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Sedans

Buick's hottest sedan gets cheaper, adds CarPlay

A little luxury, a little sport, and a big price cut.

The Buick Regal is in a bit of a strange spot. It's marketed as a midsize luxury sedan, and in range-topping GS trim, it gains some sporting pretensions. In 2015, its $38,310 MSRP left the Regal priced well above roomier offerings (like the Honda Accord Sport) and barely below entry-level German luxury (like the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series). With such a small gap between the Buick and its Teutonic competition, many chose to spend the additional coin.

For the 2016 model year, Buick fixes that situation. The GS variant sees its MSRP drop nearly nine percent, from $38,310 to $34,990. (These figures don't include $925 for destination and handling.) Combined with Apple CarPlay connectivity and three new exterior colors, the Regal is a more attractive offer than ever before. It's pretty great to drive, as well.

(GM doesn't market Buick in the UK or Australia, although similar models are available under its Vauxhall nameplate in the UK. For comparison, the Regal GS' US price converts to just under £22,800 or about AU$47,500 at current exchange rates.)

The top-trim Regal GS comes standard with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, good for 259 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Power makes its way from motor to ground by way of a six-speed automatic transmission and an optional Haldex-type all-wheel-drive system (front-wheel drive is standard). Two-driven wheels elicit EPA-estimated fuel-economy figures of 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. AWD models are rated at 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway.

If technology is what you're after, the 2016 Regal has plenty of it. Standard equipment for all trims includes OnStar 4G LTE connectivity with a Wi-Fi hotspot (data is available on a subscription plan, but the car includes a three-month, 3GB free trial), and an eight-inch touchscreen running Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system with Apple CarPlay (Android Auto will arrive later in the model year). Buyers will also be able to spec out a veritable cornucopia of safety systems, including forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control, split between two different packages.

The Regal GS isn't just about creature-comfort technology, though. Adaptive suspension adjusts the dampers for either laid-back or spirited driving. It's stiffest in GS mode, which also ramps up steering effort and speeds up shifting to give the Regal a completely different feel when you hit the track.

A Buick? On the track? Yeah, you read that correctly.

2016 Buick Regal
A Buick? That's actually pretty fun on the track? Believe it or not, the Regal GS is exactly that. Andrew Krok/CNET

To prove that, Buick set up both track and autocross driving courses at a private test track. And, you know what? The Regal GS isn't a hardcore track-day model by any stretch of the imagination, but it's sporty enough to put a smile on any owner's face.

I tackled the autocross course first, a U-shaped linkage of tight chicanes, decreasing-radius sweepers and a couple of short straights. The stiffer GS setting surprisingly proved inappropriate here, lacking feel through the tight course. Touring (the default mode) allowed for better body control -- and more fun.

Despite sending some torque to the rear wheels, the GS's strong front bias meant that understeer was still a problem in the aforementioned decreasing-radius turns. There was never enough power on tap to get the rear end to rotate around, even with judicious throttle application and all the electronic nannies turned off. I kept the transmission in manual-shifting mode, because even with more sport-oriented programming in GS and Sport modes, the six-speed automatic had a tendency toward early shifts.

2016 Buick Regal GS
No cones were harmed in the making of this First Take. OK, maybe a few. Andrew Krok/CNET

If GS mode wasn't built for autocross, it was definitely designed with real track driving in mind. On a road course, the suspension tuning in GS mode was very welcome. From turn in to tracking out, the Regal GS stayed flat, feeling under control the whole way through. The tendency to push all but disappeared in the move from autocross to track, leaving the car feeling more balanced. I found it best to let the computer do the work when it came to moving through the gears. There just wasn't enough engine noise to allow me to shift without having to constantly peek at the tachometer, which is relegated to a small portion of the left side of the gauge cluster.

That lack of engine noise is a great representative for the problem that many half-luxury, half-sporty models face. It's an issue of where to draw the line. Too much exhaust noise, and luxury appeal is lost. Go too light on the experiential side, and the driving fun is sacrificed. A dual-mode exhaust would solve this, but it would also drive cost back up again.

Thus, the 2016 Regal remains in that weird spot, a car stuck in purgatory between the pure states of Jekyll and Hyde. I wasn't able to test the GS on the road, and my time spent experimenting with in-cabin tech was limited, but this feels like a car for similarly conflicted buyers looking for something fancy that's also not a total bore on the highway.

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