of mine owns a Buick, lives in Minnesota, is retired, and is a senior. And if anyone younger is driving one, then the car must be borrowed for sure. But is image really accurate? According to sales numbers about the demographics, absolutely NOT.
Buick, the oldest car company in the world (yes, it’s older than Ford), recently has been on a roll, becoming one of the top attainable luxury brands in the world. What may surprise you more is that it outsells Acura, Infiniti and Lincoln. And according to Mark Alger, National Marketing Manager for Buick, all products in the current line-up have been introduced in the past 18 months. And to drive one of the newest, we were invited to beautiful Vancouver Island, to test the Regal Sportback GS (Gran Sport). We had a chance to drive the base Regal Sportback as well, but this review will focus mostly on the GS.
When I think of the Regal, my mind automatically goes back to the mid-1980’s and the Regal T-Type. The sister to the infamous Grand National, the Regal T-Type had the same performance, body, and interior, sans the badging and solid black all-around paint scheme of the GN. And for those of you who know, any of these two, equipped with a turbo-charged V6, was able to take out a V8-powered Corvette. Yup, they were fast cars.
The new Regal GS is not same at all, save the name. These are more refined cars that are being aimed, on a global scale, at a completely different buying group. The new Regal looks nice and as hinted in commercials, most people don’t recognize it’s a Buick. The Regal GS is quite a handsome car, especially considering the aesthetic upgrades compared to the base version.
Over the base, the GS adds more aggressive front and rear fascias, side skirts, a low-profile rear lip spoiler, larger 19” wheels with low profile tires and of course, Brembo brakes. And the finishing touch – sport tuned chrome exhaust tips. The Regal Sportback is already a good-looking car, and the upgrades make the GS just that much better.
The cabin is just as nice as the outside and again, the upgrades over the base model are clear and welcome. Of note are the performance, AGR-certified, perforated, cooled and heated, massage seats that feature integrated headrests and thigh supports. Whew, that’s a lot just in the seats. But once you nestle into them, you really do appreciate how well these seats are built. I mean, if they are chiropractor certified, then they must be good. During the 200 km drive, I can attest that they are darn comfortable and keep you in your seats during some pretty aggressive twisty roads.
Coming back to the interior, there are also nice GS sill plates and a unique GS shifter, complete with additional Sport and GS driving modes (will talk about these later). One aspect of the Sportback that I found odd, but practical for certain times, is the cupholders. For an average cup from any coffee shop such as Tim Horton’s, the cup holder is way too deep and it was a hassle to put in and take out a regular cofee; however, if you get the large or extra-large size, it should be okay.
If you’ve ever driven the roads on Vancouver Island, you’ll know why people flock to the area. The scenery is breathtaking; it’s a nice balance between serenity and excitement, where the landscape changes from a calm beach to jagged mountains. And, the drive between Port Alberni and Tofino is an enthusiast’s dream. However, all motorists have to be on their toes the entire time because there’s potential for disaster if one is not careful.
I drove the non-GS Sportback from Nanaimo to Tofino and this worked out well as it set a baseline for driving the GS on the return trip. The base Sportback doesn’t disappoint at all. Not only does it keep up to Buick’s heritage of providing a great ride, it does it in comfort. The GS, on the other hand, definitely ups the game.
The best part of the GS’ drive has to be the sport tuned handling and suspension. I threw the car aggressively into the twists and turns and not once did it disappoint. More importantly, the ride wasn’t overly stiff, like many other sporty cars on the market. The GS offers a great balance between (somewhat) enthusiastic driving and comfort for daily driving and this is thanks to the Continuous Damping Control dampers placed on each of the four corners.
Under the hood sits GMC’s revered 3.6L, 310 horsepower V6 engine that provides enough get up and go for this sports sedan. Although the power numbers look good on paper, I found the power delivery to be a little lack-luster. It didn’t provide the amount of torque that I, an enthusiast, would associate with a sedan that carries the GS badge. A supercharger or turbocharger would definitely help in this area. For the average buyer, it will be enough though.
Up until 2016, there was a manual option, but now, only a 9-speed automatic is available. There is manual shifting available via the sport shifter, since there are no paddle shifters, which is a shame. What was more surprising was that if left in Automatic mode, the shifts are much quicker than doing them manually; so my advice, leave it Auto mode. And all GS models come standard with GMC’s sport tuned Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system with Active-Twin Clutch to ensure traction and stability on most surfaces and for most conditions.
The drive also allowed me to test the 3 drive modes in the GS – Normal, Sport, and GS. Switching from Normal to Sport didn’t change the “thrill” much at all and thus, I spent most of the drive in GS mode. At one point, I had to slam on the brakes and those Brembos really delivered. True to their name, the Brembos provide amazing stopping power.
You have to give GMC credit for keeping the Regal alive and for making it appealing to a wider audience. The Buick brand sells like crazy overseas, especially in China. In North America, it’s still having a hard time to break out of the “elderly-person’s” car idea. The new Regal GS is an example of the brand making strides in the North American market. I like the Regal GS; it’s a handsome car that offers a great deal of bang for the buck. Yes, it does have some shortcomings, but any buyer of this car will not be disappointed.