Review: A Buick Regal GS Is An Oddball Choice In 2015, And Better For It

Yes, it’s a Buick, and yes, you can get tired of answering with that line.

If spending a week with the 2015 Buick Regal GS AWD proved anything, it’s that driving a car from General Motors’ not-quite-luxury brand means you’ll have to explain your purchase more than you would from an import-labeled rival.

And if you’re not one to answer questions willingly, this could get frustrating.

But it also confirmed the Regal is still one of the best cars you’re not buying, an extremely likable premium sedan that hits its target competitors well and really makes you wonder what life would be like if you decided to be different and drove a Buick.

Nice doctors wanted

Age hasn’t hurt the Regal’s looks. Despite the car being around for five years now, and in other parts of the world as the Opel Insignia since 2008, this is an attractive car.

The GS trim’s silver accents, exhaust pipes integrated into the rear bumper and ambitious 19-inch wheels go some way to make it more aggressive. It’s all subtly attractive, without being trendy.

Now that Buick is digging deeper into the Opel product range, the Regal comes off as far more than a posh Chevy Malibu, despite shared components. Doors feel solid and confident from the pull of the handle to the clunk of the way it shuts. Nothing from the transformation to make it a sportier GS version looks like a last-minute addition.

Aside from the fake Buick portholes on the top of the hood that really do look tacked-on, the Regal doesn’t look like it’s been badge-engineered, either. And that’s an accomplishment given that this is largely an Opel with different badges. Even with the deeper front fascia and bigger wheels, there’s nothing overwrought about this design, unlike the Lexus IS or Infiniti Q50.

With the Buick grille up front, it takes an old label and puts a modern and stylish spin on it. That sounds like a hipster thing to do, but don’t hold that against it. If a Buick is still a doctor’s car, this is for the doctor who wears slim-but-not-skinny pants to work.

Comfort, with some fuss

Speaking of skinny pants, sitting down is a problem in the Regal GS. In German fashion, the seats are hard with prominent bolsters. But the fact they’re over-stuffed is an unwelcome old Buick tradition. This conspires to make you feel like you’re sitting on the seats, rather than in them. A five-hour stint at the wheel was unfortunately irritating on my backside, no matter how the seat or wheel was positioned.

That’s a shame, because most of the Regal’s interior is really nicely done. Unsurprisingly, most things have a German weight and feel to them that would actually embarrass some, similarly priced Mercedes-branded vehicles.

The center stack is dominated by the 8-inch Intellilink screen that’s mostly intuitive, if too high on submenus and too sluggish at times to make it a truly seamless process. At least inputting destinations into the navigation system is supplemented by pushing the OnStar button and asking a human to do it for you.

I particularly liked the 8-inch adaptive display in the instrument panel on the GS, which was clear and interrupted me nicely with driving directions. It’s actually one of the more useful configurable displays I’ve used and its crisp graphics were another nice touch.

My car had the $1,040 Driver Assistance #1 Package, comprised of blind-spot, lane-departure and forward-collision warnings. All of the features were pretty welcome, given the thick pillars all around and how distracting touch-sensitive air temperature control is. However, you have to spend another $1,195 to get adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. I’d buy that over the $995 Black Diamond Tricoat paint my car featured.

The old turbo rush

Perhaps what I liked most about actually driving the Regal around had little to do with its sports sedan credentials. Even in sportiest GS form, it’s no corner carver. But the Buick has this weight and confidence about it that makes it satisfying on just about every road, if not overwhelmingly a driver’s choice.

Part of that feeling from heft comes from actual heft. At nearly 4,000 pounds, the Regal GS AWD is stout for its class.

The 2.0-liter turbo, revised last year to produce 259 horsepower, looks right on paper, but feels old-school in practice. There’s a noticeable throb at idle and power comes on with a shove – likely a delay from the turbo or transmission, or both. But as the revs build, a decent amount of thrust takes over and gives you the confidence to go a bit faster. It’s not that the Buick is frenetic, but it definitely feels more at home as the speed rises. The Regal GS feels right around that legal highway speed. Fans of old Saab 9-3s have the strongest connection to this sensation.

Again, in Buick tradition, this is a fabulous highway cruiser. Don’t bother with Sport or GS driving modes, they just make things noisier and the ride from the 19-inch wheels more jiggly.

Fuel economy isn’t bad. On a 500-mile trip up and down Highway 101 along California’s central coast, I averaged 28 MPG, 1 more than the EPA suggests. And typical commute driving mixed with enthusiastic backroad trips netted almost 24. Again, not great, but better than the 19/27 estimate.

The trick with the Regal GS is to leave the car in Comfort and allow it to eat the miles in large bites.

Buick Gran Smugness

Forgetting that I was never truly comfortable driving the Regal GS, I really warmed up to it. But that was only made possible by spending time with it and having it grow on me, something that’s hard to do when there’s a lot of competition around.

For right around $43,000, the Regal GS AWD isn’t notably cheaper than a Volvo S60 T5 or Acura TLX SH-AWD to balance out the, “That’s a Buick?” questions you’ll constantly have to field. A no-explanation-needed BMW 320i xDrive equipped almost like the Regal I drove is well-past $45,000, although aggressive BMW leasing will likely make a monthly payment very similar. I’d immediately skip the all-wheel drive option and save more than $2,000, but it’s still hard to get a GS for much less than $40,000.

You still need to want a Regal to a certain degree. Admittedly, part of what I liked about driving the Regal, as a young and sometimes-professional person, was the feeling of being different from the premium sedan firmament. And as a Saab driver, this emotion and I are well-acquainted.

I understand the Regal GS’ problem in life because people think it’s for a certain kind of person. What they may not realize is that they are that kind of person. Most of what people ask of a 3-series, the Buick does just as well and does for at least a little less money.

But those who like to fly under the radar will like the Regal for this reason. You can enjoy that smug feeling of buying a well-kept secret without having to trade much in the way of comfort, quality or performance.

There will always be cars that do their thing well, do it quietly and therefore go under-appreciated. It just doesn’t occur to many that would be called the Buick Regal GS.

(GM provided me with this Regal, with a tankful of fuel, and said, “See you next week.”)

Photos: Zac Estrada / Carscoops

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  • john1168

    Decent review. I like the Regal GS AWD A LOT! But 3 things do annoy me about it. First, the seats. I think they may be the HARDEST seats I’ve ever sat on. They’re like sitting on park benches they’re so hard. I do long drives now and then and as much as I do like the car, I’m not sure I’d buy it because of the seats alone. Second, it’s heavy. Not just because of the awd system (which is an awesome system by the way), it only adds 200 lbs, but because the car is from old GM when they didn’t use a lot of high and ultra high strength steels to save weight. Third, no 9 speed auto for next year. The 6 speed is ok but if there was a 9 speed, acceleration would be better and fuel economy would improve by 1 or 2 mpg.
    I love the looks of the car. I love the interior, except for the hardness of the seats. It handles and brakes very well. It accelerates pretty well, for the most part. And I believe it to be a good deal. If you max this car out on options, you’ll probably spend $5k+ more on any of the Germans. Don’t compare a base German with a maxed out Regal GS.
    I wanted to buy this car earlier but now I’m waiting to see the US version of the Taurus SHO. Yeah, maybe up to $10k more maxed out on options but WAAAYY faster, roomier, the same weight and I’m guessing similar fuel economy. We’ll see.

  • dinn

    It is quite obvious that Insignia is bit outdated car.
    Interior space is smaller than in some compact cars (Octavia, Pulsar etc), shape of the body is not so exciting as 7 years ago, but the most annoying feature is weight. Because Insignia is so “fat” it doesn’t handle well and real life acceleration is much worse than you may expect from D segment car with this sort of power.
    I think GM should present new Insignia this year to keep up with Passat, Mondeo, 508 and Mazda 6.

  • Craig

    It’s a very nice looking car. But I can’t remember the last time I saw one. [in ‘person’]

    • dinn

      They are on an every corner.

    • john1168

      I do a lot of driving between NY and VA and I think in the past 5 years since it’s been out, I’ve seen a total of maybe 10 of them. And that includes one as a dealer loaner car and one or two on a lot to be sold. I’m actually surprised that there aren’t more of them on the road.

      • I really can’t remember seeing another GS in public. During the week I had this in Southern California, I only saw a handful of other Regals. But then I really don’t see many new Buick sedans in my area to begin with.

    • Stephen Baxter

      True, hardly ever see them in SD.

  • trent

    Love the new instrument cluster, great to see the nav map displayed there, so many companies are just not utilizing this feature even if they have a big digital display there.

  • BlackPegasus

    I love the interiors on these new Buicks.

  • Ron

    Great article. I like the Regal GS a lot and when I see one, which is sadly rare, I automatically have an admiration for the person driving it. When your “luxury” car is just one of 20 of the same car parked on the same block then its really nothing special and certainly not different.

  • Christof Schumann

    This is a decent car. Having driven Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and VWs, it offers the best combination in my view. Opel really did an outstanding job in designing this vehicle, and putting it on the streets. Most bang for your bucks and this car loves the autobahn. Have to say that I drive a diesel engine and get as far as 900 kilometers per tank. And this auto braking, auto accelaration feature thing really helps a lot in traffic, autobahn or not.

    • Christof Schumann

      The only thing that really feels cheap are the direction indicator controls

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