The fifth-generation Buick Regal was born in 2009 in Europe as the Opel Insignia. That car went on to win more than three dozen awards including European Car of the Year. The first variant was introduced and is being built in China as the Regal, setting new sales records in that vital market.
The Regal name was re-introduced to the North American market in 2011, virtually unchanged from its European guise other than for a very few small details like trim and suspension tuning for all-season tires.
It receives a mid-cycle makeover for the 2014 model year with a new look at both ends, a redesigned instrument panel and centre console and different trim. It also gets an updated turbo engine with 18% more power, new technologies and an availaable Haldex all-wheel-drive system.
Four trim levels
The 2014 Regal comes in four trim levels – base (1SL), Premium (1SN), Premium II (1SP) and GS (1SX). Standard equipment across the entire line includes wireless connectivity, 20-cm colour touch-screen display, tilt and telescope steering wheel, OnStar, cruise control, power windows locks, mirrors and driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather seats and an electric parking brake.
My test vehicle, in Premium II trim, added 18-inch alloy wheels, Bi-xenon headlights, heated mirrors, heated seats, power passenger seat and rear park assist. Options included Driver Confidence Packages I & II (more on these later) and a power sunroof.
The base model continues to come with the 2.4-litre normally-aspirated four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Producing 182-horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque it also has eAssist, what Buick refers to as “light electrification”.
Essentially it allows a fuel-saving stop-start function and adds a little boost from the electric motor during hard acceleration.
The rest of the Regal line is powered by a reconfigured 2.0-litre turbocharged four producing 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft, of torque. This is a slightly detuned version of the engine used previously in the GS model and it is a treat, providing almost 20% more power than the previous version while improving fuel economy numbers by 17%.
Fully 90% of its prodigious torque is available from only 1,700 rpm, greatly enhancing everyday drivability.
The twin-scroll turbo requires little time to spool up so lag is diminished and long life assured by such cooling measures as oil sprayed unto the underside of the pistons and sodium-filled exhaust valves.
The new engine is also much quieter and its smoothness has been improved by the use of balance shafts, a two-piece oil pan, sound covers over the intake manifold and structural engine covers.
Buick has taken the lead at General Motors in the area of noise reduction and those efforts are clearly evident in this car, not only regarding the driveline, but wind and road noise have also been all but eliminated. This is a very quiet ride.
The interior of the middle model in the Buick lineup gets better-looking materials. Its completely redesigned instrument panel and centre console are built around a big (20-cm) touch screen. The result is a much lower button count, down from 17 to seven.
The screen is the centrepiece of the infotainment system incorporating the latest-generation of Buick’s IntelliLink. A separate 11-cm screen is housed within the instrument panel, containing a driver information centre.
There is a good amount of room up front for the occupants of the excellent bucket seats. Second-row seating is a tad tight with room for two adults of reasonable size, although shoulder and knee room is a little tighter than many in this bracket.
A number of new technologies are available including forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert – all contained in the $1,565 Driver Confidence Package #1.
Opt for the $1,835 Confidence Package #2 and you get adaptive cruise control and “Collision Preparation with Collision Mitigation,” which pre-loads the brake system if sensors detect an imminent collision.
The biggest change for 2014 is the all-wheel-drive system. The Haldex-sourced set-up not only takes the worry out of winter, it makes its presence known in spirited driving on any surface.
Unobtrusive and going about its business seamlessly and silently, it automatically varies torque between the front and rear wheels. In normal conditions 100% of the power goes to the front wheels. But when needed, up to 90% is directed rearward where the true limited slip differential adjusts the power delivery between the rear wheels for enhanced cornering in all conditions.
There was no snow during my test period but it was threatening and as is always the case when driving a vehicle capable of getting power to all four contact patches, the feeling of safety and security was very comforting.
On the road
On the road the new Regal has plenty of punch at any speed, available instantly at the touch of the right-foot pedal. The ride/handling balance is tipped toward the handling side with a greater degree of alacrity and control when driven hard than any Buick I've driven before it.
This Buick is actually fun to drive on twisty roads! The European roots of this platform are evident in the buttoned-down feel and yet the ride remains pleasantly supple. Good job.
The changes for 2014 make the Regal a more credible sports-sedan, but the cost has gone up accordingly, putting it in with some pretty capable vehicles from much revered manufacturers.