JOLIET, Ill. -
Any day that begins at a racetrack is a good day in my book. And, frankly, it doesn't matter which car I'm driving. The lure of cornering at high speeds and going flat out on a straightaway in a copless environment is incredibly seductive.
So, when I posted a recent photo of a row of helmets and cars on social media, I suppose I got the response I expected, which was basically: Why are you taking a Buick on a track?
Because, Facebook friends, a Buick Regal GS actually does remarkably well under aggressive driving.
The Regal GS comes equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that delivers 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. While this is perfect for your daily commute packed with highway merges and passing maneuvers, it's pretty nice on an open track, too.
We were doing lead-follow laps on the members-only track at Autobahn Country Club with a professional driver at the helm of the lead car. I managed to snag the first car behind the leader, and it's the best thing I possibly could have done. In addition to having a front-row seat to learn the track's lines, I was able to push my Regal GS as hard as the professional driver pushed his.
And I have to say I was impressed. He was keeping speeds "slow," and we still managed to get up to almost 90 mph on straightaways and 60 mph rounding wide curves.
The GS is equipped with Buick's Interactive Drive Control system, which offers Sport and GS modes in addition to the default Touring mode. The top track-oriented mode is going to be the GS mode. This setting will increase steering effort alter the shift feel of the 6-speed automatic transmission.
During our 2-hour tour of the track, I toggled between all three modes, finding that each mode made the car progressively more fun to drive. I know, duh. But the point is that the Regal GS actually does really well - and is plenty fun - in the plain old Touring mode.
Different than the regular Regal, the GS is standardly equipped with a lower ride height, 19-inch wheels, computer damping control and Brembo brakes. It also has a unique front fascia with vertical intakes and available 20-inch wheels.
The only thing missing: A manual transmission.
For 2016, you won't see many changes to the Regal. A couple items to note include the Buick IntelliLink enhancements and the inclusion of Apple CarPlay. Android Auto isn't available at the beginning of the model year, but will be available later in 2016.
The biggest change, however, comes in the form of pricing. Buick has left all the content the same yet lowered the price on three out of four of its trims. The big winner in the price tag game just happens to be the GS trim, with a price drop of $3,320.
But why would they do such a thing? According to Rob Peterson, marketing manager at Buick, it's all about momentum.
"We've got momentum in the marketplace," he said during recent press event. "We believe we have the right product, and we still believe there are opportunities for this vehicle and this brand to grow."
Currently, Buick sales are up 11 percent over last year, and the automaker claims a 45 percent conquest rate, with 20 percent of those coming from foreign brands.
So, Buick lowers the price to put it closer to the mainstream marketplace, fills this sporty little sedan full of technology and hopes to watch market share continue to grow.
If the day I spent with the new Regal GS is anything to go by, they just might do it.
In addition to driving on the track, we were able to take the Regal GS through its paces on an autocross. While we didn't get up past about 35 mph, we did take the car through some aggressive curves and a tightly coned slalom. No matter which mode I toggled through, the Regal GS handled the short, tight course in good form.
And, not for the first time during the day, I found myself falling in with the marketing slogan, asking myself: This is a Buick?
Though we didn't get to do any street driving, I spent about 4 hours with the Regal GS, which is enough time for me to say: The seats are super comfortable and it handles really well. While I'm not sure where all the cubbyholes are or how things fit in the trunk, my initial impression is that the Regal GS is attractive and fun to drive.
The base Regal is equipped with a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. Standard features include leather seats, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, rear-view camera and the OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. Base price is $28,385. While Regal is standard with front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive is available.
Optional high-tech safety features include lane-change alert, blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision alert, adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation braking.
The competitive set for the Regal includes the Acura TLX, Volkswagen CC, Volvo S60, Lexus IS, Infiniti Q50 and Audi A4. The knee-jerk reaction might be to assume that the Buick Regal can't possibly compete with these other midsize luxury sedans. But considering the new price point, fun-to-drive dynamics and all the available high-tech gadgets, you might want to reconsider that notion.
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