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2014 BUICK REGAL GS AWD: One tough little beast

Regal stands up to abusive track test

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2014 Buick Regal GS AWD

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The 2014 Buick Regal's Haldex system is a robust front-wheel-drive biased AWD system.

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MIRABEL, Que.-- Let's just say that you own a brand-spanking-new Buick Regal, the full-zoot GS trim, so loaded with electronic paraphernalia that you keep looking for a Mercedes-Benz logo and a Teutonic accent to the navigation system.

Seriously, there are nearly as many bells and whistles on the (relatively) lowly GS, it could challenge the new S-Class for sophistication (or complication, depending on your view of on-board electronics).

But, let's say, just for the sake of argument, all these electronic aids are a safety nanny too far for you.

Indeed, let's get more specific and single out the lane departure warning and its vibrating steering wheel, etc. as particularly annoying (among the professional road testers I have queried, LDW is indeed the warning systems that flummoxes most). You could, as on most cars so equipped, simply toggle the LDW button off and proceed on your way un-annoyed.

But let's just say that either you're a lazy git and said LDW buttonry is so far up on the centre dash you don't feel like reaching for it, or -- and I'm guessing you'll figure out this is the more likely scenario -- you're at Montreal's I-CAR racing circuit and you could flog the poor little Buick around the racetrack until its electronic display starts blinking "lane departure warning temporarily unavailable."

Now, that's just silly, David, I hear you thinking. Here's you detailing yet another gratuitous mashing of throttle pedal with no discernible purpose, just another vain attempt to create another silly storyline to justify your penchant for automobile abuse.

That would, of course, be absolutely true, but if you'll give me just a minute, there's actually a point to this refrain, namely that Buick's Regal -- and, most certainly, its all-wheel-drive system -- is one robust, absolutely un-burstable little car.

Indeed, I'd say never in the history of press conferences has a Buick been flogged in such merciless fashion. In fact, I'll go further and say I have never abused any car like I did the Regal at Mirabel.

For some reason, General Motors of Canada was determined to show the AWD Buick as some form of ice-racing contender and let us have our way with the poor, unsuspecting Buick for lap after endless lap of seriously sideways skip-to-my-Louing.

So we oversteered around a skid pad, performed completely sideways figure eights after joining two skid pads together and then fishtailed uncontrollably around a seven-corner ice track, all the while with the throttle matted.

The poor little 2.0-litre engine was screaming, the steering wheel constantly flailing and the tires spinning so dramatically the air was filled with the acrid smell of burnt rubber. ON ICE!

Never in my 28 years of testing -- not Porsche 911'ing around Quebec's Mécaglisse racetrack or BMW'ing on a sheet-glass frozen lake or actually racing a studded Saab 9000 on a professional ice track long ago -- have I managed to get so much wheelspin that I actually burned rubber on ice.

We did this lap after lap until our shoulders were tired from counter-steering and there were no more snowbanks left to bash and the only thing the poor little abused Regal did was let us know we could no longer count on its lane departure warning system to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Indeed, I suspect there was nothing wrong with the lane departure system and we were only getting the flashing messages because someone back at OnStar headquarters had determined, via our crazed telemetry numbers, that we were driving in a decidedly un-Buick-like fashion and further mirth and merriment was to be strenuously discouraged.

Silly as the entire exercise was -- and, indeed, Buick would rather I be talking about its variable torque split centre differential as well as its rear electronically controlled limited slip differential here -- there is no question the Regal is one tough little beast.

Indeed, I will further claim the Regal's Haldex system is the most robust front-wheel-drive biased AWD system I have tested. I can't imagine any similar such system shrugging off this much abuse with nothing more than a "LDW temporarily unavailable" warning.

Unlike some of its competitors, you will not be burning out the Buick's all-wheel-drive system by "rocking" it out of a snowbank. And it's not because the engine isn't working the system. The GS's little four-banger may only displace 2.0 litres, but it's turbocharged (as much as 24 psi of boost!) and pumps out 259 horsepower, not to mention 295 pound-feet of torque.

Not only are both enough to seriously tax the drivetrain when given their head, but enough to spring the AWD GS to 100 kilometres an hour in about seven seconds.

It's also sufficiently sophisticated to compete against the likes of Acura's TSX and Volkswagen's CC, though there is a little more noise, vibration and harshness than Audi's A4 2.0T, which GM of Canada also lists as a competitor.

Nor was all this slaloming silliness totally gratuitous. Buick is determined to burnish its sporting bona fides, with the GS equipped with, as I mentioned, adjustable torque distribution and a limited slip rear diff as well as stiff suspension and adjustable steering effort.

The combination is mostly successful. Like most Haldex systems, the Regal's AWD system can alter the torque split between front and rear. However, it definitely feels like a front-biased system; it takes a serious mash of throttle to get the rear end to hang out.

That said, the GS's suspension calibration is seriously sporty and, while the steering can feel a little numb, it is responsive. The combination is sufficiently sporty for the segment and much more so than Buicks of the past. Give the Regal an A+ then for the robustness of its drivetrain and a solid B for its comportment.

It also gets high marks for its visual appeal. I won't bore you with my attempts at artistic criticism other than to say I find the new Regal -- especially with the GS's optional 20-inch wheels -- the best-looking car in its class.

And, yes that includes the Audis and BMWs of the segment.

It's just the right combination of fluidity and aggression that maintains some of Buick's traditional appeal while still appearing as sporty as its German competition. It's cute without being cutesy.

The Regal GS's interior is similarly upscale, loaded with leather and electronics like fully adjustable seats, an easily decipherable navigation system and a backup camera, not to mention all those aforementioned safety gizmos.

The biggest disappointment is that some of the materials, especially the front dashboard, are not of the new, soft-tough variety now common in premium compact sedans -- Audi's A4 comes to mind.

Which brings me to my only serious question regarding the new Regal GS.

While the basic Buick starts at $33,095 (for the FWD non-GS trim), by the time you fully option a GS AWD, you're in top-of-the-line A4 territory with an MSRP of over 50-large. And while the GS can easily justify that pricey MSRP on an equipment basis -- the options that elevate that price are some pretty impressive widgets such as cross-traffic alert, auto collision preparation and full-speed adaptive cruise control among others -- I'm not sure the Buick name has the gravitas to compete in this price range so soon.

The car is good enough; I'm just not sure the badge is there yet.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

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