In all the years we've been driving and testing Buicks, we cannot recall ever being offered up an Audi A4 as a competitive test vehicle. We've seen a Lexus here and there, but in this case, the engineers of the refreshed 2014 Buick Regal wanted it measured against one of Germany's finer sport sedans.
All models were all-wheel drive, with similar powertrains and options, and comparable pricing. The Buicks had a slight advantage given their perfectly prepped preproduction status versus the fresh-off-the-dealer-lot 2014 Audi A4 on all-season rubber, but they're close enough to draw legitimate comparisons.
From the moment we settle into the well-bolstered 2014 Buick Regal driver seat, it's clear this is a different breed of Buick. And after just a few miles, it's obvious someone has been sweating the details, making a car that rides quiet and smoothly, yet gives away nothing when asked to carve a corner. Excessive body roll is no longer part of Buick's DNA.
What Makes This Buick Regal Different?
Since its introduction in 2011, the Regal's underpinnings have been a direct lift from the Euro-spec Opel Insignia, with some obligatory softening to keep American drivers and their passengers comfortable. That same chassis design returns for the 2014 model year, but this time around it wasn't "detuned" for American tastes.
Instead, Buick's ride and handling engineers were given the green light to begin courting customers for Buick's future. Regal buyers have been trending younger every year. The average age of a Regal GS buyer is now in their mid-40s, compared to 60 for Buick as a whole (and 54 for new car buyers overall).
That shift is a sign that Buick's experiment in moving away from rolling sofas toward more precise premium driving machines has been a success — and success means one thing: Do more of it. With that in mind, this refreshed Regal gets an interior makeover and exterior styling changes front and rear, including a new front grille and an integrated deck lid spoiler out back. Underneath the skin, Buick upgraded and tightened the chassis, improved the brakes and steering and installed next-gen turbo engines.
More Powerful Four-Cylinder
Although the 2014 Buick Regal and Regal GS still use a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder for 2014, the engine has been heavily upgraded. Power and torque are up 39 horsepower and 39 pound-feet to 259 hp and 295-lb-ft of torque. That's an 18 percent jump over the 2013 Regal Turbo, but a slight cut for the Regal GS, which was rated at 270 horses. Torque remains the same, however, and a slight difference in tuning allows the GS access to peak torque at just 2,500 rpm, 500 rpm lower than the standard Regal.
The turbo 2.0-liters do the job: Zero to 60 mph comes in 6.5 seconds in front-drivers and 6.8 seconds in AWD Regals, according to Buick. That's just a shade short of the 6.2-second time Audi lists for the A4. Overall, the Regal and A4 weigh almost the same, so the Buick's power plant, with 39 extra horses and 37 lb-ft of torque to spare vs. the A4 should put up better numbers.
Refinement is up, but it's still not sewing-machine smooth under the hood like the Audi. However, power comes on strong, and with gear-holding algorithms built into the transmission mapping to keep the revs in the torquey sweet spot, some raspiness is certainly acceptable.
Fuel economy improves across the board, by up to 17 percent in the city for a front-drive six-speed automatic Regal, which lists an EPA estimate of 21 city/30 highway mpg. All-wheel drive knocks the numbers down to 19/27. The front-drive GS model equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox (at no extra charge vs. an automatic) comes in at 20/31.
One carryover powertrain is offered, the light-hybrid 2.4-liter 182-hp, 172 lb-ft four-cylinder with eAssist and a six-speed automatic transmission. The front-drive-only model lists fuel economy of 25 city/36 highway.
Power to the Pavement
All 2.0-liter turbo Regals for 2014 come standard with six-speed automatic transmissions and are offered with the Haldex all-wheel-drive system fitted with an electronic limited-slip rear differential (front-drive is standard). In the AWD models, input from wheel speed and steering angle sensors adjusts front/rear torque distribution (up to 90 percent), while the eLSD splits torque side to side at the rear, all to optimize traction, stability and cornering.
Unlike most systems that use brakes to manage rear torque split, the eLSD senses slip and mechanically pushes power to the wheel with the most traction. The effect is wholly different from stability control that relies on braking to bring the car in line. With eLSD, power stays strong, going to the wheel with grip and encouraging you to power through a corner rather than lift at the first sign of stability control intervention. It makes the AWD Regal a joy to drive hard, holding corners well past the point that the A4 starts to push.
All AWD Regals (and FWD GS models) are fitted with Opel's HiPer Strut front suspension to improve handling while limiting torque steer. AWD variants get an H-arm rear suspension, while FWD models use a four-link setup. Electronic power steering is standard. In the Regal GS, which comes with real-time suspension damping, Sport and GS driving modes are added, altering steering response and suspension settings.
The effect of all the upgrades is surprising. Driving hard over bumps in corners, the AWD Regal feels composed and stays on track, without the stiffness that might cause the tires to skip over bumps. At the same time, the ride is quiet and comfortable over most road surfaces, with only some engine noise at higher rpm permeating the cabin. The steering feels precise, if light at times, but exhibits no surprises whether in mid-corner or hitting a dip at speed.
New Technology Inside and Out
The 2014 Buick Regal's interior has been updated with new technology, starting with the next-generation IntelliLink infotainment system. The center screen is now an 8-inch-wide color touchscreen that supports intuitive smartphone-like gestures and swipes to move on the screen. The instrument cluster is a highly readable 4.2-inch color unit (8-inch reconfigurable on GS). Controls in general are simplified, with seven buttons replacing the previous 17.
New safety features for 2014 include both radar- and camera-based features that are offered in two groups: The Driver Confidence 1 package, which includes forward collision alert, lane departure warning, lane change alert, blind spot alert, rear cross-traffic alert and a following distance indicator; and the Driver Confidence 2 package, which adds collision preparation (with collision mitigation braking, which hits the brakes to help limit damage in an accident) and adaptive cruise control that can speed or slow the vehicle depending on traffic. The system works in stop-and-go traffic, requiring a tap on the accelerator or the cruise control resume button to continue driving. Six airbags are standard.
A Worthwhile Refresh
The 2014 Buick Regal starts at $30,615 for the base 2.0-liter turbo with FWD and an automatic transmission; figure another two grand or so for all-wheel drive. Stepping up to the Regal GS means a base price of $37,830 for FWD, $40,195 for AWD.
Clearly Buick's engineers feel the new Regal is a more than competent challenger to its European competition. And after driving it we can't blame them. It has precise handling, a more than willing engine and the kind of technology an entry-level luxury car needs. About the only thing this Regal lacks is a distinctive look that conveys its level of competence. It's going to need more than a face-lift to get there, but for now it's on the right track to earning a much-improved reputation.
|Year Make Model:||2014 Buick Regal GS 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl Turbo 6A)|
|Vehicle type:||FWD 4dr five-passenger sedan|
|Configuration:||Transverse, front engine, front-wheel drive|
|Engine type:||Turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4, gasoline|
|Valvetrain:||DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, variable intake + exhaust-valve timing|
|Compression ratio (x:1):||9.5|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||259 @ 5,300|
|Torque (lb-ft @ rpm):||295 @ 2,500|
|Fuel type:||Premium unleaded (recommended)|
|Transmission type:||Six-speed automatic|
|Transmission ratios (x:1):||1st = 4.48; 2nd = 2.87; 3rd = 1.84; 4th = 1.41; 5th = 1.00; 6th = 0.74|
|Final-drive ratio (x:1):||2.77|
|Suspension, front:||Modified MacPherson strut|
|Steering type:||Speed-proportional power steering|
|Steering ratio (x:1):||15.2|
|Tire make and model:||Goodyear Eagle RSA|
|Wheel size:||19-by-8.5 inches front and rear|
|Brakes, front:||Ventilated disc|
|Brakes, rear:||Ventilated disc|
|0-60 mph, mfr. claim (sec.):||6.5|
|Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.):||18.0|
|Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.):||3,710|
|Track, front (in.):||62.4|
|Track, rear (in.):||62.5|
|Turning circle (ft.):||37.4|
|Legroom, front (in.):||42.1|
|Legroom, rear (in.):||37.3|
|Headroom, front (in.):||38.8|
|Headroom, rear (in.):||36.8|
|Shoulder room, front (in.):||56.7|
|Shoulder room, rear (in.):||54.4|
|Bumper-to-bumper:||4 years/50,000 miles|
|Powertrain:||6 years/70,000 miles|
|Corrosion:||6 years/100,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance:||6 years/70,000 miles|
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.