Don’t get too excited—the latest Regal GS isn’t what you think it is. Yes, it has torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, a 310-hp 3.6-liter V-6, and knockout good looks, all of which are sure to flash as hot pings on most people’s performance-car radar. In actuality, the Regal GS is merely a nice near-luxury car with a V-6 engine. As in competitors such as the Acura TLX, Lincoln MKZ, and Toyota Camry, the six mostly signifies a higher station in the lineup—in this case, the Regal’s top trim level—not a dog whistle to driving enthusiasts.
We can see how Buick could have you fooled, though. The GS looks fast. Even the regular Regal—dubbed Sportback on account of its sloping rear hatch and vestigial trunklet, which are shared with the GS—starts out lithe and sleek. If Buick assumed that Audi’s use of (but failure to trademark) the same name for its similar A5 Sportback might get people talking about the two cars in the same sentence, well, that’s just good marketing. And so long as that conversation stays focused on matters cosmetic, the Buick and the Audi can safely cohabitate within its clauses.
That wouldn’t have been possible had Buick—and Opel, the German brand that GM just sold to the PSA Group yet that still builds the Regal and sells its own version of it called the Insignia—not kept the GS’s detailing restrained. A small red GS badge floats inconspicuously in the grille, and the larger front intakes, GS-specific 19-inch wheels, and red-painted Brembo front brake calipers don’t overshadow the Regal’s sensational shape.
With its 3.6-inch-longer wheelbase, extra 2.7 inches of overall length, 0.7-inch-lower roof, and additional 0.2 inch of width, the Buick feels significantly larger inside than its predecessor. Behind the roomy rear seat lives a 32-cubic-foot cargo hold, which can be expanded to 61 cubes by laying the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks down flat. For reference, Buick’s largest two-row crossover, the Envision, stores 27 and 57 cubic feet, respectively. We only wish the GS had a power-opening mechanism like the one on the Regal TourX station wagon’s tailgate. Burdened by the huge rear window and that dummy trunklid, this car’s hatch is a heavy lift.
So, too, is the GS overall. While this Regal is 202 pounds lighter than the last all-wheel-drive GS we tested back in 2014, its curb weight still nears two tons. By comparison, a front-drive, four-cylinder Regal Sportback we tested was 394 pounds lighter.
Buick makes life even harder for the GS by fitting the standard Sportback with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four from the previous-generation Regal Turbo and GS models. Making 250 horsepower, the four-pot scoots a front-drive Regal to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, quicker than Acura’s 290-hp TLX and Toyota’s 301-hp Camry. In the fight between the GS’s substantial mass and its 60-hp boost over the Sportback, the engine loses. Despite the advantage of an all-wheel-drive launch, this sportiest Regal is only 0.2 second quicker to 60 mph than its Sportback sibling.
The top Regal’s mass also dulls its performance edge when deviating from a straight line, where its road-crushing heft makes the car feel inert. Wearing the same Continental all-season tires as the Sportback we tested (but on one-inch-larger wheels), the GS merely matches that car’s good but not great 0.87-g showing on our skidpad. It also needed a couple extra feet to stop from 70 mph.
At least the GKN-sourced twin-clutch torque-vectoring rear differential isn’t fluff. Though also offered on the base Regal and tuned less adventurously than it is in Ford’s Focus RS, the diff keeps torque steer at bay by overdriving the Regal’s outside rear wheel to help direct the car through turns. But exploiting this capability requires the driver to stomp on the gas midcorner. Pass this test of will and the corrective tail yaw suppresses understeer for a time. It creeps back in during long sweepers as the stability control reins in the throttle, and the low-grip all-season tires succumb to a use for which they were never intended.
The GS isn’t an extravagantly improved Regal, which is sort of okay given how composed the base car drives. It’s just false advertising. We were expecting more—more performance, more handling, more yuks, especially considering that Buick tosses in adaptive dampers and three drive modes: Touring, Sport, and GS. The latter two firm up the suspension and produce quicker and more frequent downshifts from the transmission.
Regardless of its drive mode, the Regal remains true to its easygoing baseline tune even as it delivers slightly sharper responses. There’s just a small nod to the sporty side with each button press. This is a rare bit of technical subtlety that we can’t help being impressed by, despite our overall disillusionment with the car. Such detail work deserves praise in this age of endlessly adjustable, never-quite-right computerized chassis.
Lacking paddle shifters seems like a sin, even in light of the GS’s relaxed nature, though the nine-speed transmission’s second and third gears are so tightly spaced that you can’t avoid the fuel cutoff during the 3–4 upshift when toggling the shifter yourself. Left to its own devices, the GS skips third altogether under full throttle to avoid any redline-to-redline hiccups.
Also disrupting the Regal’s cohesive chi are its ambitiously bolstered front sport seats, which appear to have fallen off a truck headed for the Corvette’s Bowling Green, Kentucky, plant. The chairs’ faux cutouts for racing harnesses look ridiculous, though the seats are comfortable and have standard massaging, heating, and ventilating functions.