Looking at this Buick sedan, you might think it's a blue-hair shuttle. But if that's the case, you could exclaim, "Grandma, what big Brembos you have."
As in the company known for making high-performance brakes for the finest sports cars. Believe it or not, they're fitted to the front end of the 2014 Buick Regal GS, in accordance with its status as a high-performance midsize sedan.
So while it may wear a chrome grille and an updated rendition of Buick's ventiports, a styling hallmark since 1949, it also has new dagger-like intakes on the front fascia and a slick set of wheels. Grandma's ride never looked this wicked. New LED tail lamps and chrome accents lend this car a distinctive look that won't get lost in the parking lot.
Not convinced? OK, I understand. Updated looks aside, this is pretty much the same sedan that debuted for 2011. But there are some notable mechanical and interior changes for 2014.
For the new model year, the standard engine on all trim levels – Regal, Premium I, Premium II and GS – is a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. So, if you're keeping score, base models get an extra 39 horsepower for 2014, while GS models lose 11 horsepower. There's also a no-cost engine option on Premium I and II models for those who prefer their Regal to be more fuel efficient. This mild hybrid system, which GM calls eAssist, mates an electric motor to a tepid 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine to boost the gas engine's performance.
All models get a six-speed automatic transmission, although paddle shifters are not offered, a curious omission in a modern sports sedan. A six-speed manual is available, but only on the front-wheel-drive GS. Both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models are offered. Interestingly, the all-wheel-drive system is capable of sending more than 90 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels if needed. It can also send power from one rear wheel to the other.
Before choosing the eAssist mild hybrid over the turbo four, consider this: the EPA rates the eAssist model's fuel economy at 25 mpg city and 36 highway. By comparison, the GS model, when equipped with automatic transmission, returns 21 mpg city and 30 highway in front-drive form and 19 mpg city and 27 highway with all-wheel drive. Considering eAssist's hybrid driveline is none too special, either in power or fuel economy, better to opt for fun over fuel efficiency. My advice? Choose the turbocharged GS, which reaches 60 mph in 6.2 seconds with the manual, 6.8 seconds with all-wheel drive.
OK, that's sprightly, but not exactly the stuff of grand prix dreams. Nevertheless, the Regal feels faster than that in daily driving. And there's more to this car than its spry acceleration. Being that this Buick is little more than a rebadged Opel Insignia, its German-engineered roots show through. It stays planted in corners, with a surprising amount of road feel communicated through the steering wheel. The all-wheel-drive system enhances the Regal's fun factor by banishing torque steer – that's the tendency for a front-wheel-drive car to pull to one side upon initial acceleration. Turn off the electronic traction nannies and you'll have a whole lot of fun drifting through corners. Just don't tell Grandma that this Regal is, in reality, one randy royal. So much so that you might want to name it Prince Harry.
The ride is definitely not that of a traditional Buick; it is absorbent but firm. Regal GS buyers get larger 19-inch wheels, or optional 20s. They also get Sport and GS driving modes, which firm up the steering feel and suspension and quicken the automatic transmission's response. Both modes work as advertised, sharpening the Regal GS's reflexes. But the suspension becomes so snubbed down in the GS mode that it transmits road shocks from the slightest roadway ripples. On the flip side, handling is excellent. As you would expect of something so sporting, it is not as quiet as a typical Buick, with some road and tire noise evident, although it's not objectionable.
Of course, being able to indulge your race car driver fantasies while being seen in a car as sober as a Buick has its advantages; no one will suspect you for the juvenile you truly are. Nevertheless, if you get in over your head, there are a number of new radar- and camera-based safety features for 2014, including rear cross traffic alert, lane change alert, side blind zone alert, lane departure warning, forward collision alert and collision mitigation braking. On the test car, a GS with all-wheel drive, these features were bundled in an optional $890 Driver Confidence Package. It is well worth the money.
Inside, you'll find the biggest change is the revised instrument panel. Instead of the sea of buttons that greeted drivers last year, this year, an 8-inch touch screen handles most of the chores. On GS models, a secondary screen in the instrument cluster shows additional information. By eliminating button clutter, it's easier to find the controls that matter, such as those for the automatic climate control and heated seats. And speaking of seats, the front buckets are extremely firm, but very comfortable despite the aggressive side bolsters.
Unfortunately, the redesign doesn't address the key issues that have afflicted recent Regals: namely, some rather ordinary cabin materials and a minimal amount of back seat legroom, although in regard to the latter, it's no worse than that of its competitors, namely the Audi A4 and Volvo S60.
And being that those are the cars that Buick sees as the Regal GS's competitors, its price probably won't surprise you either. And while you might think that the test car's $39,270 base price is a bit high for a marque that still has to find its way back into buyers' hearts, I would counter that it is considerably less costly than a comparable Audi A4, and has competitive performance.
You have to give Buick props for offering a sedan that can challenge Europe's best. Too bad they gave it a name with all of the cool factor of Sansabelt slacks or a tea cozy.
2014 BUICK REGAL GS:
–Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
–Wheelbase: 107.8 inches
–Length: 190.2 inches
–Weight: 3,981 pounds
–Cargo space: 14.2 cubic feet
–EPA rating (city/highway): 19/27 mpg
–Fuel consumption: 22.4 mpg
–Fuel type: Premium recommended, but not required
–NHTSA safety rating: Not rated
–Base price, base model: $29,690
–Base price, test model: $39,270
–Price as tested, including destination charge: $44,275
ABOUT THE WRITER
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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