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Overlooked Buick Regal improves with freshening

Capable upscale sedan proves to have appeal in testing

Published: February 14, 2014 04:00 PM

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Well-finished and enjoyable to drive, the Buick Regal may be among the overlooked upscale sedans today. The problem may be the car’s name; for decades, the Regal was the poster child for providing a “floating down the road” ride, fake vinyl roofs, and tufted velour seats. But since 2011, the Regal has been a rebadged Opel Insignia, a mainstay among European family sedans. Hoping to spur sales, the 2014 model has  a mild facelift, including new front and rear styling, revised interior controls, and a standard (and powerful) turbocharged engine. All-wheel-drive is also newly available.

The Regal lineup has been streamlined, better aligning its position as a premium car. Now, all Regals are well equipped and include heated leather seats and a backup camera. We bought a front-wheel-drive Regal with the Premium I option group, which includes dual front power seats and a heated steering wheel. With a sunroof and 18-inch wheels, the sticker price came to $34,485.

Behind the wheel
The most significant upgrade is the 2.0-liter, 259-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This is a good choice, as the previously offered nonturbo 2.4-liter four-cylinder was underwhelming in our tests. The new engine has 39 more horses than even the previous optional turbocharged four cylinder, bringing plenty of effortless power, with strong midrange grunt for passing. We also think the engine works well with the six-speed automatic transmission.

You can still get a nonturbo 2.4-liter but only with GM’s light hybrid eAssist system for a total of 182 hp. The hybrid battery consumes some of the Regal’s trunk space. Based on our tests of a heavier Buick LaCrosse with that system, we’d expect about 27 mpg overall. That’s pretty good, but “true” hybrids such as the Toyota Camry/Lexus ES or Ford Fusion/Lincoln MKZ return much better fuel economy.

Driving the Regal proves it’s a solid, substantial, and enjoyable car. Despite the shift a few years back from hydraulic to electric steering, a move that usually reduces feedback, the steering remains precise and direct. The car feels taut and agile, and when paired with abundant power, it feels like a bargain sports sedan. With low noise levels and a steady and controlled ride, the Regal makes for a comfortable cruiser.

Buyers who want something more sporting can select the Regal GS. Front styling is more eye-catching with big air inlets at the corners. Standard 19-inch wheels and tires are backed by big Brembo brakes. Inside are sports seats with more aggressive bolsters than the standard Regal. You can even get this Buick with a six-speed manual transmission—surprising given that more sporting German manufacturers are moving away from offering that three-pedal option.

With the GS, you get a tweaked version of the base 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, delivering a slightly wider torque band but the same 259 horsepower. But you don’t buy this car for putting down quick performance numbers. The GS package ramps up cornering grip and adds some sporting flair to an already enjoyable package. The six-speed manual isn’t the smoothest out there, but we appreciate the effort.

Inside the cabin
Like that of other contemporary Buicks, the interior is very nicely finished with high-quality materials. Front seats are firm and well shaped, but you feel the Regal’s smaller-than-midsized dimensions in the rear seat. Leg room there is on the short side for adults.

While previous Regals had a button-strewn dashboard that looked like that of an old 747 jet plane, the 2014 update significantly simplified things. A large touch screen controls Buick’s Intellilink audio system. It’s fairly easy to use and phone and audio functions can be controlled through the steering wheel and viewed via a colorful display in the instrument panel. Buick’s stylists couldn’t resist sprinkling some flush touch-sensitive capacitive buttons into the climate controls, though, but this typically-annoying feature is mostly innocuous in this application.

The Regal is very appealing as a sporty, Euro-flavored car—and its case is even stronger with the recent updates. But ultimately, the Regal struggles to stand out beyond being “nice” or convey any sort of pizzazz. And it doesn’t help that it’s “squeezed” between high-end versions of midsized sedans such as the Honda Accord, and by real thoroughbred and prestigious sports sedans such as the BMW 3 Series. We’ll see how it does in our full tests and let you know if the Regal breaks out of its undeserved obscurity.

—Tom Mutchler

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