Rating: 8.7
Bottom Line:
In its base form, the Regal is comfortable sport sedan at a reasonable price. However, the starting price of the GS makes it a competitor for the much sportier, rear-drive Cadillac ATS, which isn't good news for the Regal.
Pros:
  • Comfortable yet sporty
  • Powerful but fuel-efficient
  • Inviting interior
Cons:
  • Not as sporty as rear-drive competitors
  • Price on the rise
  • Rear seat is on the small side

Buyers in the market for a sport sedan must make a fundamental choice. They can opt for a car based on a front- or rear-wheel-drive platform. Those who choose a front-driver will most likely get a car that's not quite as sporty as the rear-drive options. Sure, all-wheel drive can help close the gap, but there's just no match for rear-drive dynamics.

Now General Motors is offering both. Buyers can go for the Cadillac ATS or CTS and drive a car with driving dynamics to meet or beat the best in the world, or they can choose a Buick Regal and get an agile, comfortable car that as yet can't match the fun-to-drive factor of its Cadillac siblings. Still, there's something to be said for comfort, and Buick is hoping a 2014 update will bring more buyers to the brand's lone sport sedan.

View Pictures:  2014 Buick Regal

Model lineup
The 2014 Buick Regal is offered in five trims: Leather (base), Premium 1, Premium 1 eAssist, Premium 2 and the sporty GS. The eAssist comes with front-wheel drive, while the others are offered with front- or all-wheel drive. The Leather base trim, priced at $30,615, comes with leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, OnStar assistance, heated front seats, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with satellite radio, auxiliary input jack, USB port, Bluetooth connectivity and P235/50VR18 tires on alloy wheel. The $32,485 Premium 1 trims add rear obstacle detection, keyless access and starting, universal garage door opener, remote starting, 120-volt power outlet and a heated steering wheel. The $34,685 Premium 2 gets a Bose sound system, bi-xenon headlights, rear side airbags and a navigation system.

The $37,830 GS boasts unique bodywork, Brembo brakes, 8-inch driver information center, P245/40R19 tires and Buick's Interactive Driver Control System with adjustable suspension.

Options include a navigation system, sunroof and two safety packages. The Driver Confidence 1 package has side blind-zone alert, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert and memory seats. Driver Confidence 2 adds automatic collision preparation and adaptive cruise control.

Under the hood
The Regal's engine lineup is shuffled for 2014. The base 2.4-liter 182-horsepower 4-cylinder engine is dropped, and the two 2.0-liter turbocharged fours are replaced by GM's new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cyliner. It makes a bit less power than the outgoing engine, but the power is easier to access. Ratings are 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The version in the top-line GS has a steeper torque curve that makes maximum torque available from 2500 to 4000 rpm; in the base version max torque is available from 3000 to 4000 rpm. The eAssist trim features the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. It produces 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque, and it is aided by an electric motor that can add 15 horsepower and 79 lb-ft of torque. The eAssist is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway.

All versions except the GS come with a 6-speed automatic transmission; the GS is also offered with a 6-speed manual. EPA fuel economy ratings for the GS are 20 mpg city/31 mpg highway with front drive and the manual transmission, 21/30 with front drive and the automatic, and 19/27 with all-wheel drive and the automatic. The others with the 2.0 are rated at 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway with front drive and 19/27 with all-wheel drive.

Inner space
The Regal represents the current state of Buick interiors. It's a rich environment with soft-touch surfaces on the dash and major touchpoints; the design is attractive and warm. Given the Regal's $30,000 to $40,000 price tag that's to be expected, but it's good to see Buick isn't skimping on interior quality.

The Regal also has the latest, simplified version of Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system. It features an 8-inch dashboard touch screen through which the driver controls the navigation, communications and entertainment functions. Large icons on the screen lead to submenus for each type of function, and drivers can move these around to make commonly used controls easier to find.

The system uses natural voice recognition, and it pairs with drivers' smartphones to provide access to apps such as Pandora and Stitcher internet radio. This new version has seven buttons below the screen where there were 17. Important home and back buttons are provided, as are radio, media and skip forward and back buttons. The system responds to tablet-type swipe and drag gestures, and it lets drivers program up to 60 favorites, including radio stations, phone numbers and navigation addresses.

Space in the Regal is good but not great. The driver's seat is comfortable and supportive, but it doesn't offer the bolstering of many of the better sport seats on the market. Front-seat passengers should have plenty of headroom and legroom, and two should fit in back quite well as long as nobody front or back is over 6 feet tall. Three kids will fit as well, but three adults will be too cramped.

The 60-40 split-folding rear seat expands on the trunk's 14.2 cubic feet of cargo space. That's about average for the class. The eAssist has only 11.1 cubic feet of cargo volume to make room for the rear-mounted lithium-ion battery, but that's still useful space.

On the road
The Regal is an Americanized version of the German Opel Insignia. The Epsilon II platform it uses has served under cars such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Saturn Aura, but here it has some suspension components to improve both ride and handling. MacPherson struts are standard up front, but all-wheel-drive variants and the GS have GM's HiPer Strut front suspension, which Buick says reduces torque steer, improves steering feel and better absorbs bumps. Similarly, all-wheel-drive variants and the GS get GM's H-arm rear suspension instead of the standard 4-link. Both are independent setups, but the H-arm does a better job of isolating road noise, and Buick says it also improves ride and handling.

While the Regal is a sport sedan, it is quite comfortable on the road. The ride is supple and controlled, and the car feels fairly agile through turns. The steering is fairly quick but the effort is light and it offers little road feel. While the base trim is pretty agile, it doesn't respond well when driven aggressively, leaning noticeably and pushing forward rather than rotating willingly when thrown hard into a turn.

The GS sits lower and adds Brembo front brakes with excellent stopping power. It also gets Buick's Interactive Driver Control System, which adjusts the shock settings, steering heft and shift feel. It has three modes: Tour, Sport and GS. Sport mode firms things up, giving the car quicker moves, and GS goes a bit further. While GS mode does make the ride busy over broken pavement, the ride is never harsh and the car doesn't become as sharp-edged as some rivals with similar buttons.

While the Regal GS is quite fun on the road, it's not a track star. We recently had the chance to drive the GS on a road course along with several other cars, including the Infiniti Q50 and Cadillac CTS. On the track, the GS leaned more in turns, took longer to gather its weight in switchbacks, and exhibited less overall control than the Infiniti and especially the Cadillac. That's likely because the Regal wasn't developed from the start as a sport sedan like the Cadillac ATS and CTS, and therefore it uses lower quality components and carries more weight.

The performance of the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, however, is in line with the Regal's rivals. It is smooth and refined and it has a nice exhaust burble. In the base trim it delivers linear, willing power, without torque steer or turbo lag. It launches the car from zero to 60 mph in a quick 6.5 seconds (6.7 seconds with AWD). The torque arrives a bit sooner in the GS, making the engine feel a bit more responsive and cutting the zero-to-60 time to 6.2 seconds.

The automatic transmission is well matched to the 2.0, delivering quick, smooth shifts. However, given the Regal's sporty aspirations, especially with the GS, Buick should add steering-wheel shift paddles. The available manual has a light, mechanical feel, but the engagement point is way at the end of each throw. The clutch is also light and easy to modulate.

Buick prices the eAssist model the same as a comparably equipped turbo. It is quite a bit slower than the turbo, accelerating from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, although it is smooth for a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine. The engine shuts off at stops and starts up quickly, and the motor engages seamlessly. Tuned for fuel economy, the eAssist system grabs the next gear early, which can cause engine lug in cruising situations. This can be remedied with a stab of the throttle to get the transmission to downshift. Given that the eAssist system doesn't offer the fuel economy advantage of more advanced hybrids, our choice would be the turbo.

Right for you?
Those in the market for a sport sedan will like the Regal's comfort, usable space, fuel economy and willing power. Available all-wheel drive adds all-weather security, and a reasonable starting price makes the Regal accessible to buyers graduating from a midsize family sedan. However, those who want track-ready dynamics or outrageous power should look elsewhere.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.