Buick Regal GS or LaCrosse: Sporty or Stodgy?

March 16th, 2012

2012 Buick Regal GS

My father bought me a yellow 1954 Buick convertible that I drove to college. It was the most garish car on campus, by far, and embarrassed the hell out of me until I got kicked out of school and drove the thing ignominiously home.

That was the era of heavy, sluggish Buicks, three-on-the-tree transmissions and a lot of chrome inside and out. These were not just grandpa-grandma cars; they were for people who wanted to make a splash.

GM has gone just the opposite way, at last, with the 2012 Regal GS, a sports sedan for the world market based on Opel’s Insignia, with some interesting technical and performance features. As I’m sure you know, the company is reaching out to a younger market.

The GS is not only sharp-looking but, from what I read, competitive with most anything Audi, Volvo or Lexus can offer in its price range. Engine, drivetrain, suspension and handling appear to be well-matched and very competent.

Power is a 2-liter turbo four, with a 6-speed manual only. Get to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, and choose from three well-set-up suspension/steering modes. It’s a front-wheel-drive car, but without torque steer, owing to a well-thought-out strut system called HiPer.

Prices run from $35,310 to over $38,000 with all the goodies, which is Audi A4 territory. But Buick has to cover its other bases.

2012 Buick LaCrosseI have not driven it, but the LaCrosse (right) looks like yet another Camrified sedan-o-matic.

Some reviews credit it with decent acceleration and smoothness, yet technical glitches were noted. While the price is in the same ballpark as the Regal GS’s, the design is not nearly as together. The LaCrosse has a V6 with mediocre mileage, and the hybrid version may actually be the better deal—improved fuel economy for less money.

The LaCrosse is meant to compete in the family-comfort-whitebread segment, and it may do fairly well there, at least in China.

Both cars illustrate Buick’s dilemma: Keep the comfort-oriented buyers of larger cars happy (and there are lots of them), yet cultivate a new, younger audience for German-style small sports sedans that offer a real alternative. Buick made some zippy GS cars in the 1970s and ‘80s that did find buyers.

Well, would you really rather have a Buick—to adapt their old sales pitch—or an Audi A4? Audi clearly has the brand cachet, even though I suspect the Buick could outrun it. I’ve long gotten over my Buick disgust.

Would you consider buying a Regal GS, or do the powers of branding influence your decision otherwise?

—jgoods

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  1. April 24th, 2012 at 07:44 | #1

    The 1970 Buick GSX had been offered with a standard GSX package, and all those consumers who opted this package were provided with vehicles that came painted in either in Apollo White or Saturn Yellow.

  2. March 21st, 2012 at 22:08 | #2

    I find it bemusing that reviewer jgoods admits “Buick disgust” from driving a “yellow 1954 convertible” in college! How are we to trust an article based on a biased sensibility, and lacking first hand experience with either Lacrosse or Regal? How valid can a review be when the writer hasn’t bothered test drive either of these Buicks or seen fit to double check things like Lacrosse’s having the same price for hybrid 4 and V6 models? Tut tut to such lazy journalism.

  3. Randy
    March 20th, 2012 at 13:02 | #3

    I could never figure out why GM didn’t kill Buick along with Saturn, Pontiac, and the others. They certainly don’t need a mid-lux brand with Cadillac– most folks don’t consider it a true luxury brand anymore anyway. They’ve got Chevy for youth mid line and performance stuff. To me, a strong GM would have been Chevy and Cadillac with ALL truck production shifted to GMC. I think the only gap would be to add one or two REAL luxury cars to Caddy’s lineup, cars costing in the range of 100K or so. While they are at it, dump the vette and produce a REAL 21st century sports performance car. They keep going back to outdated “experts” like Bob Lutz who hasn’t actually bought a new car since about 1975.

  4. March 20th, 2012 at 11:43 | #4

    You’ve gotten over your disgust for Buick? You must not own a previous-generation one. You know, from near the end of the LeSabre/Century/Park Avenue era. And with essentially the same people running GM, I don’t trust them nearly enough to even consider Buick in the future.

    I can count the number of Buicks that I see in my college apartment parking lot – including my 2001 Century – on one hand. And they’re all from 2005 or earlier. Nothing great about these cars, low-ish horsepower (at least in the Century), mid-20′s in miles per gallon, very little in the way of good looks.

    You want to know what’s ironic? The last-gen Century didn’t have a manual transmission option, it only came with an automatic. It’s pretty easy to tell too, there’s no tachometer on the Century

  5. notRandy
    March 17th, 2012 at 11:27 | #5

    And why not put an automatic in it? Since everything else is just stuff off the shelf at Opel… This isn’t based on the Opel Insignia, this IS an Opel Insignia with an uglier badge and a more crappy name. The exterior styling is from the opc version, i’ll give you that, the rims are far too big for comfort (not to mention the tire prices), but in the end it’s still an Insignia. And since the Insignia got a practically new auto box good for European standards (which basically means it’ll feel like a double-clutch to Americans), why not just have it as an option? An example of idiotic marketing that’s sinking car makers today.

  6. Randy
    March 17th, 2012 at 08:03 | #6

    With manual transmission only, I now know why I don’t see any of them on the roads– just in Buick commercials. Around here, Buick remains a dyed-in-the-wool old folks car. Younger GM buyers seem to be opting more for Cadillac CTS sportylux and the gray beards and q-tips go for the Buick. GS is a classic example of GM shooting itself in the foot, losing sales because some phony brand manager says “don’t put an automatic in it” so the young people will buy it. Apparently nobody is buying it.

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