The Buick Regal family received a refresh for 2014, bringing with it all-wheel drive and another attempt to attract a younger market than that which usually visits Buick dealerships.
The Regal's specifications are certainly compelling, starting with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Cranking out 259 hp with 295 lb-ft of torque, the Regal GS AWD produces more horsepower than the Acura TSX, Lexus IS 250, and the Mercedes-Benz CLA 250. The boosted four is mated with the six-speed automatic gearbox, allowing for an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, which is an increase of nearly 3 mpg over the 2013 Regal turbo.
The real magic is in the adaptive suspension. Driving modes are selected from the dashboard in a button strip that includes traction control and optional lane-assist controls. The GS and sport modes are integrated with the HiPer Strut front suspension -- available on the front- and all-wheel-drive models -- in addition to the H-arm rear suspension on GS models and the four-link rear system on the front-wheel drive models.
The front-wheel-biased GS has an actively monitored AWD system with dozens of sensors to take into account yaw rate, wheel speed, steering input and more. These sensors work in tandem with the electronic limited slip differential (eLSD) system to adjust and divide the vehicle's torque accordingly to each wheel. For example, if the front wheels begin to lose traction, the eLSD has the ability to redistribute nearly 90 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. In addition to the reapplication of torque, standard systems like throttle control and braking can intervene to further correct traction and path of travel.
To suggest a sportier look, the GS AWD features a lower ride height cut down 039-inches from the standard Regal and a set of 19-inch wheels with 20-inch wheels optional. Adding to the overall appeal is a set of quad-piston Brembo front calipers that peek out from behind the wheel spokes.
The front and rear fascia design also adds to the performance feel, with horizontally positioned fog lamps, an enlarged lower air inlet, and an extruded and slatted grille. As for the rear, the dual pipes are fitted with rounded chrome tips, and the trunk lid incorporates a wrap-around aluminum bar accent that spans from taillight to taillight.
How's it drive?
While driving the GS on the streets of Quebec, and later on an ice track, the Buick handled the recently plowed roads with enough confidence to be confused with a 4x4 truck. Keep in mind that it's mandatory for vehicles in Quebec to be sitting on winter tires from Dec. 15 to March 15 -- our tester was decked out with a set of Pirelli Winter 240 Sottozeros. The AWD system proved amazing for commuting, showing no sideways shenanigans.
The six-speed gearbox shifts discretely while trudging around the plowed streets. The HiPer Struts adapt to bumps and ice patches with minimal transfer to the cabin. The standard Brembos are strong, and the Pirelli winter rubber gripped admirably in the tough conditions with little ABS feedback from the pedal.
We aren't sure about differences between the three handling modes. It never felt like any mode was more aggressive than the other, nor was it overwhelming to leave the Regal in GS mode for the entire journey.
The seating configuration in the GS is more than comfortable, and the heated leather surfaces are a must for the bitter cold temperatures of the far North. Power seat controls allow plenty of adjustability to find just the right position. The intuitive touchscreen is simple to use, and the steering wheel audio controls are helpful to limit hand time away from the wheel. As for climate controls, the layout is clean with a combination of touch options, knobs and buttons -- a relief for those looking for traditional haptic feedback.
The cabin is surprisingly quiet, even over transitions between the snow pack and wet pavement. Even the engine noise is rather quiet when the four-pot is running high in the rev range. Hard accelerations and decelerations on dry pavement are also absorbed and never excessively change the ride quality. When in GS mode, steering becomes weightier, and the ride stiffens up considerably for a sportier feel.
Spending time at Circuit ICAR in Mirabel, Quebec, showed off the ability of the AWD system. On the icy skid pad, the Regal applied power to all four corners, allowing for a good, consistent driving feel. However, with all of the ride control systems shut down, the Regal shifts to a more driftable personality. The GS is happy to slide entirely sideways under full power across a sheet of ice.
Even though driving on ice with a mirror-like finish may seem like something out of the movies, the Regal provides a great deal of confidence at a crawl. Steering is at the mercy of the wind when entering hard corners. And again, the on-board traction controls take away all of the natural steering characteristics, leaving the system to decide the path of travel. With the ABS and traction control fighting to keep the car aligned, it is difficult to find a middle ground between the systems path and the instinctual turn-in maneuvers. It is all or nothing.
With all of the driving aids off, however, the Regal is nimble and confident around the icy track. The white-knuckle lap wouldn't be for the faint of heart. But the GS is more predictable through the snow, the driver having the ability to feather the throttle and toss the rear around in corners. Braking still receives a heavy dose of ABS input, although it was far more enjoyable around the course with the stability control off.
Do I want one?
Our initial thoughts are that the GS could be the key to the younger market that Buick is yearning for, but it's going to require some marketing money to promote the added safety features and AWD platform. The GS is surely no race car, but it does have luxury and sport in one attractive package, and it costs less than many of its key competitors.
2014 Buick Regal GS
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $37,830
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter, 259-hp, 295-lb-ft turbocharged I4; AWD, six-speed automatic
Curb Weight: 3,981 lb
0-60 mph: 6.8 sec (mfr)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy/combined): 19/27/22
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