The Buick Regal fills a somewhat limited niche -- it's too small and expensive to take on the Honda Accords of the world and yet doesn't quite have the hardware or cachet to challenge premium sport sedans like the BMW 3-series and GM's own Cadillac ATS. (The only direct competitor is the Acura TSX, another slow-selling, rebadged European expat.) It doesn't help the Regal's case that it sits between the cheaper Verano and the bigger, more luxurious LaCrosse. The 2014 Buick Regal attempts to power out of this ditch with upgraded turbo engines, an updated interior, and all-wheel drive.
It's worth remembering that the Regal is quite old. It debuted way back in 2008 across the ocean as the Opel Insignia and was supposed to arrive in the United States soon thereafter as the new Saturn Aura. Stuff happened. It took three years for Buick to adopt it as a 2011 model. Its real age was most evident in the cabin, which predated the infotainment explosion. For the 2014 Regal, an eight-inch touchscreen replaces most -- but thankfully not all -- of the buttons in the center stack. In the top-of-the-line GS model, one can also opt for an LCD instrument cluster. The Regal has also become a quick study in driver-assistance technologies. A backup camera is now standard; lane departure warning, forward collision alert, and adaptive cruise control join the options list. Updated front and rear fascias feature LED lighting.
The Regal was one of the first mid-size sedans on American roads to offer a downsized engine lineup, with a turbo four taking the place of the traditional top-of-the-line V-6. But now, cheaper competitors like the Ford Fusion offer smoother and more powerful turbo engines. For 2014, the Regal gets a new 2.0-liter turbo, the same found in the Cadillac ATS and Chevrolet Malibu.
A shift in model hierarchy accompanies the engine upgrade. The Regal Turbo, formerly a 220-hp midrange model, is now the 259-hp base model, starting for $30,615. The GS has the same output, albeit with a slightly fatter torque curve, and thus relies on its host of suspension and appearance upgrades to justify its $6215 premium. The lackluster eAssist mild-hybrid, which used to be the base model, now starts at $32,485. Buick thinks a standard turbo speaks better to the Regal's performance mission and notes that, in any event, the eAssist only accounts for 12 percent of the model's sales. We suspect Buick's heart really isn't in eAssist, but it feels obliged to offer a "green" model.
The real game changer here is all-wheel drive, which is now optional on both the Turbo and GS. Many luxury buyers in the snow belt won't consider a car without it, and, thanks largely to decades of persuasive marketing by Audi, the option carries far more prestige than front-wheel drive. Buick's system can send almost all its torque to the rear wheels. A rear differential can then apportion more torque to an individual rear wheel to help the car corner.
We can feel the system's impact, both for better and for worse, when we rotate through front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive Regals. Through sweeping, fast turns, we're able to apply the throttle and feel the car gently tuck in where a front-wheel-drive car would understeer. Through sharper turns, though, the system hurts more than it helps due to its extra weight. It also seems to bog down the car coming out of corners. That's partially the fault of the turbo four, which still suffers a bit of lag, and the six-speed automatic, which occasionally downshifts too late.
Overall, the Regal's chassis still impresses. Buick has retuned the Turbo just a bit to soften harsh impacts, but it still has excellent body control. The GS feels quite a bit firmer, especially with its dampers adjusted to GS mode. All Regals now have electric-assist steering. It's precise and rather heavy relative to the typical mid-size sedan (it's heavier still in the GS) but, at least in this pre-production iteration, builds too much feedback just off-center.
We go directly from the all-wheel-drive Regals to an Audi A4. The back-to-back mostly serves to remind us that the A4, which is also pretty far into its lifecycle, is a damn good car. The interior looks like it was designed and executed to a standard, rather than a budget. Audi's 2.0-liter turbo, though down on power and torque compared to the Buick, builds power much more linearly and emits a perfectly tuned, rowdy engine note. And though the GS exhibits better body control, the A4 feels far more balanced and willing to rotate through corners.
The bright spot in the Regal lineup is still the front-wheel-drive GS with a manual transmission (all-wheel-drive models come only with the six-speed automatic). It feels lighter and easier to toss around than the all-wheel-drive GS. Wearing optional summer tires, it rarely suffers for traction on dry pavement and exhibits practically no torque steer. And for a base price of $37,860, it still feels like something of a performance bargain. The all-wheel-drive version crests forty thousand dollars, the de facto starting price for reasonably equipped versions of "real" sport sedans like the BMW 3-series and GM's own Cadillac ATS.
2014 Buick Regal
|On Sale:||Fall 2013|
|Base Price:||$30,615 (Turbo, front-wheel drive) to $40,195 (GS, all-wheel drive)|
|Engine:||2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, 259 hp; 295 lb-ft; 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 182 hp, 172 lb-ft of torque|
|Transmission:||six-speed automatic or six-speed manual|
|Drive:||Front- or all-wheel|
|EPA fuel economy:||21-25/27-36 mpg city/hwy|