Buick's resurrection in the U.S. market as a brand for younger, modern buyers really started with the Regal way back in 2010 . But the arrival of the less-expensive Verano and the larger, well-appointed LaCrosse threw the Regal's position in the lineup into confusion — at the low end, you could get a loaded Verano for the cost of a lesser-equipped Regal, while at the high end, it encroached on the much roomier LaCrosse.
For 2014, Buick has cleaned up the lineup a little, repositioning the Regal and emphasizing its newly available all-wheel drive as a direct competitor for import models like the Audi A4. GM invited us to come to its test track in southeast Michigan for a brief walk-around and test drive of the 2014 Regal and sportier Regal GS models to see if the work paid off.
The updates are subtle.
Styling is only lightly refreshed, with new headlights, grille, bumper and air intakes up front, and new taillights, trunklid and rear bumper out back. The look is still fresh; this always has been one of the more attractive offerings from GM's stable (it started life in Europe as the Opel Insignia, hence its Euro-influenced looks). The GS sport model gets a unique look, with a more aggressive front and rear bumper and larger standard wheels (19-inch versus 18-inch on the base Regal).
Two powertrains are available in the 2014 Regal. The standard engine is now a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making a healthy 259 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque. That's an 18% improvement in power from the outgoing 2013 Regal Turbo model, and it turns even the base Regal into a sprightly driver. Speed comes on immediately thanks to a reshaping of the engine's torque curve, which now delivers 90% of the engine's torque as low as 1,700 rpm. That means quick acceleration; Regal is no slowpoke, at least not in turbo guise. The sportier GS version now uses the same engine, however — making the GS no more powerful than the base Regal, but featuring a special engine tune that brings power on at a lower rpm.
If fuel economy is more important to you, Buick's eAssist system can be had on the base Regal, replacing the turbo motor with a non-turbo 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and auxiliary electric drive system. The Regal cannot operate in electric-only mode, but the system does help boost the four-cylinder's power and enables it to shut down to conserve fuel in certain conditions. Fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive turbocharged Regal and Regal GS improves to 21/30 mpg city/highway for 2014, with the eAssist model climbing to 25/36 mpg. Unfortunately, the eAssist version was not on hand to test drive.
New for 2014 is an all-wheel-drive system available on the Regal turbocharged models with automatic transmissions (a manual six-speed trans is a no-cost option on the front-wheel-drive Regal GS only). The system is meant as a traction enhancer for poor weather climates, but works just as well as a performance enhancer, especially on the GS when driven hard and fast.
Driving the Regal is actually quite entertaining. The base model is quick, the transmission shifts smoothly, and the 18-inch wheels actually allow for a surprisingly quiet ride, even over rough pavement. Steering is relatively light but communicative, and the standard electric power steering prevents any road nastiness from being transmitted to the driver's hands. Brakes are firm and progressive, with excellent feel and no apparent fade under hard use.
The GS model gets a few extra performance goodies to differentiate it from the regular Regal. A two-mode selectable version of GM's Magnetic Ride Control suspension is standard on the GS, with buttons for Sport and GS mode. Sport mode firms up suspension settings to provide for a flatter, stiffer ride that helps body control but isn't so stiff that it's uncomfortable. GS mode does that as well, but adds in a different steering feel, with increased effort from the electric power steering. Larger four-piston Brembo brakes are standard on the GS, with bigger rotors for 2014. While it's pretty novel for any automaker to offer a six-speed manual in anything these days, skip the stick shift — it's vague, has a sloppy action and adds nothing to the experience. An all-wheel-drive model with an automatic transmission and set to GS mode is the most entertaining combination to have, with the Regal feeling fast, stable and predictable in quick driving but without any harshness in ride quality.
Inside, the Regal receives modest updates as well, the most notable of which is the redesign of the previously confusing dashboard. Gone are the seemingly random scattering of 17 cheap-feeling black plastic buttons, replaced by a combination of touch-sensitive controls, a larger display screen and just seven logically organized black plastic buttons. A new gauge cluster looks upscale and sophisticated, and features a new standard 4.2-inch full-color display. Seats are firm and flat, and feel very European - in fact, "European" describes the entire interior experience. Material quality is notably improved, and the solid precision with which everything operates feels expensive. The GS gets standard leather sport seats, which are more heavily bolstered but also more cushioned than the standard Regal's seats. It also replaces the base car's faux wood trim with black plastic and aluminum trim, and swaps most of the gauges with an 8-inch color display screen, reconfigurable to the driver's desired information.
Overall, the updates to the Regal are good ones, and should help GM continue to try and make Buick an appealing near-luxury brand to go up against the likes of Acura and Audi. Starting price for the new Regal is $30,615 (all prices include a $925 destination charge). That will buy you a turbocharged Regal with 18-inch wheels, rear view camera, heated leather seats and Buick's IntelliLink multimedia system. It's a few thousand or so dollars below Volvo's S60 starting price and Cadillac's base ATS.
The eAssist version starts at $32,485, while the Regal GS will begin at $37,830 for the front-wheel-drive models and $40,195 for the all-wheel-drive version. Safety equipment comes in two optional packages: Driver Confidence I includes forward collision alert, blind spot detection, lane change alert, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and following distance indicator for $1,090. Driver Confidence II adds full-speed adaptive cruise control and collision preparation, which can brake the vehicle to a stop, for an additional $2,295.
While the sportier Regal GS may have an edge in the looks and handling department, the fact that it shares its turbo engine with the much less expensive base Regal actually makes the base model more appealing as a luxury vehicle. It's quieter, still handles well (especially with all-wheel drive), feels just as quick as the GS, and has wood-look trim that makes it feel more expensive inside. Either model provides significant value, however, in comparison to competitors in the entry luxury sedan category.