Review: 2014 Buick Regal GS AWDby Mark Elias
We head to Montreal to put the Buick Regal GS and its new AWD system through the worst winter can offer.
The recent spate of freakishly cold weather and inundating snowstorms has helped to reinforce the importance of all-wheel-drive vehicles. Already flush with such winter-conquering offerings as the Enclave, Encore and LaCrosse, Buick is now showing love to the enthusiast driver with the launch of the 2014 Regal GS AWD.
Sure, they could have presented it to us at LLN's southeastern headquarters, where such a system would be akin to dressing up in a tuxedo for a fast food dinner. But in flying us to Montreal, Buick clearly had other things in mind that combined elements of log cabins, Ice Road Truckers and fishing in the middle of the Ottawa River. Mush on for more.
The Buick Regal has existed for 40 years. Through fits, starts, stops and restarts in various markets, the nameplate has survived, although the configurations have certainly changed. Our 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD is based on the latest generation, which first appeared in 2011.
Using the Opel Insignia-derived Epsilon II platform, the Regal GS is a four-door midsized sedan that is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged Ecotec engine that is also found in the Cadillac ATS. Making 259 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 and 4,000 rpm, the mill is coupled to a Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic transmission. Do-it-yourselfers can also opt for a six-speed manual with the standard FWD model.
Our tester's Haldex-supplied AWD system is designed to improve both foul-weather traction and handling during spirited drives. Using a rear drive module comprised of a torque transfer device (TTD) and an electronic limited slip differential (eLSD), sensors determine if wheel slippage is occurring and directs the TTD to handle front-to-rear operations, while the eLSD sends torque from right-to-left, accordingly. A true torque vectoring system, it does not rely on braking the way some other vehicles do. The system results in less torque steer and understeer when the driver decides to really hoof it.
A HiPer Strut front suspension - which also serves to quell torque steer - and an H-arm rear kit is standard on the Regal GS AWD, as are adaptive dampers. Stopping power is provided by four-wheel disc brakes with Brembo calipers and rotors in the front position. Buick says to expect mileage ratings of 19 city / 27 highway.
The Regal GS's segment is rife with tough competitors. They include AWD models of Volkswagen's CC, the Volvo S60, Lexus IS250, Infiniti's Q50 and the Audi A4.
Looks and stance
The GS's aggressive bulldog-like stance is enhanced with a new, lower ride height and the carry-over fang-like air intakes, which flank the waterfall grille. New HID headlamps with signature LED daytime running lights illuminate the road ahead.
The rear fascia gets a similar treatment, with the addition of LED wrap-around taillamps and integrated trapezoidal exhaust outlets, as well as a new decklid and spoiler. It is all tied together with the addition of rocker panel extensions that stretch from front to rear wheelwells.
The most sporting of Buicks currently available, the Regal GS features GM's IntelliLink infotainment module and its eight-inch touchscreen with digital gesturing to fling through lists on the display like you would with a tablet or smartphone. It is joined by a 4.2-inch monitor within the gauge cluster. Both show vehicle, navigation, audio and Bluetooth information so the driver can monitor the situation without venturing too far from the flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Curiously, paddle shift levers are nowhere to be found in this otherwise sporty vehicle. In a very welcomed revision, designers have cleaned up centerstack, reducing the number of control buttons from 17 to seven.
Speaking of the centerstack, it is at its crown where drivers will find the GS-exclusive Interactive Drive Control system with buttons for traction control settings in addition to GS and Sport modes; the latter effect more driver-focused throttle, steering and transmission configurations.
Our GS-exclusive ebony interior offered soft touch materials throughout and included a pair of well-bolstered sport seats, which managed to keep us in place and minimize fatigue during our time in the car. The rear seat was good for people six-feet and under, while Shaquille O'Neill and others gifted with an abundance of height might be better off opting for the Buick Regal's big brother LaCrosse.
Ice road clucking
To demonstrate the safety and handling benefits of the Regal GS' AWD system, Buick sent us to the lightly-used Mirabel Airport. Designed to be the major international airport in Montreal, it opened in 1975, but was essentially closed to commercial air traffic in 2004. Now a cargo facility, it is also the location of Circuit ICAR, a racer's country club with a 2.4-mile road course that just so happens to be ideal for winter driving experiences.
But before we arrived at Circuit ICAR, we had to cross the Pont de Glace (ice bridge) near Oka, Quebec, an experience in which we tip-toed across the Ottawa River as though in an episode of Ice Road Truckers. After visits to ice fishing shacks in the middle of the river, we overnighted at the world's largest log cabin, Le Chateau Montebello. When we finally made it to Circuit ICAR, we received a hint of what a stint in the Ice Capades ice shows might actually be like. What lay before us was a figure-eight skid pad, a road course and a slalom course where we would demonstrate our best car control.
On the road course, which basically amounted to ice below a fresh bedding of snow, the AWD helped keep the Regal GS pointed in our intended direction, provided we were gentle with our throttle inputs and employed some gentle sawing of the steering wheel. Sensors worked on the fly and threw traction where it was needed, managing to keep us from killing any cones on the slalom course layout.
Enabling the GS mode found increased steering feedback over the normal drive mode, with more stiffness of the automatic dampers for reduced body roll. A remap of the throttle and the shift points also occur, which we found helped to minimize the effects of understeer while negotiating the figure eight.
For comparison's sake, we disengaged all controls including traction and stability control. The result was a combination of Fast and Furious drifting and white knuckled chaos, in which steering inputs were treated as mere suggestions. And braking? Why, that's why they left snow banks on the edge the course.
As for us, we like technology and will take full advantage of all the assists.
Leftlane's bottom line:
The 2014 Buick Regal GS offers performance sedan attributes with AWD traction and the technologies that go with it. With enthusiast leanings in dry conditions, it encouraged spirited driving from the get-go. Toss in a bit of snow and ice, and it enabled us to laugh in the face of polar vortex-like conditions as well.
2014 Buick Regal GS AWD base price, $39,270. As tested, $44,975.
Driver Confidence package I, $890; Driver Confidence package II, $1,695; Sunroof, $1,000; Premium paint, $495; 20-inch V-spoke chromed wheels, $700; Destination fee, $925.
Photos by Mark Elias.