2014 Buick Regal AWD Snow Drive: Legit BMW Competitor
Good Grip On What Feels Like A Young Person's Machine
The new Buick Regal has always been the one car in the lineup that doesn't make sense. It's a true blue European sports sedan, while the other Buick models are luxury vehicles that offer solid, quiet rides and lots of high-end features for a value price. In recent years, Buick has been out Lexus-ing Lexus with Hyundai pricing.
But the Regal is a legitimate BMW competitor. Don't choke on your coffee -- I'm serious. The Regal is a spectacular car and every iteration of it – it comes straight from General Motors' Opel brand as the Insignia -- has gotten better.
Recently, Buick gave us a chance to try the Regal's new optional all-wheel-drive system. This system was essential to continued development of the Regal. Luxury customers want all-wheel drive. Buick said that in the winter-grip-challenged Northeast, 26 percent of Regal sales have been all-wheel drive, and that number could grow.
We can debate whether or not good tires would serve an owner better than all-wheel drive, but after a day of driving the performance Regal GS with all-wheel drive across an ice bridge north of Montreal and then on an ice-covered race track, I can attest that this system is fantastic.
Calling all all-wheel-drive systems the same would be like calling all brakes the same. Some enhance performance far more than others. The Regal's system is one of the better ones. It uses a number of sensors onboard and an electronic limited-slip rear differential to manage torque fore and aft as well as right and left.
Up to 90 percent of the engine's torque can be pushed to the rear axle if conditions demand it. Engineers also said it can vary torque to one tire or another if sensors monitoring wheel spin, steering wheel position, accelerator, body roll, and yaw suggest one side needs more power.
On the ice, this translates to killer donuts and relatively good maneuvering speed. When you turn off all of the sensors -- including the electronic stability control -- you can kick up ice chips with all four wheels simultaneously as you move sideways. It's a little pointless, but extremely fun.
The real fun was on the short race course, where 10-mph corners felt like they were impossible as the car slid in slow motion closer and closer to the snowbanks. The best way to gain some control of the car was to aim for lumps of snow on the ice and pray some traction was under them. Rarely was there any grip, but all four wheels kept churning, trying to find something. And when the winter tires finally managed to get a grip, the car would lurch forward.
The Regal also arrives with a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that adds improvements over the previous 2.0L turbo by cutting friction and managing heat better through a number of techniques. Horsepower increases to 259 and torque climbs to 295 lb-ft.
Read the 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD First Test HERE.
Boost from the twin-scroll turbocharger can climb to 24 psi. It was difficult to feel turbo lag, even on nicely sanded clear highways. Acceleration was smooth and quick. The six-speed automatic transmission also worked flawlessly, though I longed for paddle shifters, especially on the GS.
Overall, this car is a great-handling machine. The steering is taut with a nice snap back to center, and the ride is tight but not overly stiff. There's hardly any body roll, but potholes and other bumps can't make the cabin anything but Buick quiet. The GS models we drove had either 19- or 20-inch winter tires that were great on the road. The GS model also includes a second setting for the suspension system that stiffens the dampening a little more, but mostly I drove the car in Normal mode and was pleasantly reminded how smooth it is on the road.
The Regal is the most impressive on the highway. The front of the car feels like a cockpit, and it's an ideal machine for a long road trip. There's lots of space up front and many high-tech features. There are two Driver Confidence packages. The first includes forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and a following distance indicator. The second package adds collision preparation and full-speed adaptive cruise control that allows you to follow a car all the way to a complete stop.
The interior does not change much for the 2014 model year. Buick did swap out the center stack for the next generation IntelliLink infotainment system, which is easy to use and provides lots of information with a lot fewer buttons. It also changed the instrument cluster, adding a large 4.2-inch color screen between the tachometer and speedo.
Perhaps the biggest change is the new steering wheel. It's beefier and feels great in your hands, whether you're cruising or attempting to gain control of a car spinning on ice.
The one constant complaint I have with the Regal is the cramped second row. Yes, an adult my size – 6 feet tall, 220 pounds – can squeeze back there, but I wouldn't want stay there all day. While this is a midsize car, the compact Buick Verano feels like it offers more room for second-row passengers. The Regal is a big car that feels small in the back.
There were some exterior changes for the 2014 model year, but the car's elegant shape remains intact. Buick adds LED daytime running lights and taillamps to this year's Regal, and there is a new chrome strip that stretches horizontally between the taillamps. The Regal continues to have a great backside, and the only quibble I have with the front end are the two vertical inserts around the bumper between the headlights and the grille. They look like incisors for the Buick Regal "Twilight" edition.
Actually, Buick would love to capture "Twilight" fans. Just a few years ago, more Buick owners could be found in any newspaper's obituary section than on a showroom floor. Buick was old and so were its vehicles.
But about seven years ago that began to change, with the introduction of the Enclave large crossover. The Verano and tiny crossover Encore also helped bring in younger buyers. The Regal GS, though, could land a completely unBuick kind of customer. It's fast, has lots of technology, and is fun to drive.
This car feels like a young person's machine.