At a glance, the 2014 Buick Regal looks a lot like the 2013. On closer inspection, a savvy observer may distinguish the subtly redesigned front and rear fascias, the former with LED accents and the option of high intensity discharge headlights, the latter with a broader chrome strip spanning the decklid and new LED taillamps. But the sheetmetal between the front and rear updates is unchanged.
So at a glance, the foregoing may seem to add up to a typical mid-cycle product refresh.
But this proves, once again, that appearances don't tell the whole story. The 2014 Regal's really substantive updates are sub-dermal, invisible to at-a-glance.
The most tangible upgrade is under the hood, where the Regal's standard 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine gets an 18 percent horsepower increase and a fatter torque curve. Billed as a new generation of GM's corporate 2.0-liter turbo, the direct injection engine features a new aluminum cylinder head, sodium-filled exhaust valves, forged steel crankshaft, cast-iron bearing caps, a variable displacement oil pump, and a pair of chain-driven balance shafts turning in the oil pan.
The net is 259 horsepower at 5300 rpm, and 295 lb-ft of torque from 3000 to 4000 rpm (2500 to 4000 rpm in the higher-performance GS model). That should be enough to knock a couple tenths off the Regal's mid-6-second 0-to-60 mph time.
Throttle response is right-now, the engine is smooth and quiet, and -- just as important -- fuel economy improves. The 2.0's 2014 EPA ratings are 19 to 21 mpg city, 27-30 highway, depending on drivetrain, but Buick cites a 17 percent mpg improvement over the 2013 Regal turbo.
If fuel thrift is a priority, the Regal's power options continue to include the eAssist mild hybrid, combining a 182-horsepower 4-cylinder engine with situational boost from a 15-horsepower electric motor. The eAssist package continues to be rated for 25 city/36 highway, and is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels.
Power Fore and Aft
New for 2014, the Regal's all-wheel drive option is a Haldex system, involving two clutches, one to transfer power fore and aft (up to 100 percent to either end, contingent on traction and other operating parameters), the other apportioning power side to side between the rear wheels.
The system also incorporates an electronic limited slip differential -- damping power to the wheel losing grip -- as well as a new rear suspension setup.
It's not available with the eAssist powertrain, and is offered only with the automatic transmission. The system adds about 200 pounds to curb weights, according to Buick, and $2175 to the bottom line ($2365 for the GS).
Other 2014 updates are similar to those offered in other Buick models: new camera- and radar-based alerts for various proximity situations -- rear cross traffic, lane change, side blind zone, lane departure, and forward collision probability. The system will also apply the brakes when it determines collision to be inevitable, an active safety function that's also baked into optional adaptive cruise control; it will bring the car to a complete stop, and start it moving again when traffic permits. (The basic cruise control, a standard feature in all trim levels, is a conventional system.)
Buick has redesigned the Regal's instrument cluster, with two different color screens -- 4.2 inches in the standard car, 8.0 inches in the GS, the latter offering configurability. There's also an 8.0-inch color touch screen in the center stack, incorporating a variety of secondary controls and reducing the number of knobs and buttons from 17 to seven.
Like other Buicks, the Regal includes second-generation Intellilink infotainment and connectivity. Interior materials are of higher quality, with more soft-touches surfaces. The décor of the standard Regal is executed in warm tones in three different color and trim combinations, while the sporty GS is mostly black, with contrasting stitching on the leather-clad seats. The latter provide more lateral support than the standard seats, thanks to deeper torso bolsters.
The Well-dressed Athlete
Though the Regal's body shell is unchanged, the suspension has been retuned, particularly in the GS, which features HiPer Struts (GM speak for High Performance) up front. With stiffer springs and firmer damping, the GS adaptive struts lend more authority to brisk maneuvers, and the driver can choose between three presets that progressively sharpen responses and diminish stability control intervention. While there's some tradeoff in terms of ride quality, particularly compared to the standard Regal, the GS pares the nastiness off sharp bumps and pavement ripples.
Electric power steering is another 2014 update, and Buick has done a better job than many in making its system provide some semblance of road feel, particularly with the wheel within five degrees of on-center. The GS varies steering effort according to the various suspension presets, and it's both quick and commendably tactile.
Power delivery in front-drive Regals is smooth and prompt, without a hint of torque steer -- the tendency for the car to squirrel away in an unwanted direction at full throttle. The all-wheel drive is more decisive in quick transitions, such as a lane change exercise or slalom, with a little less body motion.
Braking is another strong suit, particularly in the GS, with its bigger front rotors and four-piston calipers, supplied by Brembo.
It all adds up to a Regal that hasn't forgotten its Buick heritage (quiet, comfortable, modest elegance), but is more than willing to play.
Pros, Cons, and $
Would the GS be more fun with paddle shifters for the automatic transmission? Manual shifting can be accomplished by setting the lever in the Sport mode and manipulating it back and forth, but the Regal's competition -- Buick singles out the Audi A4 in particular -- offer this feature and it's definitely more satisfying in spirited driving.
The Regal could also do with a little more rear seat leg- and headroom, a weak point with the 2013 model that carries over to 2014.
Still, the Regal offers a seductive proposition in the wide world of midsize sedans: sophisticated good looks, upscale interiors, comprehensive standard features, quiet operation, and pleasant road manners, upgraded for 2014 with increased power, improved dynamics, enhanced telematics, and a tempting array of options.
There are five Regal trim levels for 2014: Leather (base), from $30,615; Premium, from $32,485; Premium eAssist, also from $32,485; Premium II, from $34,685; and GS, from $37,830. All prices include Buick's $925 destination charge.
Besides all-wheel drive, major options include a sunroof ($1000); Driver Confidence package (side blind zone alert, lane change alert. lane departure warning, forward collision alert, interval indicator, rear cross traffic alert, memory seats, $1090, limited to Premium II and GS); Driver Confidence II (includes DC I, plus collision preparation, adaptive cruise control, $2295).
Other options: navigation radio ($795, standard on Premium II and GS); 18-inch chromed alloy wheels ($1000, Leather, Premium, and Premium II); 20-inch polished alloy wheels ($700, GS only).
The 2014 Regal will begin appearing in Buick showrooms by mid-October.
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