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2014 Buick Regal GS AWD Review

Montebello, QuebecBuick wanted the chance to show off the new, all-wheel-drive 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD, and Canada seemed like a suitable locale for an icy driving expedition. All-wheel drive just became available for the recently refreshed 2014 Buick Regal, and the conditions this time of year around Montreal, Quebec, certainly promised to put Buick's new system to the test.

While we've got a fair share of icy roads around our editorial offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan, French Canadians dismiss our quaint predicament with "c'est mignon!" For those living in the rural communities outside of Montreal, "road" doesn't always mean asphalt, and frozen rivers double as seasonal, state-maintained ice bridges.

As it turns out, we take advantage of these icy routes on the way to our lodging for the night. With 19-inch wheels (20-inchers are also available) shod in Pirelli Sottozero II winter tires, the all-wheel-drive Regal GS found more than enough grip to maintain stability and control on the gleaming, frozen surface. These ice bridges are one of winter's many gifts up in Quebec. In a ramshackle hut atop a frozen river, where we stopped to visit a local fishing village, a pair of French-speaking ice fishermen let us sample another seasonal favorite. The golden-brown, deep fried walleye is a tasty relief from the wet and cold.

Track testing in the Great White North

After a hearty meal, a glass of Scotch by the fire, and a restful night in Chateau Montebello, the world's largest log cabin, we set out for Circuit Icar. Located north of Montreal at a former airport, Icar hosts all sort of motorsports events ranging from drag racing to a full racing academy. We took the Regal GS through three courses carved from the ice and snow—a skidpad, a medium-speed autocross, and a handling circuit.

The Regal's Haldex-built all-wheel-drive system can direct more than 90 percent of its torque to the rear wheels, plus it can split the torque sent to each individual rear wheel to enhance handling response. In the Icar Circuit's icy low-traction conditions, the Regal GS delivered tail-out, rear-wheel-drive dynamics once we disabled the traction- and stability-control systems. With strong Brembo front brakes, precise steering, and grippy tires, the Regal GS got us around the track with surprising alacrity.

The 2014 Regal GS handled admirably and exhibited no noticeable torque steer. At the same time, the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine suffered from enough turbo lag for us to notice some compromise in throttle modulation, which is pretty important when you're sliding across the ice toward a snow bank. And since the Regal GS AWD model weighs in at just under 4000 lbs (about 270 lbs more than the front-wheel-drive Regal GS), we were reminded that it is more like a big luxury car than a medium-size sport sedan. After all, the Audi A4 2.0T tips the scales at 3693 lbs with all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, while the BMW 328i xDrive is even leaner at 3596 lbs.

Driving with a proper attitude

Back on the highway, the Regal GS's 259-hp turbo-four engine proved peppy and plenty powerful for enthusiastic passing once the digital rev needle started to climb across the dial. The flat-bottomed, heated steering wheel and supportive, heated leather seats stood out as welcome comfort features while we spent the day in frigid driving conditions.

Yet the Regal GS is not some light-and-lithe Euro-style sport sedan. Even when you set the driving mode selector to the sportiest, GS setting (heavy-effort steering, quicker shifts at higher rpm, and firmer suspension damping), this car remains a traditional Buick — quiet, composed, and tame. The Regal's cabin is as nicely hushed as a dentist's waiting room on the highway, but it unfortunately stays that way even when you really punch the throttle. No surprise, since the refreshed Regal GS incorporates a number of features to reduce road and mechanical noise, but a strong exhaust note is a glaring omission in a car with sporting aspirations.

Both in everyday highway driving and on the track, the 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD remains a refined luxury car with all-weather capability. It's not a sport sedan, though. Think of it as more like Sinatra than Elvis.

Some career counseling lies ahead

The 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD is the sportiest variant across the Regal lineup, but when Buick tells us that it wants this car to compete with the Audi A4 2.0T and BMW 328i xDrive, well, we advise some career counseling. The Regal GS is an excellent example of the conundrum Buick faces as it seeks to draw in younger customers. It can't be so thrilling that it sends loyal, conservative Buick buyers scrambling for their heart pills, but it needs to give outsiders a sporty reason to ditch German or Japanese luxury sedans for an American one, even if there is some money to be saved in the bargain.

The 2014 Regal GS is a nice-looking car with new fascias front and rear plus HID headlights and LED taillights, but the GS AWD costs just over $40,000. At $32,790, the 2014 Buick Regal Turbo with all-wheel drive offers the same power and the same all-weather capability, though without the Regal GS's sporting and luxury features. For most Buick buyers in the snowbelt, this will be the way to go.

We'd argue that Buick understands the character of the traditional luxury car better than almost everybody, and it's the right brand for plenty of people in America, not to mention China, too. But if Buick really wants to make cars that rival luxury-trimmed models of the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, it has a ways to go. It is possible to get there in the end, as Cadillac has proven with its Cadillac ATS 2.0, but the road is long and there are plenty of ice bridges along the way.