While expectations for luxury transportation have certainly changed over the years, modern cars being far more accommodating than even those with just a few thousand miles on the clock, the basic idea of luxurious motoring is still the same: getting where you need to go with style and comfort. However, when it comes to the comfort side of things, our expectations can certainly change with the seasons.
In the summer, on a warm day with smooth roads ahead, a rear-wheel-drive car with a drop top and lots of horsepower would be a lovely package. A Rolls Royce Phantom might top your list, or perhaps the Jaguar F-Type if you want something a bit sportier -- and a few tons lighter. However, when the temperatures drop and the weather gets a little more granular, those autos begin to lose their appeal.
Instead of wind in your hair now you want a heat beneath your posterior. Instead of the handling benefits of power to the rear wheels, the reassuring security of all-wheel drive begins to sound pretty nice.
It's these sorts of attributes, and more, that Buick recently called to light by inviting some media to Lime Rock Park, a classic race track in the hills of Connecticut that doesn't pack up when the snow starts coming down. The facility sports a pair of small handling loops paired with snow-making and -grooming equipment, making for a fun demonstration of winter agility.
As it turns out, we wouldn't need the snow guns. Mother Nature saw fit to sprinkle the surroundings with 4 or 5 fresh inches of natural stuff the morning of the event, turning my easy 90 minute jaunt down I-90 to Lakeville, Conn., into a 2.5-hour trek through treacherous roads, past no fewer than five tractor trailers wedged in multiple snowbanks on various hills.
I made the outgoing trip in a 2015 Buick Encore on its stock all-season tires, rubber that had neither the compound nor the tread to own the conditions. But the car handled just fine, as it did on the snowy courses the Lime Rock crew had prepared.
Deep snowbanks awaited those who slid too far off-line, and indeed a few drivers would need the help of a tow strap after lurching wide. I had no problem hustling the compact SUV around. The car uses a simple clutch-type center differential, with open diffs at either end, but it motored through even deeper snow with the traction control on. With the TC turned off (requiring a painfully long, 5-second press of a button) the Encore is a little more fun, but the stability control nannies still kick in when they think things are going really wrong. That, as it turns out, is just about when I was getting the thing sliding really right.
From there I hopped into a 259-horsepower turbocharged Buick Regal GS. It, too, is labeled as an AWD car, but the drivetrain setup is completely different, a Haldex center differential paired to an electronic limited-slip diff at the rear. This means it can not only manage wheel slip between the front and rear axles, but left to right as well, even sending up to 90 percent of power to the rear wheels when the situation allows.
On this day, in deep snow and ice, it was surely more of a 50-50 divide between front and rear, and the Regal proved to be more of a monster, attacking the corners and powering through. The Lime Rock course is too small to properly set up high-speed snowy drifts, but the Regal was reasonably well-balanced. While many AWD cars will simply plow forward when accelerating midturn in loose conditions, the Regal actually pivoted nicely.
Of course, this particular GS had something of an ace up its sleeve: a set of four Bridgestone Blizzak tires. The right rubber with the right sipes makes all the difference in the snow, but anyone who would think of ever driving for fun in these sorts of conditions would be wise to invest in something similar. Even given the quality of the boots, I was impressed at how well the Regal danced in the snow.
But of course, that isn't really the point. Your average Buick owner, indeed any conceivable Buick owner, is unlikely to take his or her 4,000-pound, $33,000 (and up) luxury sedan racing on the snow. This, then, was just a useful demonstration of the car's ability to inspire confidence in the worst conditions conceivably found on the road.
And, indeed, over the course of the next week, it would continue that trend. A further foot of fresh snow created no shortage of slick and slushy roads, which the Regal shrugged off. And then there are the heated seats, heated steering wheel and, perhaps most importantly, the remote start from your smartphone via OnStar RemoteLink. This means your car can be well and truly warmed up to greet you, even if you're coming out of a restaurant or movie theater.
The Regal is not a perfect car. The IntelliLink infotainment system is sluggish, its navigation system feels dated and the six-speed slushbox has all the sporting feel of a manatee. But, in February, when the temperature is hovering around freezing and the precipitation is coming down sideways, warm hands and a warm posterior go a long way toward delivering on the promise of luxurious motoring.