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msn autos

2012 Regal GS: Buick Gets Serious About Sports Sedans

Shiny black Pirellis and chic, yet-surprising, 20-inch polished alloy wheels on a Buick. Brembos, too. Seriously. And that's the idea — to be taken seriously. The 2012 Buick Regal GS is now a reality, and with its SEMA-styled wheels and a turbocharged four-banger, Buick wants to carve a niche among enthusiast drivers who want something extra in their sports sedan. But all in good taste.

The car got a public unveiling in Miami, just 10 months after the "show car" bowed in Detroit. Make no mistake — with hardly any noticeable changes, that car is this car. It's an American version of the Opel Insignia OPC, albeit without the potent V6.

The Buick Regal GS went on sale in the second half of 2011 and serves as the halo of the Regal line. The turbocharged Ecotec 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine employs variable valve timing, direct injection and intercooling. Engineers increased the boost pressure of the turbocharger, raising output to 255 hp at 6,300 rpm and 295 pounds-foot of torque at 4,000 rpm. The car hits 60 mph in less than seven seconds. The sedan launches with a six-speed manual transmission; a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters is also available.

A hallmark of the drive character is the unique GS mode, which changes suspension and steering settings. It also modifies the shift pattern with the automatic transmission. The instrument panel gets unique backlighting when GS mode is engaged. Standard and sport settings can also be selected.

The suspension is lowered 0.4 inches front and rear. It uses continuous damping control with two sensors that monitor the body motions to adapt the ride. The car also gets adaptive steering and four-wheel disc brakes. "It's got a nice connect to the road," said Mark Moussa, General Motors chief engineer of global midsize and full-size cars.

The front gets "saber"-style air vents (they have a bit of a saber-toothed shape), blue-ringed headlights and a grill and front fascia with a more sinister look. There is satin chrome on the sides to set off the brightwork. "Still fairly understated, it's a little bit aggressive but it's still proper in the Buick portfolio," said Dave Lyon, GM's executive director of North American interior and global cross-brand design.

Inside is a three-spoke steering wheel, sport seats with a snug feel, piano black trim, leather and aluminum pedals. And naturally, there are portholes on the hood, which will remain a design cue for Buick going forward. Out back there is a dual exhaust and a new fascia for a sleeker look. There also is a splitter that allows more air to pass through the back. The base wheels are 19-inch alloys.

So Buick now has a veritable sports sedan with looks and horsepower to match. It's a slight step up from the already potent turbo the Regal offers, and perhaps something unexpected. It's not the raw, unbridled anger exuded by some Chevrolets and Cadillacs. Rather, "it's a little bit more responsible performance," Lyon said. Hopefully, not too responsible.

>For more, go to msn autos.