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The Fifth-Gen Buick Regal GS Is a General Motors Rebadge Worth Revisiting

This isn’t your grandmother’s hand-me-down Buick Regal. Well, if it is, we’re jealous.
2012 buick regal gs
2012 Buick Regal GS Buick

European and Australian cars that have been rebadged for the U.S. market, like the Saturn Astra, Pontiac G8, Pontiac GTO, and Chevy SS, naturally have a layer of coolness. Their origins make for interesting backstories, and they often have unique styling or an added bit of motoring zest. One rebadge that seems to be an overlooked rare bird was the Opel-slash-Vauxhall Insignia which sold as the Buick Regal here in America. This fifth-gen of the legendary domestic nameplate sold between model years 2011 and 2017.

The best trim available was the GS, two letters that carry some hefty, enthusiast-oriented canon. It has many of the ingredients that make a fun used sports sedan and could be a great bargain for anybody in the market for a handsome and energetic four-door.

The Makings of a Fun Turbocharged Sedan

2012 buick regal gs
The Ecotec 2.0L direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the 2012 Buick Regal GS delivers 270 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. Buick

The fifth-gen GS came equipped with General Motors’ (GM) LHU Ecotec (later LTG with slightly less power) turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produced 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive was available but could only be optioned with a six-speed automatic gearbox—if the six-speed manual is desired, which is frankly unheard of with anything sporting a Buick badge in the past 25 or more years, front-wheel drive is the only option.

Still, the 3,732-pound sedan pulled to the 60-mph mark from a standstill in 6.2 seconds and could reach the quarter-mile mark in 15 seconds. These aren’t terribly impressive figures, but for something with 19-inch wheels as standard, handsome styling, and a Buick badge affixed to its front grille, it gets plenty of mulligans. The previous fourth-gen Regal, which was a bit of a boat and a common millennial hand-me-down, had a GS trim with GM’s glorious supercharged 3800 Series II V6 under its hood. This lump ensured the easiest one-wheel-peel, front-wheel-drive burnouts, so you could say the fifth gen does its lineage proud.

The 2011-2017 GS also came from the factory with Brembo four-piston front calipers that not only improve its looks but also aid in overall performance. Car and Driver was able to pull 0.90 G on the skidpad, too, so it definitely has handling chops.

Situated within the wheels is independent suspension at all four corners, with the front suspension consisting of GM’s HiPer Strut design. This stands for High Performance Strut and is essentially a MacPherson-type design that’s been engineered further to reduce torque steer, have more negative camber under cornering, have better feel, do a better job isolating bumps and rough surfaces, and improve response. Combined with Buick’s version of adaptive dampers, Interactive Drive Control System, it sounds like these things are good fun on a twisty road. With its adaptive dampers, the sportiness in the way the GS rides and handles could be changed with the press of a button, from daily comfort in Standard, to mildly enthusiastic in Sport, to the most stiff and focused in GS.

A quick rundown of the GS’ contemporaries from Europe makes it look quite favorable. As Car and Driver found out, its 0.90 G on the skidpad beats out the BMW 328i’s 0.87 g, the Audi A4 2.0T Quattro’s 0.88 g, and matches the Mercedes-Benz C250 Sport, though factors like tires could make a difference. It’s slower than the first two by four-tenths of a second but faster than the Merc by a few tenths.

Like a lot of this EU-sourced hardware (the GS was built in Canada for the U.S. market beginning in 2011), it has at least a decent array of available aftermarket tuning that can bolster these power and handling numbers handsomely.

Respectable Presence in the Aftermarket

2012 buick regal gs

It’s remarkable for any modern Buick-badged sedan to have any kind of aftermarket support, especially considering that this generation died out in 2017.

For exterior mods, it’s fun to dive deep into automotive nerdery and give GM cars like the Regal GS its matching European flare, like throwing Holden Commodore badges on a Pontiac G8 or shiny Vauxhall Astra VXR markings on a Saturn Astra XR, even though it’s not nearly as fast as a real VXR. Similarly, one could affix badges from an Audi S4-fighting Opel Insignia OPC or Vauxhall Insignia VXR to a GS, but maybe it’s best to spring for a lesser trim, as 270 horsepower and front-wheel-drive can’t stack up with 325 horsepower and all-wheel-drive found on the Euro models.

opel insignia opc

Furthermore, there are some solid ways to increase the fun behind the wheel of a Regal GS to get it closer to a VXR or OPC. First and foremost, if owners are up for ditching the adaptive dampers, it looks like several companies still produce aftermarket coilovers for them.

Then, for a big jolt in power, several companies offer aftermarket tunes that can net more than 50 wheel horsepower, like Trifecta Performance and Bad News Racing. For helping the mighty little LHU breathe better, have a cooler intake charge, and exhale more freely, ZZP offers an upgraded intake and intercooler, and Magnaflow has a nice dual-exit exhaust system.

Understated Cool

2012 buick regal gs

The fifth-gen Buick Regal GS was a high point in cool General Motors sedan history. Thanks to a respectable amount of factory suspension tuning, an optional manual transmission, torquey turbocharged power, and very handsome looks to wrap it all up, it’s cemented in my mind as an understated “if you know, you know” sports sedan. Sure, a six-second zero-to-60 time isn’t all that impressive, but it’s still a neat overall package and it’s possible to easily remedy that in the aftermarket. These cars don’t seem to fetch a whole lot of coin at the moment, either, albeit they are a bit rare to find in manual. If you’re in the market for a sporty sedan, this could be a great choice. I’d love to drive one someday to see how this cool chapter of European GM rebadging compares to the likes of Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.

Have you owned or driven a 2011-2017 Buick Regal GS? If so, share your thoughts below.