It’s well-known that Buick was on the chopping block during GM’s painful (but quick) 2009 bankruptcy. Buick had a history for years of building cars that old people loved; on one hand, old people tend to have enough money to buy new cars. On the other hand, they tend to die within a few years and not buy any new cars. Catering to old folks with oversized radios a simple technology is simply not a viable long-term strategy. So, Buick has the Regal, which is now refreshed for 2014 to add updated technology and to refine its design.
Buick’s sportiest offering – especially in GS trim – is the Regal. It’s also a very poor seller. You can pin the blame on a number of factors – it’s squeezed on the low end by the Verano and on the high end by the LaCrosse, it has quirky ergonomics, its sporty character and small back seat do not fit in with traditional Buick buyers…the list could go on. But Buick sold just 24,616 Regals during 2012; Acura sold more TSXs during that period despite having far fewer dealers.
Although the Regal has sales problems, it’s still a good car. Based very heavily on the Opel Insignia (and originally intended to become the second-generation Saturn Aura before Saturn’s closure), the Regal delivers excellent handling (particularly in GS guise) with a distinctly European feel. Its ergonomics were quirky (for instance, the 2013 Regal’s radio used to have 17 buttons) and it didn’t have the most-current technology. Also, aside from its grille, it didn’t really look all that much like other Buicks.
Both issues have now been addressed in the 2014 car. Higher-trim 2011-2013 Regals always had LED “wings” on the outer border of the headlamps; that look now proliferates across all levels, and has spread to other Buicks like the LaCrosse. Also, it’s repeated in the 2014 Regal’s taillamps. Since the Regal wasn’t designed as a Buick, it lacks the brand’s trademark “sweep spear” that Buicks featured starting in the 1950s, but it’s still clearly a Buick. The changes are clearly evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Inside, where the old Regal had an antiquated, small touchscreen and an almost-comical number of buttons on its center stack, the new car reduces the button count dramatically. Instead of 17 radio buttons, there are now just 7. Climate controls are capacitive touch-operated, and display the temperature setting right by the control. The touchscreen grows to a healthy 8 inches, and incorporates Buick’s second-generation IntelliLink interface. The new IntelliLink adds the ability to swipe lists up and down similar to a smartphone’s controls; we were unable to too impatient to wait for someone to demonstrate it to us, so we’re not sure how responsive it will be. However, its cousin, Cadillac’s CUE, offers a similar capability but suffers from an underpowered processor.
Seats are improved, as are interior materials. The overall design of the Regal’s interior is very much in line with the 2011-2013 car’s.The Regal’s standard gauge cluster has a 4.2 inch rectangular TFT infotainment display between the gauges, similar to what the Cadillac ATS has. However, optional (and standard on the GS) is a large 8 inch TFT display that replaces part of the physical gauge cluster, similar to the setup in the Cadillac XTS. Regals with the TFT gauge cluster have different graphic configurations; for instance, the GS can display either a traditional-looking speedometer or a digital-only display, depending on the driver’s preferences.
The turbo engine lineup has been consolidated to a single new engine. Where there had been two different 2.0 liter turbo offerings (220 horsepower in the Regal Turbo and 270 horsepower in the Regal GS), the next-generation 2.0T (sharing architecture with the 2.0T in the Cadillac ATS 2.0T and Chevrolet Malibu 2.0T) has improved refinement and reduced internal friction. Regal Turbo buyers will be pleased to note that the new 2.0T boosts horsepower to 259; Regal GS buyers, however, lose 11 horsepower. It’s our understanding that the torque curve of the old GS engine is not as “full” as the new engine’s, so there may be only a minimal reduction in performance.
Six-speed automatics carry over from the old Regal, but the manual transmission will no longer be available on the Regal Turbo, only with the Regal GS going forward. I doubt that Buick found very many buyers for manual-transmission Regal Turbos (that weren’t GS models).
Mechanically, the biggest news is the addition of Haldex all wheel drive in all models. The sophisticated system uses sensors that detect steering angle, wheel speed, etc. to tailor torque distribution between front and rear wheels for maximum traction. In fact, it is capable of sending up to 90 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels if needed. When the extra traction is not needed, the system sends only a minimal amount of torque to the rear wheels, which keeps noise down and efficiency up.
Finally, aside from the new displays and infotainment technology, Buick has added several new safety technologies to the Regal. Included among these optional technologies are forward collision alert, lane departure warning, lane change alert (which monitors 230 feet behind the car for a vehicle entering your path if you’re changing lanes), side blind zone alert, rear cross-traffic alert, following distance indicator, collision preparation (with collision mitigation braking), and full-range adaptive cruise control. The last one is a nice add for GM at long last; plus, a full-range system is much more handy than one that de-activates around 25-28 mph as many competing systems do.
The 2014 Regal goes on sale this fall. Pricing and fuel economy have not yet been announced.