All wheels, powered all the time, can be a beautiful thing. Many people think it’s primarily about winter-weather traction, but depending on how and when the system splits its power, it can also improve the performance on dry roads and provide a far sportier experience.
That’s what the Buick Regal does, now that GM has slipped all-wheel drive under it for 2014. It’s an excellent system, and a very good car overall, but it gets too expensive—and perhaps a bit too ambitious—in the top-line GS model that was featured on a two-day drive north of Montreal.
New and Improved
The AWD is offered on every Regal except for the eAssist light-hybrid model, where the trim levels start at $35,375 and go to $39,595. The GS AWD, meanwhile, starts at $42,925, while I drove a model optioned to $49,610, which seems just too high for this brand in this segment.
Overshadowed by the AWD news is the fact that the Regal also receives a new engine for 2014. As was with last year’s model, it’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant, but this year’s makes 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s an increase from the 220 horsepower that the Regal Turbo made last year, but with an improvement in fuel efficiency.
It’s less than the GS had, since its engine was tweaked to 270 horsepower for 2013. But don’t write it off just yet — while that 295 lb-ft of torque is unchanged, it now muscles in at 1,700 rpm, instead of 2,400 rpm as before. That’s the stuff that gives this new Regal its linear, powerful acceleration. And while you get maximum performance out of premium fuel, it’ll run just fine on regular 87-octane grade.
All of the AWD models exclusively use a six-speed automatic transmission, although as before, you can option a six-speed manual on the GS when it’s a front-wheel-drive version.
Armed with some good-quality winter tires—a very important factor in coping with nasty weather—I was able to take the GS not just through slushy roads, but on an ice course frozen into the ICAR circuit at Mirabel. All-wheel drive doesn’t stop you any faster or better, but it can help give you more traction when accelerating and cornering.
Impressive All-Wheel Drive
The Regal’s system is pretty impressive. There is always some power to all the wheels, and while it runs primarily in front-wheel when cruising, it splits the torque 50/50 front to rear on acceleration, which reduces torque steer and provides a more stable launch.
Up to 90 per cent of torque can be dedicated to the front or rear axle if necessary, which the system determines by continually monitoring information on the steering angle, speed, yaw, and other sensors. Rear torque is further split left to right via an electronic limited-slip differential.
On the dash, unique to the GS, you’ll find a Sport button, which tightens up the shocks and the AWD’s calibration, and one just marked “GS,” which buttons down the suspension even more, increases the steering weight, and adjusts the transmission’s performance.
The GS also includes a lowered ride height, air intakes in the front fascia, and front Brembo brakes.
That strong engine, proactive all-wheel system, and just-right size comes together into a vehicle that’s actually a decent sporty sedan, especially when you activate that “GS” button’s mode. But I see a major hurdle for this car, and it’s the three-shield Buick badge on its nose.
Although the company has brought in some younger owners, especially when it launched the Enclave SUV, Buick still plays primarily to some of the oldest buyers in the industry.
GM believes this car can tap into that sports-sedan niche where Audi, Acura, BMW and Lexus play, but I’m not seeing it. Those buyers may well cross-shop Cadillac, thanks to its recent resurgence with cars like the CTS and ATS, but Buick? That’s not really something that’s on their radar.
My car’s base sticker had been prepped with a few pricey options: $3,400 in electronic nannies (which included such items as blind spot and lane-change assist, adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, and a seat that vibrates the warnings), a $1,395 sunroof (!), $160 all-weather floor mats (!!), and 20-inch wheels, which initially come with summer performance tires.
While the car’s performance is exemplary, the interior, while handsome and well-fitted, just doesn’t look like it’s in a $50,000 vehicle. When it comes to that kind of cash, value perception is very important.
Ultimately, I think the GS AWD will remain a halo car, the one the critics rave about, but which few people actually buy. Instead, I think the real winner here is the regular Regal Turbo, which gives you that gutsy engine, proactive all-wheel system, and sharp handling, but without the tall price tag, and without the higher maintenance costs associated with the Brembo brakes, or with the optional summer-only tires.
And even though most of those buyers will probably want it for foul-weather traction, rather than fine-weather performance, this excellent all-wheel system is potentially poised to breathe new life into Buick’s midsize model.