Those qualities, while undeniably desirable, don't mean a whole lot to me personally. I prefer sedans that conjure up words like "nimble," "punchy" or even "raucous" on occasion. So, directionally, the high-performance GS version of the 2014 Buick Regal is more my cup of tea than any other car in the company's current range.
In fact, I'd already come to know the Regal GS from its 2012 model year introduction, and grown more than a little fond of the sporting sedan in its original front-wheel-drive, six-speed-manual guise. The fast, sweet-handling car with well-sorted controls may have suffered from a slight identity crisis in terms of pricing (and may still), but it was undeniably fun to drive. So, when I heard that the GS was coming to market for 2014 with optional all-wheel drive (albeit only in combination with a six-speed automatic transmission), I was stoked to have another go and concentrated my driving impressions on the AWD car.
Please bear in mind that the "go" in question here happened over the course of a few hours, and totally within the confines of General Motors' own Milford Proving Grounds. The testing routes we drove (a miles-long section of ride and handling road course, followed by a huge autocross set in the middle of a massive skid pad) were excellent, but the rules of full disclosure necessitate letting you know we were on Buick's home court. Driving at the inner sanctum also explains why you're seeing stock photography here, instead of our standard original photo set – no cameras were allowed.
- At the heart of this revised Regal GS is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. That's the same formula used in the previous GS, but executed with a revised four-cylinder for 2014. The turbo motor is more efficient and quieter in operation than the outgoing unit, with balance shafts, oil pump and oil pan, camshaft drive, crankshaft, fuel rail and more having evolved in pursuit of those goals. The resulting mill pushes out a still formidable 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque (down slightly from the 270 hp and 295 lb-ft of the last car), with a healthy 90 percent of that twist available to the driver at just 1,700 rpm.
- Buick's official 0-60 time for the all-wheel GS is 6.8 seconds. The AWD car is down on its FWD, manual trans brother by 0.6 seconds here, though both GS models feel smooth during fast starts, without a whiff of torque steer. (GM's excellent HiPer Strut front suspension is to thank here, and is standard equipment on all GS models.)
- I drove the GS AWD and the GS FWD back to back on both the ride and handling course, and on the autocross. After doing so, it's easy to report that the all-wheel-drive system is perhaps just a hair's breadth shy of being totally transformative in terms of GS handling.
- While the FWD car is still a complete ball to throttle around a winding road at speed, it's nowhere near the precise instrument that the AWD GS has become. Buick uses a Haldex all-wheel-drive system that has a "neutral" state of 50/50 front/rear torque split, with a full 100 percent available to the rear wheels based on front-wheel traction. The eLSD system also allows for adjustment to the torque split out to the rear wheels, further enhancing wheel control and grip. Boil all that down, and you get a vehicle that rewards you for accelerating through hard corners – as I got my sea legs for the road course I pushed the GS harder and harder in fast corners, and was rewarded with a tighter line rather than with buzz-killing understeer. Similar actions in the front-drive car revealed more than enough grip, but with a pushing front end that ultimately had me backing off rather than heating up on the same corners. On the tighter cone course, the AWD Regal seemed to shrink around me, offering nippy changes of direction, despite that fact that initial turn-in wasn't lighting fast.
- Steering feel and calibration has been retuned for 2014, though I was told that the pre-production prototype cars we had to drive weren't 100-percent locked in in this regard. The steering wheel offered a reassuringly meaty weight at speed, and felt fine when executing long sweepers. Road feel is predictably filtered from the GS tiller, but not more, I have to say, than that of the Audi A4 that Buick brought along for us to test, nor of the Volvo S60 T5 that I'd driven out to Milford.
- In fact, in terms of dynamic driving behavior, I'd have no problem putting the Regal up against competitors from Audi and Volvo. A head-to-head comparison along those lines would be really interesting, but off the cuff I'd say that the Buick is on par, and ahead of the curve in terms of braking performance and ease-of-use.
- And, of course, the Regal GS will have to be more than competitive with those products, as it has been aggressively priced near the top of the segment. The GS AWD starts at $40,195 (that's with a $925 delivery/destination fee), and includes a lot of equipment at that price: back-up camera, navigation, premium audio, HID headlights, Brembo brakes and 19-inch wheels all come before an option box is ticked. (It's helpful to remember that the GS is also effectively the top trim level for the Regal line, with the standard car getting the same 2.0T motor without the adaptive GS suspension, bigger brakes, etc.) For reference, the price of entry for an all-wheel-drive, Volvo S60 T5 is right around $35,000, and it costs roughly $37,000 to get into an A4 with Quattro and an automatic trans. Buick is selling a lot of standard content in the GS, and it might be the more inexpensive car when measured option for option, but that forty to start its MSRP does open up a world of very competitive cross-shops. BMW 328i xDrive and Cadillac ATS 2.0T, which uses the same engine found in the GS, wave hello here.
- Bottom line: I thoroughly enjoyed driving this new Regal GS with its excellent AWD system. It's a car that deserves more of our time for a full review – when we get one out in the real world – and should merit consideration of inclusion in a highly entertaining sport sedan comparison test down the road.