2014 Buick Regal GS AWD: Conquering Winter's Worst

All-wheel drive - once the exclusive province of niche automakers - has spread through the industry like wildfire, showing up as an option on a wide range of sedans, hatchbacks, and crossovers, and becoming almost de rigueur for premium brands. It's now no longer enough to merely offer all-wheel drive on a luxury car, as buyers become more familiar with the differences between 'faux' wheel drive systems and those that offer both a performance and a traction advantage.

Enter the 2014 Buick Regal GS, redesigned for the current model year and looking to make its mark with sporty mid-size sedan customers. I had a chance to drive the Regal GS in the fall of 2013 through the winding roads of Kentucky, and while I was impressed with the four-door's handling, it wasn't possible to push its available all-wheel drive system to the limit. That opportunity was handed to me last week when I piloted the Buick Regal GS AWD on a journey through the back roads and ice bridges of north-western Quebec, ending up at the punishing ICAR winter driving facility in Mirabel.

Did He Say 'Ice Bridges?'

Yes, I did. You see, the shortest distance between two points is always a straight line, and while in the summer months geographical details like a body of water might interrupt the most efficient itinerary, winter's chill effectively solidifies the rivers and lakes that carve up Quebec's landscape. This means that enterprising individuals operate and maintain bridges across the frozen ice that separates communities clustered on the banks of mighty waterways like the Ottawa River, which I crossed twice behind the wheel of the 2014 Buick GS AWD.

The first bridge was a relatively organized affair, separated by pylons and rope, but the second was a wide-open expanse of ice delineated merely by low snow banks on either side - the perfect opportunity for open-throttle hoonage with the stability control system switched off and the wheel cranked in full opposite lock. The Regal GS was a reluctant partner in four-wheel drift, preferring instead to remain responsibly pointed straight ahead, but constant steering and accelerator inputs soon had the Buick engaged in an uneasy sideways dance along the length of the ice. The inky-black water stared up at me through its wind-polished depths with a disapproving eye.

Back To Reality

Ice bridges being a relatively rare occurrence in the daily lives of most drivers, the ICAR winter driving facility located just outside of Montreal in the suburb of Mirabel proved to be a more revealing test of the 2014 Buick Regal GS AWD's abilities. First, we were lead to a figure-eight skid pad where a slight dusting of snow concealed a chewed-up layer of solid ice that the sedan was perfectly capable of navigating in a controlled circle with traction control either on or off. Yes, the Regal GS AWD displayed some of the understeer one would expect from a front-wheel drive platform (the base version of the GS powers the forward wheels exclusively), but the car's steering was far from numb and offered enough feedback to inform my right foot as to how much pressure I needed to apply to keep the car sliding smoothly. Credit the Buick's electronically-controlled torque distribution, which has no nominal preferred split but instead constantly adjusts the amount of power flowing front and rear, and side-to-side.

From there it was on to a one-mile road course outlined by snowbanks and the occasional pylon, where the Buick Regal GS AWD's turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine finally had a chance to unleash the full fury of its 259 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Although all-wheel drive editions of the GS feature a six-speed automatic gearbox instead of the front-wheel version's available six-speed manual, the Buick was still a blast to slide through the track's slick corners. The Regal GS also features Sport and GS driving modes, which tighten up throttle response, steering speed, and suspension stiffness in order to present a more direct connection between driver and tarmac (or ice, as the case may be).

Finally, we put it all together on a timed autocross course that involved a long, sweeping hairpin corner that fed into a slalom and finished with a stop box that would only record our final time once we had brought the sedan to a complete halt. It was at this point that the car's traction control system - which had served as the 'no fun police' throughout much of the day's other activities - became an asset, allowing me to launch the car with authority despite the ice as well as stay relatively straight between the hairpin's twin apexes.

A Competent Winter Ride

The 2014 Buick Regal GS is a fun car at an affordable price, especially considering its premium rivals from Audi, BMW, and Lexus. It's also quite competent in slippery conditions, especially when outfitted with a good set of winter tires (we had the chance to try both 19-inch and 20-inch Pirelli Sottozeros, with the 19-inchers providing a clear traction advantage in the slush). Buick is long past playing catch-up, at least dynamically, with its premium rivals, and the Regal GS AWD demonstrates that it's near the front of the pack when dealing with the worst parts of winter driving.

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