By Costa Mouzouris, Toronto Star
With Oldsmobile long gone and Cadillac no longer making floaty land-yachts, Buick was next in line to inherit the “old man’s car” reputation.
Well, the 2014 Regal is a good example of how Buick is fighting hard to stave off that stigma.
Manufactured in Oshawa since 2011, the fifth-generation Regal is built on the German Opel Insignia platform. It receives a mid-cycle update for 2014, with subtle exterior changes that include a restyled fascia with a seamless bumper, a larger grille and new headlights, and a new rear bumper and taillights for both the Regal and sportier GS.
But the real changes are beneath the bodywork, where you’ll find a revised version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four.
The new engine produces 259 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque and is the standard engine in all 2014 Regals, unless you opt for the eAssist model, which gets the same 2.4-litre, naturally aspirated four as the current eAssist.
The new engine produces 39 horsepower more than the current 2.0-litre, but that actually equates to an 11-hp deficit in the GS model, which had different engine tuning in 2013. The GS still has unique engine tuning, and achieves its peak torque 500 revs sooner, at 2,500 r.p.m.
However, there’s even bigger powertrain news for 2014, news that will help aim the Regal’s crosshairs squarely at its midsized competitors from Germany.
A Haldex all-wheel-drive system, with an optional electronic limited-slip rear differential, is now available on all Regals except the eAssist.
The base front-drive Regal starts at $33,095; opting for four driven wheels bumps that to $35,375. The GS AWD model tops out at $42,925. Considering the car’s European lineage, that’s quite affordable compared to midsize sedans from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
A six-speed automatic is standard, and a manual is available on the front-drive GS as a no-cost option.
Unfortunately, that means if you want all-wheel-drive, you’ll have to settle for an automatic. And, to add insult to injury, paddle shifters are not available on any trim level. You can shift the auto transmission manually by sliding the gear shifter to the left and pushing up or down.
Buick’s product planners say too few North Americans opt for manual-shift Regals to justify another variation to the line-up. That doesn’t explain the lack of paddle shifters, though, especially since the main reason Buick includes AWD is for its association with performance-oriented driving.
Buick claims a slight improvement in fuel consumption for the turbocharged engine, the lowest coming from the front-drive manual model at 8.4 L/100 km combined.
That’s only one-tenth of a litre better than the current manual model, but don’t forget there’s an 18-per-cent increase in power. The Regal eAssist, which is a no-cost option when selecting the Premium 1 trim level, is the fuel-economy leader, at 7.0 L/100 km combined.
There’s a new interior, too, and Buick suggests there are 10 fewer buttons for the sound system (now just seven), although for the life of me I can’t see how they got that number.
Nonetheless, there are fewer buttons on the centre stack, as well as a larger, 8-inch touchscreen. There are two instrument configurations, one using a 4.2-inch colour screen between round gauges, and a GS-exclusive display that uses a configurable 8-inch screen and half-moon gauges.
Heated leather seats are standard across the trim levels, as is dual-zone AC, keyless entry, a backup camera and the latest-generation Intellilink connectivity.
I drove both the standard Regal and the GS, and the latter really exemplified just how close Buick has come to Euro-car handling and performance.
Pushing the dash-mounted GS mode switch (there’s also Sport and Touring modes) firms up suspension and steering response, sharpens throttle response and alters transmission shift points. In the AWD version, it also redistributes power between the front and rear axles for spirited driving.
Steering is taut, and there’s barely any body roll through turns. Four-wheel independent suspension compliance is easily on par with non-AMG, M- or S-class German sedans. The only caveat is the lack of paddle shifters, which would really enhance the sporty driving experience. Brembo front calipers also help slow the GS down from speed with vigour, with very communicative brake pedal feel.
The standard Regal, which has no drive modes, holds its own with softer, yet still well-controlled, suspension and lighter steering effort.
Granted the Regal’s American name plate will do little to woo hardcore European car enthusiasts, but beneath its skin lies a European sedan, and there’s little doubt that it is a stellar performer.
2014 Buick Regal
Price: $33,095 to $42,925
Engine: 2.0 L turbocharged I4; 2.4 L eAssist
Power/torque: 259 hp/295 lb.-ft., 182/172
Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 8.4, 7.0
Competition: Audi A4 Quattro, BMW 328i xDrive, Lexus IS250 AWD, Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic
What’s Best: Sporty handling, good bottom-end power, quiet ride.
What’s Worst: No manual box with AWD, no paddle shifters on automatic GS.
What’s Interesting: With the new Regal, the oldest car in Buick’s lineup is now the Verano, introduced in 2012.
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