ATLANTA – Buick hauled two of its early muscle cars, vintage 1965, from the General Motors Heritage Center in metro Detroit to the Atlanta Motorsports Park for a media preview of the spirited ’18 Buick Regal GS.

At the motor park (where in one section a group of U.S. Army Rangers competitively go-karted with wipeouts aplenty), the Regal went through tough paces of its own. Bobby Ore’s stunt-driving team was at hand to help out there.

Our vehicular exercises included lickety-split starts, hard stops and 180-braking. The latter is a gutsy maneuver in which the driver slams on the brakes, spins the steering wheel and performs a screeching U-turn stop. Extra credit goes to Brembo brakes with dual-piston front calipers. (Driving tip: Don’t try this in front of the local police station.)

In contrast to all those hard-thumping activities the new Regal GS performed, the ’65 Riviera and Skylark GS models stayed put. They were strictly on display. It wouldn’t be right to drive those old-timers so aggressively. Besides, parts might fly off during that 180-trick.

Those oldies but goodies served as a reminder that, yes, Buick has a hot-car heritage. OK, maybe not like the Chevrolet Corvette. Still, Buick flexed in the muscle-car era.

The ’18 Regal GS isn’t quite a modern muscle car like the Chevy Camaro. Instead, it is sporty, powerful and well-behaved, with rations of luxury mixed in. After demonstrating its mettle at the race park, it then showed its character on the winding roads of northern Georgia.

You can sit back, relax and enjoy the lively driving dynamics that a tightly tuned car with a powerful V-6 engine and all-wheel drive delivers. And along the way, the GS-specific performance seats give free back massages. The car is further proof of GM’s latter-day epiphany that interior quality matters.

The sculpted Regal GS (short for Gran Sport) is another example of Buick’s transformation away from what once was a nameplate that skewed toward older buyers. It has become a thoroughly contemporary brand in a few short years. I recall in the late 1990s when Robert Coletta, Buick’s general manager at the time, seemed peeved at yet another question about the brand’s elderly customer base. He said, “What’s wrong with selling cars to old people?”

In a way, he was right. It’s not like those Buick buyers got a steep senior citizen discount. But their future buying cycles were numbered.    

Since then Buick, which traces its automotive roots back to 1899, has lowered its buyer-age demographics and, in the process, increased U.S. sales. Those were 219,231 units in 2017 compared with 185,791 in 2007. (Its real popularity is in China where Buick sells more than three times as many vehicles than it does in the U.S.)

The brand has resurrected itself in the usual way automakers on a mission do so: by introducing plenty of new product and keeping it fresh. Buick’s 10-vehicle lineup includes three Regals: the recently debuted the TourX CUV, Sportback and top-trim GS.

“The GS customer is special,” says the car’s chief engineer, Martin Hayes. “They want something different from Regal.”

Chassis engineers put a lot of work into the new Regal GS’s tight suspension system. It is in marked contrast to the Buicks of old that were noted for their cushy rides but also sloppy steering and imprecise handling.

The vehicle offers intelligent all-wheel drive (AWD) with active twin clutch for improved vehicle control and a 5-link rear suspension. A second-generation Continuous Damping Control is capable of 500 adjustments per second.

The product-development mantra was “stronger, lighter and stiffer,” Hayes says.

The new Regal GS comes with 51 more horsepower than the model it replaces. A 2.0L 4-cyl. turbo powered that car.  

The new 3.6L V-6 teams up with a 9-speed automatic transmission (no manual transmission) to deliver 310 hp and 282 lb.-ft. (382 Nm) of torque.

Despite all those sales in China, Buick mainly aims the Regal GS at American buyers, “someone looking for performance and expects a V-6 to deliver it,” says Hayes.

Prices range from $39,995 to $54,000. By comparison, base price for a regular Regal is about $26,000.

Armed with the new Regal GS, Buick now sees itself competing against Audi and BMW, (something that was laughable at one point), while offering a better price proposition.

Regals are made in Germany. When GM owned Opel, that European automaker made Regals. Owned since 2017 by French automaker PSA, Opel played a role in the ’18 Regal GS’s development.

“It’s a different relationship; We’re now Opel’s customer,” a Buick engineer tells me. “But we work closely together.”

Despite of or because of the Regal GS’s German roots, it is a standup American car from a brand that no longer walks with a cane.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com