Up­dated Re­gal now a wor­thy sports-sedan con­tender

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By John LeBlanc

CINCIN­NATI, OHIO — As im­age makeovers go, the 2011 Buick Re­gal was ex­treme. Af­ter gen­er­a­tions of se­date sedans best suited for the old at heart, the fifth-gen­er­a­tion Re­gal was tar­geted at younger buy­ers who would nor­mally shop at im­port­brand stores for their en­try-level sports sedan needs.

Essen­tially a Buick-badged ver­sion of the Opel In­signia — a mid-sized sedan from Gen­eral Mo­tors’ Euro­pean out­post — the five-pas­sen­ger, four-door 2011 Re­gal ar­rived ex­clu­sively with four-cylin­der en­gines pow­er­ing only its front wheels.

The ad­di­tion of the higher-per­form­ing Re­gal GS last year only added cre­dence to Buick’s im­port-hunt­ing as­pi­ra­tions, but the avail­abil­ity of all-wheel drive as part of an ex­ten­sive mid-cy­cle re­fresh for 2014 means the Re­gal can now se­ri­ously chal­lenge the more es­tab­lished Euro­pean-sport sedans for trac­tion­chal­lenged Cana­dian buy­ers.

In ad­di­tion to the req­ui­site ex­te­rior, in­te­rior and safety up­grades, the $34,695 (all base prices in­clude a $1,600 freight and pre-de­liv­ery in­spec­tion fee) 2014 Re­gal Turbo and the man­ual-gear­box $42,250 Re­gal GS get a vastly up­dated ver­sion of last year’s 2.0-litre tur­bocharged four-cylin­der gas en­gine.

Power and torque go up 39 horse­power and 39 pound-feet to 259 hp and 295 lb-ft. The good news is that’s an 18 per cent horse­power boost com­pared to the out­go­ing Re­gal Turbo. The bad news? That’s down from the 270 hp the 2013 Re­gal GS boasted.

Ex­cept for the front-wheel-drive sixspeed man­ual Re­gal GS, all 2014 mod­els get a six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. A Haldex all-wheel-drive sys­tem with an elec­tronic lim­ited-slip rear dif­fer­en­tial is a $2,280 op­tion on the Re­gal Turbo and Re­gal GS.

The quick­est 2014 Re­gal is the front­drive GS, tak­ing 6.7 sec­onds to go from zero to 100 kilo­me­tres an hour. The AWD ver­sion is about one-third of a sec­ond be­hind.

With its up­dated turbo-four, Buick says fuel econ­omy im­proves by up to 17 per cent in the city for the base Re­gal Turbo au­to­matic, now rated at 10.1 L/100 km and 6.6 on the high­way.

If fuel econ­omy is a pri­or­ity, the carry-over $36,325 Re­gal eAs­sist, with its 182 hp and 172 lb-ft four-cylin­der en­gine, is rated at 8.3 L/100 km city and 5.4 on the high­way.

The Re­gal’s new AWD setup is quite so­phis­ti­cated. De­pend­ing on how fast you’re driv­ing or quickly you’re steer­ing, it can send up to 90 per cent of the en­gine’s torque to ei­ther the front or rear axles. At the same time, the elec­tronic lim­ited-slip rear dif­fer­en­tial (ELSRD) can di­rect torque to ei­ther of the rear wheels.

Un­like other AWD set­ups that use anti-lock brake sys­tems, the Re­gal’s ELSRD me­chan­i­cally dis­trib­utes the power to the wheel that has the most grip, and that tech­ni­cal so­phis­ti­ca­tion shows up im­me­di­ately when tak­ing the new 2014 Re­gal GS AWD out for a spin.

While the pre­vi­ous Re­gal sported a softer, Amer­i­can­ized sus­pen­sion, the new 2014 mod­els use the same specs as the Opel In­signia. That means ev­ery­thing from its steer­ing, chas­sis and brakes has been tight­ened up. All Re­gal GS mod­els (ei­ther FWD or AWD) come with Buick’s Drive Con­trol Sys­tem, which can cus­tom­ize the level of steer­ing as­sist, throt­tle re­sponse and sus­pen­sion taut­ness three ways — Tour­ing, Sport and GS — and Opel’s HiPer Strut front sus­pen­sion that im­proves han­dling by lim­it­ing torque steer.

We didn’t have snow or ice to deal with dur­ing our me­dia drive in and around the Cincin­nati area, but when pushed on pave­ment, the 2014 Re­gal GS AWD came into its own as a sud­denly se­ri­ous chal­lenger to all those im­port brand al­ter­na­tives.

Like Acura’s Su­per Han­dling-All Wheel Drive Sys­tem, the Re­gal’s ELSRD can be felt in tight cor­ners. Send­ing power to the tire los­ing grip only en­cour­ages the driver to power though a turn in­stead of back­ing off, and the new Euro-spec sus­pen­sion means the 2014 Re­gal GS doesn’t lean as much as be­fore — if at all — in said cor­ners.

Even at its most ag­gres­sive tune, the Re­gal GS never de­liv­ers a brit­tle ride. Its struc­ture feels rock solid, with nary a jig­gle or rat­tle to be felt or heard, an even more im­pres­sive sign, given its 20-inch low-pro­file rub­ber.

Buick says fewer than one per cent of buy­ers opted for the Re­gal GS’s man­ual gear­box, and that’s a shame. The Buick’s au­to­box seems to hang onto gears too high in the en­gine’s rev band, where it can be a bit coarse.

Buick’s in­te­rior de­sign­ers must have been read­ing my re­views of the pre­vi­ous model. My big­gest beef was its overly com­pli­cated cen­tre in­stru­men­ta­tion stack. Us­ing GM’s lat­est In­tel­liLink in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem screen as a foun­da­tion, Buick says the num­ber of but­tons have been re­duced from 17 to seven in the 2014 model.

While most buy­ers in this seg­ment as­pire to an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Se­ries, the new 2014 Re­gal — par­tic­u­larly in AWD form — is a le­git­i­mate chal­lenger. Its sporty driv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics, will­ing turbo en­gine and driver-ori­ented cock­pit are more than com­pe­tent for the class. Per­haps the big­gest hur­dle with im­port-brand buy­ers is get­ting past the Buick badge on the Re­gal’s new wa­ter­fall grille.

Re­gard­less, Buick says the ex­ist­ing Re­gal GS was al­ready at­tract­ing younger buy­ers, with the av­er­age age in their mid-40s, com­pared to 60 years of age for Buick over­all, and the up­grades and re­fine­ments for 2014 should con­tinue that trend.

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