By Jennifer Geiger
October 15, 2014
Editor's note: This review was written in March 2014 about the 2014 Buick Regal. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2015, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2014 Buick Regal has a just-right blend of a comfortable ride and lively acceleration that make up for its shortcomings in around-town maneuverability.
It's easy to be confused about Buick's sedan lineup; a strong family resemblance helps them blend into one another. The Regal is the middle child, competing for attention in a lineup anchored by the well-appointed LaCrosse at the large end and the perky Verano on the compact side. Can the smallish midsize Regal stand out with a clear identity of its own?
For 2014, the Regal got a light exterior and interior refresh, revised powertrains and available all-wheel drive. See the differences between the 2013 and 2014 models here. The Regal competes against other vehicles that straddle the compact and midsize sedan classes, including the Acura TSX, Audi A4 and Volvo S60. See them compared here.
Exterior Although the Regal's exterior style melds into its larger and smaller siblings, they're all handsome. The Regal wears Buick's large, classy waterfall grille flanked by upswept LED running lamps.
For 2014, the Regal is only lightly refreshed, with revised headlights, grille, bumper and air intakes in front. Changes to the rear include a tweaked LED taillamp design, trunk lid and bumper. The sport-oriented GS model distinguishes itself with a more aggressive front and rear bumper and larger standard wheels (19 inches, versus 18 inches on the base Regal).
How It Drives Quiet cabins are a Buick strong suit and the Regal is no exception, with excellent isolation from wind and road noise. The engine note, however, breaks the mold a bit. The turbocharged four-cylinder emits an unrefined, gravelly sound at idle. It's both unbecoming and unexpected in a near-luxury sedan. It's pretty quick from a stop, though, with only a bit of turbo lag. Still, I expected more immediate oomph from the turbocharged 259-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, especially because it's 18 percent more powerful than last year's turbo. I got it in the form of mid-range power, however, where it pours on the steam for easy passing and merging thanks to smooth and timely shifts from the six-speed automatic; a six-speed manual is available in the GS model.
I did not get to drive the optional engine: GM's eAssist mild hybrid, which carries over from last year and pairs a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with an electric motor that's powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Its fuel economy gains are modest, at 25/36/29 mpg city/highway/combined, but it props up the regular Regal's unimpressive numbers, which come in at 21/30/24 mpg with two-wheel drive. It falls behind the pack when compared with two-wheel-drive four-cylinder versions of competitors like the A4 (24/32/27 mpg) and TSX (22/31/26 mpg), but is matched by the S60 (21/30/24 mpg). Buick recommends premium fuel.
On the highway is where the Regal feels most at home; the combination of natural-feeling, communicative steering with a compliant, composed ride makes it a comfortable cruiser. Bumps are well damped, but cornering exposes some handling weaknesses. Body lean is noticeable, and the car doesn't stay very well buttoned-down in corners, especially sweeping highway off-ramps. Around-town maneuverability is another weakness. A fairly large turning circle made navigating city parking lots a chore. The Regal's turning circle is 38 feet, compared with the TSX's 36.6 and the S60's 37 feet.
Optional all-wheel drive is new this year, and it got a workout during our test period. The sedan doesn't look like it will be robust in the snow, but it didn't let me down after getting plowed into a parking spot on the street. I was able to climb over a pretty significant ridge of packed snow and ice to make my way out; many drivers on the same street were stuck. Fuel economy takes a hit, however; the all-wheel-drive Regal loses 2 mpg in combined fuel economy versus the two-wheel drive model.
Interior Buick calls the interior color palette I tested Cashmere, and though the cabin falls short of delivering the elegance that word conveys, it's still lovely. The design is classy and the materials have a quality look and feel; panels are well-fitted, and touch points are padded. The Regal's standard imitation wood trim isn't very convincing, but it's still appealing. The standard leather seats are wide and plush.
At roughly 190 inches long, the Regal is at the large end of the compact class and the short end of the midsize-sedan segment. Headroom and legroom up front are competitive, and I carried three small passengers in the backseat on a couple of short trips without complaint. Rear headroom measures 36.8 inches, which is slightly less than the A4 (37.5), TSX (37.0) and S60 (37.4). All of those sedans are several inches shorter in overall length. The Regal makes up for it with extra rear legroom, however, offering 37.3 inches of space back there — several more inches than the listed competitors.
Ergonomics & Electronics Buick swapped last year's crowded and cluttered control panel for a more streamlined design this year. The controls are well-organized and easy to understand and use — though some are easier than others. Just about every type of control you can think of is represented here: traditional knobs and buttons, as well as a touch-screen and touch-sensitive flat panels. The trusty first group worked well, but I had mixed experiences with the second set.
The IntelliLink multimedia system's touch-screen worked well for audio functions, with quick response time and logical menu structure. The navigation system, optional on base models and standard on higher trims, was slower to respond to touch inputs, but its menu structure was clear and it was easy to alter voice presets or cancel a route. The touch-sensitive flat panels that control the standard heated seats were annoyingly glitchy, and often required multiple stabs. On the flip side, using the standard Bluetooth streaming audio system was a breeze. I was able to pair my phone and launch Pandora in less than 30 seconds.
I have to give a shout-out here to some cold weather accessories that helped heat up my brutal winter weekend with the Regal. All-wheel drive got me out of a jam, and the available remote start system, the heated front seats and the optional heated steering wheel kept me warm while clawing through the snow and ice.
Cargo & Storage The center console is very small, but Buick makes up for that by peppering the cabin with lots of small and useful storage cubbies. The trunk is competitively sized, and its non-intrusive hinges don't steal any luggage space. With 14.2 cubic feet of space, it bests the A4 (12.4), the TSX (14) and the S60 (12).
Safety The 2014 Buick Regal performed well in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, with an overall score of five stars, as well as Insurance Institute for Highway Safety evaluations, where it earned the top score of good in all tests it underwent.
A backup camera is standard, and a host of new and optional safety features are available for 2014. The Driver Confidence I package is reasonably priced at $890 and includes forward collision alert, a blind spot monitoring system, lane change alert, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and a following distance indicator. Driver Confidence II ($1,695) adds full-speed adaptive cruise control and collision preparation, which can bring the vehicle to a stop. Both packages are available only on higher trims.
Value in Its Class Base two-wheel-drive versions of the Regal start at $30,615, and all-wheel drive kicks that up to $32,790; all prices include destination charges. On paper it looks pricey, but it checks in lower than its competitors (the A4, S60 and TSX). Because the Regal plays in the near-luxury class, it feels appropriately priced. It's easy to go overboard, however; my test model topped out at $40,445 with extras like those safety packages and a moonroof. That seems like a lot to pay for this small Buick, but if you're in the market for a near-luxury vehicle, the Regal deserves a look — there's more to like than dislike about Buick's middle sister.