2014 Buick Regal Performance


The 2014 Buick Regal trades in its twin turbocharged four-cylinders this year for a single engine. From our impressions in a brief first drive, there's less to distinguish the Regal GS from the other turbos—but now, only the GS gets the manual transmission and adaptive suspension, and those pieces do more than enough to distance the GS from the other Regals.

Regal eAssist: too mild a mild hybrid?

The eAssist doesn't blend its power as well as other hybrids--but the Buick Regal turbos more than make up with composure and power.

There's also an electrified Regal, the one outfitted with GM's mild-hybrid eAssist drivetrain. It returns for 2014, and it still suffers a fuel-economy penalty and a smoothness deficiency against most full hybrids in its class.

On paper, the eAssist isn't wholly impressive. Buick pairs a 2.4-liter inline-4 with batteries and an electric motor for a total system output of 182 horsepower. That's shifted through a 6-speed automatic to power the front wheels only, but it's not overwhelming considering the system's weight. Instead of full hybrid systems found in competitors such as Ford, the Buick only uses batteries to power accessories and some systems like the oil pump. The batteries capture energy from the brakes, and sap the engine's torque a little to recharge.

In our recent test drives, the eAssist drivetrain performs well enough in other applications, such as in the Buick LaCrosse . In the Regal, we have found that the juice isn't worth the squeeze; the system doesn't return enough by way of fuel economy to justify its existence. The Regal eAssist grabs all the energy it can from the brakes and the switch to the friction brakes is obvious. It also rides on 17-inch, low rolling-resistance tires, and they lack the precise feel imparted to the other Regals. The eAssist is rated as high as 25/36 mpg on the EPA cycle, but we've seen only up to 29 mpg in mixed driving. A Nissan Altima is EPA-rated at 38 mpg highway; a Ford Fusion Hybrid, at 47 mpg, in which we've earned an easy 41 mpg. 

Regal Turbo

The eAssist neuters what we like best about the latest Buick Regal—its supple ride and capable electric power steering.

None of today's Regals have a V-6, much less a V-8, but the new turbocharged four-cylinder that's standard on all non-eAssist Regals is a sweet-revving engine that generates strong acceleration.

For 2014, both the Regal Turbo and Regal GS now get a single turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder to replace last year's last-gen turbo four, which was offered in 220-hp and 270-hp spec. The new turbo's related to the one found in the Chevy Malibu and Cadillac ATS, with a twin-scroll turbo and direct injection.

There's no longer a distinction between the two in output, however: Buick's settled on a single quote of 259 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, down 11 hp from the last GS but up 39 hp in the Turbo. Buick says 90 percent of peak torque is available as low as 1700 rpm on the GS, and says 0-60 mph times should be identical to last year's model, at well under 7.0 seconds. On the mid-line Regal, the turbo four comes with the same six-speed automatic as before.

In our first drive, this Regal turbo's undisturbed by the powertrain transplant. It remains a composed, quick performer with mainstream moves. It's muted well to near-redline revs, and as usual, GM's automatic clicks off shifts as well-damped as the Regal's ride. GM's new electric power steering doesn't load up with too much weight off-center, and doesn't feel antsy with an overly quick ratio, either. With struts in front and a multi-link rear end, the front-drive Regal is responsive enough, its handling tempered with a fair amount of lean.

The Regal also can be fitted with a new all-wheel-drive system, one with electronically controlled limited-slip differential at the rear wheels and with a differently designed rear suspension to accommodate the drivetrain. It can split up to 90 percent of its available torque to the rear wheels, or shift torque between rear wheels with an electronic limited-slip differential. The result: better response to on-power cornering, and maybe more important, a few thousands more interested buyers who put AWD in the "must-have" bin.

Buick Regal GS

The Regal GS is still the version we'd choose, every time. It gives the Buick brand a new benchmark for precision, without falling over itself in homage to Germany's sport sedans (though at heart, it is one—it's based on GM Europe's Opel Insignia sedan).

The Regal GS may not have its own stand-alone engine this time, but it has some carve-outs to call its own. The manual transmission now is limited to the Regal GS, and so is the three-mode Interactive Drive Control, which changes the responsiveness of its adaptive dampers, of the throttle and transmission and even steering feel. It continues to ride on a lowered suspension with beefier front struts, and on standard 19-inch wheels with all-season tires, while 20-inch summer tires are available.

It's still a bit notchy, with just enough foot space to the left of the third pedal for wide feet, but the Regal GS' manual shifter connects well with the turbo four. The automatic goes without paddle shift controls, so no matter which one you pick, you'll be moving a hand from the wheel to change gears. If you're shopping for all-wheel drive exclusively, you'll have to take the automatic, and the slightly redesigned rear suspension.

With either transmission, the Regal GS has a wider range of handling, and clear levels of resolution between the three driving modes. Out of the gate, the "Touring" mode is soft enough for any daily driver, but handles flatter and more cleanly than the base turbo. Even in Sport mode, the Regal GS doesn't tighten up in any unreasonable way.

By the time it's progressively tightened up to the GS setting, the Regal still behaves in a way both of its names imply, while it tightens its reflexes to a sporty degree that's acceptably shy of the true sports sedans from BMW, Cadillac, and others. The Regal GS omits the overly heavy steering, the crazy-quick throttle of some of those cars, but doesn't have their nine-tenths precision, either. All-wheel drive amplifies the car's composure over scrubby pavement; the GS' big disc brakes have a reassuring bite, too.

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