Because any time Buick makes a high-performance car with the “Regal” nameplate attached, it has that to live up to. It’s an unfortunate comparison for Buick’s new Opel Regal, but it’s not necessarily a valid one. The whole automotive world knows the Grand National was awesome – a turbocharged, tire-smoking musclecar that liked a steady diet of Corvettes and 5.0 Mustangs. The new hot-rod Regal GS is not the drag-racing Darth Vader-mobile some of us might wish it was. But it is a high-tech, thoroughly modern turbocharged sports sedan – it just happens to have a Buick badge.

It is pretty. The Regal is a carbon-copy of the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia, only with a Buick grille slapped in place. The GS slots in at the top of the line above the regular 2.4L and the 2.0L Regal CXL Turbo model. It’s not hard to tell the Regal was styled on the other side of the Atlantic from us – taut, compact lines pulled tight over the fenders make it the anti-Buick. The GS inherits the badass OPC/VXR bodykit, with the air intake/fangs up front giving shades of Isuzu VehiCross, and the rectangular dual exhaust tips integrated into the rear bumper. It makes the handsome Regal look more aggressive, without crossing the “boy racer” line of taste.

Under the hood, the GS uses a higher-output version of the Regal Turbo’s 2.0L four-cylinder. It’s a thoroughly modern engine: all-aluminum construction, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing on intake and exhaust cams, high-pressure direct injection, and a turbocharger and intercooler. Power output is up to 255bhp from the Turbo’s 220bhp, but the torque output is more impressive: 295lb-ft of torque is quite a lot from a 2.0L, and the torque peak is spread between 2500-4000 rpm. For now, the only option on the GS will be a six-speed manual transmission, although a six-speed automatic will be available later. Imagine that – a Buick without an automatic transmission even as an option.

The major difference between the production GS and the concept from last year is what’s missing: the Haldex IV AWD with electronic rear LSD. The production GS will sadly be front-drive only. GM has fitted it with the HiPer strut front suspension, which they say reduces torque steer and maintains negative camber under cornerning. The reason for the omission of AWD? To keep costs down, as well as the belief that the Regal GS doesn’t need it as badly as the Insignia VXR, which has a nasty 325bhp turbocharged Saab V6 instead of the four. The HiPerStrut suspension has gotten positive reviews in it’s other applications, so don’t write it off just yet.

Other performance goodies abound. The Regal GS has IDCS (Interactive Drive Control System), which is another one of these “pick your driving style” switches that modify throttle input, shock settings, steering response, etc. There’s a normal and a sport mode, as well as – get this – a GS mode. That’s a bit tacky. The GS has continuously variable dampers at all four corners, and 19″ split five-spoke wheels cover some impressive braking hardware. 14″ 4-piston Brembo rotors in front are matched with 12.4″ single-piston Brembo rotors to bring the car to a halt. A 20″ version of the same wheel is optional if you like having additional unsprung mass to slow the car down and make it turn and brake worse.

The GS looks like a nice place to spend time inside, just judging from the pictures. It looks like a step down from the Saab 9-5 (it’s chassis mate) but it’s smaller and less expensive. The GS gets a flat-bottomed steering wheel, metal pedal covers, black trim and satin-finish accents. There is no shortage of gizmos to keep you amuse, either. Keyless entry with pushbutton start, a 320 watt 9-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system with XM radio, Bluetooth connectivity, front and rear parking sensors, Bixenon headlamps, and heated leather-wrapped front sport seats with 12-way power adjustment. The interior quality and design on the Regal looks sort of like how GM should have been making interiors all along; attractive and well thought out will make it a place you might actually want to spend time.

That’s about it for details on the GS at this time. We do know it has estimated EPA numbers of 19/29 city/highway with the manual, and GM says it should do 0-60 in under 7 seconds. There’s no suggested price tag yet, but they do say it should be hitting show rooms some time in the second half of 2011. If you’ve always wanted a Buick that thought it was an Audi, your chance has finally arrived. And it’s no longer the punchline to a joke!