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2014 Buick Regal GS Test Drive

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    Buick

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    Buick

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    Buick

The Regal has been one of Buick's most iconic nameplates for the past four decades, but the latest one really stands out from the rest of the company’s lineup.

While Buick’s other cars focus mostly on delivering affordable luxury, the Regal is the brand’s sportiest and most import-style model by far – with tidy looks, a clean, businesslike interior and a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 259 hp and 296 lb-ft of torque.

A hybrid is available, but the vast majority of Regals sold will be turbos, including the top level Regal GS tested here. The GS stands for Gran Sport, and is another hallowed ditty from the automaker’s catalog, used to denote a model’s highest performance variant.

The GS is exactly that, fitted with a lowered suspension engineered to improve handling and electronically adjustable dampers that give the car a split personality.

Slight visual changes, including trapezoidal vents in the front fascia, matching exhaust pipe openings in the rear, a small spoiler and flashy 19-inch V-spoke wheels help set it apart.

The Regal is technically a midsize car, but just so: There are compacts that have more rear head and legroom. It’s a ’tweener, for sure.

But ribbed leather sport seats lend a cool ’70s vibe to the very functional cabin, and its chunky, flat-bottom steering wheel feels like a million bucks. It’s the magic of touch points; they help you ignore the fact that there’s a lot more hard plastic around you than is ideal for a car with a starting price of $40,195.

Spend a couple of extra bucks and you can add radar cruise control, a blind spot monitor, and a few other electronic driver aids. One unique feature is a readout in the configurable digital instrument cluster that tells you how many seconds there are between you and the car in front of you, so no more counting "One Mississippi, two Mississippi” to avoid tailgating.

For the first time, the GS is available with all-wheel-drive matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. If you want a manual, you’ll have to settle for the front-wheel-drive version, which really isn’t settling at all.

As with much of the Regal’s style, its power delivery is on the European side. Slam on the gas all you like, because it won’t hurt. Instead, the turbo gently, but quickly builds boost as it sends you on your way.

And very quietly. Hardly a whimper comes out of the exhaust pipes. Order it in black and you’ve got something of a stealth sport machine. But when it has a head of steam on it, the Regal GS is quick, eager and light on its feet.

There are two buttons on the top of the dash for Sport and GS modes, each of which increasingly stiffens the suspension, adds weight to the steering, sharpens throttle response and moves the automatic transmission to a more aggressive shift program.

In the twisties, GS is the one to press. It ties the car down nicely, eliminating all of the cushiness offered in Normal mode. You wouldn’t want to use it around town – it’s too rough – but on the right road, it’s just the thing for a spirited drive.

But not too spirited. Even though it’s equipped with all-wheel-drive, the GS operates as a front-wheel-drive car until it starts losing traction and needs to send power aft. In tight turns, at the limit, things can get a little squirrelly while it shuffles things around.

So feel free to skip the AWD if you live in a temperate climate, and revel instead in the joys of front-wheel burnouts while saving $2,365.

And if the roads near you tend to be straight and flat and otherwise boring, a run of-the-mill Regal at $30,165 might just be the ticket. Same style, same power, pure plush.

It could almost pass for a Buick.

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2014 Buick Regal GS AWD

Base Price: $40,195

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo

Power: 259 hp, 295 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 19 city, 27 hwy