DETROIT – In another step towards reinvigorating its 106-year-old Buick brand, General Motors Co. will reveal at the North American International Auto Show here next week a Regal GS show car almost certain to go into production shortly after standard models launch in the U.S. this year.

At a sneak preview of the Regal GS last month in Detroit, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz coyly says the auto maker is “officially not announcing” production of the European-bred sports sedan.

But he also notes that “all the components exist” in a high-performance Opel Insignia now in Europe. The Insignia and Regal essentially are twins, sharing an Epsilon II global midsize car platform.

GM will begin importing the midsize Regal from its Russelsheim, Germany, assembly plant in the year’s second quarter. Production in North America begins in first-quarter 2011 at GM’s Oshawa, ON, Canada, assembly plant.

Initial Regal shipments will be limited to top-of-the-line CXL models with a 182-hp, 2.4L 4-cyl. engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. In the third quarter, GM will make CXL trim levels available with a 220-hp, 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. GDI engine and a 6-speed automatic.

In the fourth quarter, the turbocharged engine adds a 6-speed manual transmission. After production starts next year in Oshawa, base-level CX models will be made available, and a hybrid version is expected soon afterwards.

If green-lighted as expected, production models of the Regal GS would arrive no sooner than 2011.

A nod to Buick’s Gran Sport heritage, the Regal GS show car receives a version of GM’s 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. GDI engine tuned to 255 hp and a whopping 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque.

The auto maker touts a 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time of less than six seconds, or more than 1.5 seconds quicker than the 220-hp model.

A 6-speed manual transmission is the sole gearbox listed in the show car’s specifications, and Lutz suggests it also will be the only one available when the car arrives in showrooms.

“If you are serious about a performance vehicle, you must have a manual transmission,” he says. “It is essential.”

In addition to the high-output 2.0L motor, the 5-passenger Regal GS also would bring to market all-wheel drive for the nameplate.

A Haldex AB system, the AWD unit is calibrated for performance driving and features an electronic limited-slip rear differential to optimize power distribution during aggressive driving.

The show car also receives GM’s new Interactive Driver Control system, a chassis technology coming to the Regal CXL line in the third-quarter of 2010. With three operating modes, it changes suspension settings, throttle response, shift patterns and steering sensitivity to match the driver’s preference.

IDC also automatically adapts to conditions if, for example, a driver decides to get more aggressive.

“I’m not aware of any other automobile company with that technology,” Lutz says.

Additional mechanical elements unique to the Regal GS include a high-performance strut design up front. The result is better grip under wet and dry conditions, crisper handling, and improved steering precision and feedback.

The show car also rides about 0.5 ins. (1.0 cm), lower than other Regal models and adds Brembo high-performance brakes.

In addition, it appears the Regal GS show car officially kills previous plans by GM to emulate German luxury auto makers by pursuing sportiness through the combination of rear-wheel drive and large-displacement engines.

“Four-cylinder turbocharged engines with taut suspensions – that is the modern way of getting a performance vehicle,” Lutz says.

The Regal GS is further distinguished from its stable mates by adding 20-in. wheels wrapped in Bridgestone performance rubber, a functional integrated rear spoiler, dual exhaust, a rear diffuser, ground effects in the rocker panels and a pair of front intake ports.

Inside, the car features Recaro performance driving seats, a suede-covered D-shaped steering wheel and metal pedals.

Buick first introduced the Gran Sport designation with the ʼ65 Skylark GS. It proliferated into other models, such as the Riviera and Wildcat, with Regal offering GS models between 1988 and 2004.

The upcoming Regal will represent the third new product from Buick in as many years, joining the successful Buick Enclave CUV and redesigned-for-’10 Buick LaCrosse in a product blitz meant to transform the brand’s stodgy image to one that is more sporty and youthful.

Buick also is slated to soon get a smaller “Baby Enclave,” as well as a premium compact car based on GM’s redesigned Delta architecture.

jamend@wardsauto.com