Author - John Kucek

Jaguar Gave, and Jaguar Hath Taken Away….

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In a rare bit of music to our ears, Jaguar just announced at the 2014 LA Auto Show that their gorgeous F-Type will come one step closer to claiming our hearts by adding a 6-speed manual transmission option to the 2016 spec sheets. Hallelujah! But wait just a minute....there's a trade off to be made. A few trade offs, actually. The first is pretty minor - the F-Type's previously hydraulic power steering rack is now electrically boosted instead. That news is hardly shocking; in fact, what's more shocking is that the 2015 F-Type still had hydraulic power steering in the first place. It now joins the ranks of other sports cars that have made the same move - the Corvette, Cayman, Boxster and 911 are all on that list. Nice company to be in, so we'll reserve judgment until we try it. Manual_S_Caldera_Red_05_LowRes That new 6-speed manual won't be available on every F-Type, either - just the V6, rear-wheel-drive models. Of course, those happen to be supercharged V6s pushing out either 340 or 380 horsepower and capable of running to 60 MPH in just 5.5 and 5.3 seconds, respectively, so we can forgive the lack of manual availability on the macho V8 "R" coupe and convertible models. Although, we'll admit an F-Type with 550 horsepower and a manual transmission would be pretty damn special. Here's hoping Jaguar changes their minds on limiting the manual's availability to the V6 at some point in the future. AWD_R_Storm_Grey_06_LowRes More troubling, though, is news of the F-Type's newly "available" all-wheel-drive. You see, while you can still have your V6-powered F-Type in rear-wheel drive guise, the rear-wheel drive V8 models have been done away with altogether. That means no more lurid, smoky, 550-horsepower F-Type R slides- though it will presumably be easier to put down the V8's prodigious power with the addition of front half-shafts. The move to AWD has, predictably, added some weight - roughly 150 pounds depending on model - though that small performance deficit will be easily clawed back by the ability to put the power down more effectively. Jaguar claims a 3.9-second 0-60 run for both F-Type R models, though even that figure is probably conservative by a few tenths. AWD_R_Storm_Grey_02_LowRes Luckily, the F Type remains as stunning as it ever was - Jaguar has left the styling alone. Time will tell if the rear-wheel drive V8 configuration makes an appearance on a future, hotted-up F Type model - we hope it does, and while we're at it, let's add in six-speed manual availability, too. Hey, we can dream, right? AWD_R_Glacier_White_01_LowRes

Driven: 2015 Dodge Charger SRT 392 & Hellcat

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Though my ownership punch card skews heavily in favor of the import, I’m a documented fan of the American car as a species. I owned and loved a 5-liter 2011 Mustang GT. I find the current Corvette to be an absolutely fantastic specimen (though the Camaro leaves me a little cold). And though it’s been only a short while, I can consider myself an honest Mopar fan thanks to the Hellcat – specifically, the Challenger Hellcat I spent some time with over the summer. And now the newest variant to receive the monster 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat powertrain – the 2015 Charger - looks set to bring my budding domestic love affair to a full boil. 2015 Dodge Charger SRT HellcatIf there’s one thing this car proves, perhaps in defiance of our hipster culture that suggests otherwise, it’s that it is actually possible for something to be both genuine and ironic. Witness the way the supercharged monster under the Charger Hellcat’s hood seems to flout convention – 707 horsepower? Why even attempt such a thing in a post-CAFE world? Dodge’s answer appears to be twofold: “because we could, and because we could do it well”. They’ve created a motor that can bully around an otherwise comfortable and composed 4,575-pound sedan in serious fashion, and then be dialed back down, dropped into 8th gear and left to plod home on the highway achieving mid-20 MPGs. I’m not sure there’s ever been a sedan so dichotomous of character – let alone at this price point, or by an American brand. 2015 Dodge Charger SRT HellcatWhat it adds up to is a pure riot for the driver – especially when the Charger is being flogged around a racetrack, which is precisely what I did during my time with the car. Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia was the venue, a small course with a long straightaway perfect for exploiting the Hellcat’s prodigious power, punctuated by rolling hills and switchbacks. As demonstrated during the Challenger drive event at Portland International Raceway, a closed course is the best, nay, the only place to truly exploit Hellcat’s capabilities. And just like its two door brother, the Charger doesn’t disappoint. The power is mind-bending; it’s hard to imagine ever becoming jaded about its potency. There’s been much said about the competence of the new breed of traditional torque-converter automatics, especially the 8-speeds associated with ZF. I won’t belabor the point, but suffice it to say, the Charger’s sole transmission (aforementioned 8-speed) is equally happy loafing around in Drive or performing full-throttle upshifts firm enough to jostle hairdos. [caption id="attachment_11125" align="aligncenter" width="600"]SAMSUNG CSC SRT 392[/caption] Thing is, the car that stole my heart wasn’t the Hellcat. It was the “tamer” of the two SRT Charger offerings, the 392. That car, with its 485-horsepower naturally-aspirated 6.4-liter HEMI, is certainly no slouch. But its acceleration doesn’t elicit fear in the hearts of men the way the Hellcat’s does…merely those of young children and the elderly. It’s simply “fast” whereas the Charger Hellcat is “stupid fast”. That much is noticeable on the track. But on the street, where we mere mortals play most of the time, the difference is academic – either is capable of adding points to your license in short order. And most of the SRT 392’s low-speed acceleration doesn’t dissipate so quickly into tire dust the way the Hellcat’s does. As a result, it feels nearly as fast – because it’s more usable, more of the time. [caption id="attachment_11128" align="aligncenter" width="600"]SAMSUNG CSC SRT 392[/caption] The rest of the SRT 392 package is just as impressive as the Hellcat. It’s got the same massive 15.4” front and 13.8” rear Brembo brakes capable of detaching retinas at full deceleration. Its sole transmission is still a capable, paddle-shifter-equipped 8-speed automatic. It even looks the same as the Hellcat, save for a couple of missing heat extractor vents in the hood and a couple of kitty badges on the fenders. Of course, you don’t have the pleasure of telling people you drive a Hellcat, but I have a feeling that disappointment would fade over time. 2015 Dodge Charger SRT HellcatAside from the addition of the Hellcat and enhanced powertrains across the rest of the range, the 2015 Charger has benefitted from an obvious facelift. That facelift is more than “face”-deep, however; the fascia’s been heavily revised and is more modern than the 2014’s throwback front end. Dodge is quick to point out that every body panel save the windows and roof has been re-sculpted, though the difference is tough to notice. What you might notice are the revised LED headlights and taillights. Minor interior touch-ups lift what was already a rationally laid-out, comfortable, and roomy place to spend time. 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (shown in Ruby Red Alcantara sued 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat (shown in Ruby Red Alcantara suedThe 2014 Charger didn’t need much in the way of changes. And the 2015 remains essentially what that car was: a modern interpretation of a classic American big-engined sedan. The new revisions bring it in line with what little direct competition the SRT Charger has – namely the Chevy SS – in terms of refinement and available equipment levels. But the SRT 392 and Hellcat models, frankly, bring the Charger into a different league - a pure arms race where bragging rights are measured against the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini. 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat   [gallery ids="11108,11114,11115,11116,11117,11118,11119,11120,11121,11128,11127,11126,11125,11124,11122,11113,11111,11110,11109,11112"] 2015 Dodge Charger SRT 392/Hellcat Base price – SRT 392: $47,385 Base price – SRT Hellcat: $63,995 Powertrain – SRT 392: 6.4-liter HEMI V8, 485 horsepower, 475 lb-ft torque, 8-speed automatic transmission Powertrain – SRT Hellcat: 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8, 707 horsepower, 650 lb-ft torque, 8-speed automatic transmission Dodge provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the manufacturer and author.

Driven: 2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail

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Perhaps unfathomable when the 4Runner first debuted on our shores was the idea that thirty years later, the same rough and tumble body-on-frame SUV could still exist in very similar fashion, even after all the competition had eventually morphed into soft-roading, sedan-based shadows of their former selves. We’re happy that the 4Runner still exists, and even if you’re not in the market for one, you should too. Read on to find out why.

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The 4Runner has been enjoying fantastic sales numbers so far in 2014, even at a time when the preponderance of car-based crossovers is at an all-time high. While it’s easy to speculate as to the cause, certainly some of it must be down to the fact that the 4Runner remains a good value proposition, especially when you factor running costs, reliability and resale value into the mix. But I doubt that’s all of it. There are probably buyers who would be better served by a more plebian car-based offering, even one within Toyota’s own portfolio, but are instead drawn to the 4Runner for its macho, go-anywhere cred. And who can blame them? It’s one of the few SUVs out there right now that can actually back up its looks with genuine off-road prowess.

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Witness our Trail model’s two-speed 4WD transfer case, featuring an honest-to-god low range. Coupled with standard CRAWL control (meaning hill speed control that can be used both up AND down hills), a locking rear differential and a Multi-Terrain Select system that electronically optimizes traction in various conditions, like Sand/Mud, Rocks, and Moguls – my personal favorite. The term “mogul” on the 4Runner’s headliner-mounted control panel apparently refers to wandering, uneven terrain like washed-out ditches and ruts, rather than successful film or recording execs – good to know. A unique, cut-away front fascia on the Trail allows for a greater approach angle than standard 4Runners (33 degrees compared to 30) and ground clearance is a brawny 9.6 inches.

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All of this kit, combined with our tester’s optional KDSS suspension (which allows for greater suspension articulation at rock-crawling speeds) makes the Trail a formidable force off-road. While it lacks the TRD Pro model’s (more on that later) knobby off-road tires, we’re guessing it’d take some pretty serious mud to sideline the Trail. An impromptu visit to a local vehicle-friendly beach allowed me to just barely scratch the surface of the Trail’s capabilities, thanks to some deep, washed-out ruts created by a heavy rain. They presented no challenge whatsoever, and while it would be nice to experience the Trail on some land that really allows its systems to be fully exploited, even our brief taste was enough to place us firmly in the believer camp.

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Still, we’d be remiss not to mention the 4Runner’s on-road demeanor, since that’s where about 99% (or 100% in many cases) of these trucks’ miles will be accumulated. The ride is soft and some body lean is noticeable in corners, though you’d expect that in a vehicle set up to do what the Trail can off-road. The KDSS suspension system actually allows for much thicker sway bars front and rear, which are decoupled off-road but keep body roll from being prohibitive on the street. It’s a trick system, and well worth the extra $1,750 for those planning to four-wheel their 4Runners. The only handling gripe came in the form of a grabby brake pedal that proved tough to modulate.

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This is a body-on-frame SUV, remember, so the durability of that setup also tends to impact the weight at the scales. As such, the 4.0-liter V6 and 5-speed automatic transmission have their work cut out for them to move the 4Runner around with gusto, but honestly, acceleration is good enough and in keeping with the truck’s mission. There’s plenty of torque on offer – enough to tow 4,700 pounds through the standard receiver hitch.

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The interior hews closely to the rugged off-roader image struck by the body; all mod cons are present and accounted for, but the layout is more like an FJ Cruiser’s than a Highlander’s. That’s a purposeful reminder made by Toyota to ensure buyers know what they’re getting into – this isn’t meant to be a “mall-rated” crossover. After all, you’d be hard pressed to find a version of the Highlander like the even harder-core 4Runner TRD Pro model. Starting with the Trail, the TRD Pro adds special TRD front springs and Bilstein shocks (the rears have remote reservoirs), knobbier Nitto off-road tires wrapped around unique black TRD 17” alloys, a front skid plate, a unique front grille and bumper accents, and an exclusive available paint option in the form of an orangey Inferno hue. Starting at $41,995, the TRD Pro is $2,490 dearer than an optionless Trail Premium model, but if the goal was to take my 4Runner ‘wheeling now and then (and if you’re considering a 4Runner, you’d be a fool not to), it’d be easy to spring for the stouter TRD Pro Series hardware and take the badder-ass looks as a free side benefit. I mean, just look at the thing. Marty McFly would certainly approve, especially in black.

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Besides the Wrangler and the now-defunct FJ Cruiser, the 4Runner represents a shrinking island in a sea of car-based SUVs - that of an attainable off-roader that will also comfortably seat four to five people and all of their gear. The 4Runner’s popularity as a result of this limited market is no surprise, but a warning to those whose itch this truck might scratch – act now, because SUVs of this ilk may not be around forever.

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2015 Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium 4x4

Base price: $39,505

Price as tested: $40,855

Options on test car:  Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System ($1,750), Sliding rear cargo floor ($350), 30th Anniversary discount (-$750)

Powertrain: 4.0-liter V6 engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, part time four-wheel-drive – 270 horsepower, 278 lb-ft torque

S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 18.2 mpg

Toyota provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2015 BMW X4

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In struggling to describe the X4 to the unfamiliar, I was often reminded of the fact that BMW’s full model lineup has now stretched to a staggering 97 unique drivetrain and body configurations. Obviously, the name of this automaker’s game is diversification. With a car for every buyer and therefore a butt for every well-contoured seat, the Bavarians stand somewhat alone in the marketplace at the moment - though other manufacturers are hustling to catch up. What’s most surprising isn’t the sheer level of choice at your local BMW lot – it’s the fact that the company still manages to make each one of them a decent steer. SAMSUNG CSC Take our xDrive35i for example. A “35i” suffix in BMW parlance indicates that a sonorous 3-liter straight six with a twin-scroll turbocharger hanging off the side is residing under the hood. Though the X4 is bulkier than its outright appearance would suggest – curb weight comes in at 4,260 pounds – the N55 engine still delivers a gratifying shove of acceleration when summoned. It also sounds quite nice doing so, with a burly growl that evokes the naturally-aspirated inline sixes of BMW’s past. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Part of that shove could be down to BMW’s notoriously underrated power outputs – our car felt far stronger than 300 horsepower toting two-plus tons has any right to – but credit also goes to the ingenious ZF 8-speed automatic transmission so prevalent among luxury autos these days. The 8-speed’s mechanicals are probably peerless, but surely some of the charm with this transmission comes down to BMW’s programming work, and it’s clear they’ve spent some time noodling with it. Gear changes are shuffled transparently in full auto mode, though a quick tug of a paddle shifter will spur whip-crack reaction speeds when desired. SAMSUNG CSC   SAMSUNG CSC The powertrain is just one part of a compelling package – the other key is the chassis. You wouldn’t expect a vehicle such as the X4 – whatever it might be – to handle well. Sure, it’s based on a car platform, and a good one at that. But it’s then jacked up to high altitude and given a heavier suit of sheetmetal to carry on its shoulders, which doesn’t typically do great things for handling. And yet the X4 still prospers, particularly when fitted with our car’s optional M Sport package ($1,900), Dynamic Damper Control ($1,000) and 20” M wheels ($950). Cornering attitudes are fairly flat, particularly so with the dampers in sport mode, and grip levels high. Ride comfort remains well-resolved. The brake pedal also loads naturally and offers decent feel. Steering feedback is predictably mute, but the rack does at least have a nice heft to it. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Technology and content levels were high on our admittedly loaded tester. Though nearly every car on the market now seems to offer an available backup camera and blind spot monitoring, BMW’s systems go a step further. As part of the Driver Assistance Plus package, wide-angle cameras front and rear offer crisp, HD-like levels of clarity, and combine to provide a birds-eye view in tight parking quarters. Blind spot monitoring is also included in the package, taken a step further by a lane departure warning system that provides a light pulsation through the steering wheel if you drift into another lane without signaling. It’s gentle but effective, providing the sensation of running over those grooved emergency lane markings. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC The technology onslaught continues elsewhere. BMW’s latest iDrive controller features touchpad scrawling capability for quick alphabetical inputs and is helpful for those with lengthy phone contact lists. The 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system’s option box was also ticked, and it provided crisp, powerful highs with decent bass and quick pairing via Bluetooth. The rest of the interior is attractively laid out and appears well-assembled, with no materials that felt anything less than satisfactory. BMW will also continue to draw compliments from long-legged drivers like myself for offering sport seats with extendable thigh bolstering. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC While its mega-hatchback looks and tough-to-nail-down classification will draw confusion from some and ire from others, BMW obviously had a hit on their hands with the X6. With BMW now hoping to replicate that success in a nimbler, more affordable and more efficient package, the X4 will probably continue to split opinion and woo those select few for whom it’s a perfect fit. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="11058,11064,11067,11075,11068,11066,11065,11063,11062,11069,11073,11059,11061,11060,11071,11070,11074,11072"]   2015 BMW X4 xDrive35i Base price: $48,950 Price as tested: $65,075 Options on test car:  Metallic paint ($550), M Sport package ($1,900), Dynamic Damper Control ($1,000), 20” M Wheels ($950), Driver Assistance package ($700), Driver Assistance Plus package ($1,900), Lighting package ($1,900), Premium package ($2,200), Technology package ($3,150), Heated front seats ($500), Harman Kardon sound system ($875), Enhanced BT & Smartphone Integration ($500) Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive – 300 horsepower, 300 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 21.7 mpg BMW provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2015 Chevy Suburban LTZ

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If early sales numbers are any indication, GM’s new line of large SUVs has already proven an absolute slam-dunk success for the manufacturer. Anecdotally, I see them absolutely everywhere, and the data supports this – deliveries in September alone for the entire range (Yukon, Tahoe, Escalade and Suburban) totaled nearly 19,000 units. That’s an almost 50% uptick from the same month last year, and a result not only of American shoppers’ apparently renewed confidence in buying large SUVs, but also the quality of the product being offered. Compared to the Escalade ESV I drove last month, the Suburban pictured here is nearly $25 grand cheaper, but no less impressive. SAMSUNG CSC Despite sharing a platform, the Escalade ESV and Suburban couldn’t be further apart in character. About the only traits they share are their cavernous interiors and a distinct ability to feel smaller than they are once on the move. But the Suburban is the friendlier proposition of the two. Where the Escalade shouts about its style, power and authority, the Suburban is understated – its looks don’t draw attention, and when they do, passersby are likely to conclude there’s a family man (or woman) behind the wheel. As preposterous as it sounds, I found the Suburban to be an ideal urban commuter vehicle. Hear me out… SAMSUNG CSC Despite its size, it’s actually quite easy to maneuver. Well-placed parking sensors and cameras make it a doddle to back into and out of spaces, as long as you’re possessed of a modicum of spatial awareness. The ride is serene and remains unfazed by craters or expansion joints, helped in large part by our tester’s 20” wheels rather than optional 22s. It’s also exceedingly quiet, comfortable, and easy to see out of. However, none of this shocked me. Really, the thing I was most surprised by was the efficiency of the thing. Seriously. SAMSUNG CSC Cylinder deactivation and a steady right foot helped eke out an 18.3 mpg average over my week with the ‘Burb, which was over mixed highway and city conditions. That’s damn impressive for a vehicle of this size, especially when you consider that the more or less identically-sized Escalade ESV only managed 15.5 mpg in the same conditions. Does that make the Escalade’s mileage a deal breaker? Probably not – to most drivers, the difference will equate to less than $100 a month – hardly a worry for the folks shopping these two. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC Most of the mileage disparity is down to the Suburban's smaller engine. The 5.3 V8, seen elsewhere across the “1500” series truck models in GM’s lineup, is 65 horsepower and 77 lb-ft shy of the 6.2 in the Escalade. You’d think that would make the Suburban seem sluggish in comparison, but it doesn’t. In fact, our 2WD LTZ got out of its own way just fine, and has enough grunt to happily pull an 8,000 pound trailer. It hasn’t got quite the same gusto as the Escalade when you trounce on the gas, but in day to day driving, you’re unlikely to notice a difference. SAMSUNG CSC Elsewhere, the 5.3 and 6-speed automatic transmission exhibit the same qualities that endeared me to this combo in the Silverado and Sierra 1500s. The cylinder deactivation feature, which cuts power to half the engine during light load situations, operates seamlessly. The only indication you get that you’re running on four-cylinder power is a green indicator on the dash that flips from “V8” to “V4”. The 6L80 HydraMatic shuffles between gears without hesitation, and never seems to get caught out. Manual changes are handled by a rocker switch on the column-mounted shifter, if you’re so inclined. SAMSUNG CSC As in the Escalade ESV, interior space is plentiful. Seven adults fit with both ease and comfort – something that cannot be said for most 3-row SUVs, and even some minivans. There are plenty of storage cubbies and thoughtful touches scattered about, including the filing-cabinet center console and 110V AC power outlets, both features lifted from the more workaday 1500 pickups. All the modern electronic safety and convenience options that could be reasonably expected at this price point are fitted here, including heated front and second row seats, cooled front seats, power-folding second and third row seats, two-row MyLink DVD displays, forward collision alert, blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning. While our loaded tester’s $66,395 sticker price certainly isn’t what you would call “cheap”, it does represent a significant value against many smaller import rivals. Now that those rivals can no longer ding the Suburban for truckish driving dynamics and abysmal fuel economy, they’re going to have to work a lot harder to make a case against the great American full-size SUV. SAMSUNG CSC [gallery ids="11031,11032,11033,11051,11050,11049,11048,11047,11046,11045,11044,11043,11037,11042,11036,11035,11041,11034,11040,11039,11038"]   2015 Chevy Suburban LTZ 2WD Base price: $62,695 Price as tested: $66,395 Options on test car:  Sun, Entertainment and Destination package ($3,305), Crystal Red metallic paint ($495), 20” chrome wheels ($400), package discount (-$500) Powertrain: 5.3-liter VVT V8 engine w/ cylinder deactivation, 6-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel-drive – 355 horsepower, 383 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 18.3 mpg Chevy provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

Driven: 2015 Buick Regal GS

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Having spent a bit of time in Europe, I recall the new Opel Insignia I rented once from an airport counter a few years back. That car was an “estate”, a body style we’re not fortunate enough to get here, for obvious sales reasons. Still, the brief encounter with that station wagon was a pleasant one, and a driving experience immediately drawn to mind during my week with the Insignia’s American stepsister, the Buick Regal. I don’t think I’m wrong in my belief that it’s the most European car GM sells in this country. SAMSUNG CSC Describing something as being or feeling “European” or “continental”, at least when used outside the context of manufacturing location, has always struck me as a bit marketing-y in the past. After all, how could something assembled in Canada, made from parts of predominantly North American origin, be European? Even the nameplate, Buick Regal, is about as ‘Murican as it gets in this day and age. But the Regal truly is European. It was designed by Opel, GM’s German subsidiary, for European drivers, their roads and their tastes. After deciding to introduce the car to Americans as the Regal, GM’s initial production run was pulled from German assembly lines. SAMSUNG CSC As a result, the Regal GS feels decidedly continental (there’s that word again) in its movements. The ride and handling balance displays such a well thought out level of compromise that the E39 5-series immediately springs to mind. Is that praise too bold for a front-wheel drive platform? I don’t think so. So many manufacturers these days, sometimes even German ones, fall victim to the consumer belief that a hard ride = sporty handling. The GS proves otherwise. The ride is unperturbed over nearly any road surface, the cabin remains quiet and rattle-free, and yet when you throw it into a corner, it doesn’t fall apart. Roll is kept nicely in check, and while our GS AWD model’s nearly 4,000 pounds keep it from feeling what you might call “playful”, it is nevertheless a competent chassis that is willing to be hustled if you demand. SAMSUNG CSC Similar things can be said about the powertrain. Refinement is the name of the game here – outright power junkies won’t be blown away by the 2.0-liter turbo’s 259 horsepower under full throttle, but part throttle openings are rewarded with a broad plateau of the four-cylinder’s 295 lb-ft of torque between 2,500 and 4,000 RPM, and more than 80% of that is available as low as 1,800 RPM. Unlike some blown fours, the 2-liter Ecotec’s power delivery is never lumpy, surgy, or any other descriptor that could be associated with the seven dwarves. The six-speed automatic fitted as standard to the AWD GS (a six-speed manual is available on FWD GSs) shifts smoothly and remains pretty much transparent in all conditions. Considering the curb weight and the all-wheel drive system, our 25.4 mpg observed average fuel economy was impressive, though some of that can be attributed to a highway-heavy test week. SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC The Regal, particularly in GS guise, strikes me as one of GM’s better styled offerings currently on the market. Sure, the Camaro and Corvette are flashier and more suggestive. Caddy’s offerings are also not without their well-proportioned charms, particularly the ATS – though there is a bit more glitziness to be found there. This Buick, meanwhile, is fairly toned down. GM did well by keeping chrome flair to a minimum, though some pieces can still be found on the hood and around the windows. Still, most of the exterior brightwork is of the matte aluminized type rather than polished chrome. I might even go a bit further with a color-matched monochromatic look, but even as it sits, the influence is obviously European. Oops - that word. Moving on…. SAMSUNG CSC Inside, the Regal has benefitted from some updates over the years to help it match new car buyer’s expectations from a technology standpoint. To that end, a broad touchscreen, touch-sensitive climate controls, a slew of radar- and camera-based safety features and additional ancillary steering wheel controls have been added. GM also saw fit to add class-exclusive 4G LTE capability and a Wi-Fi hotspot, in addition to a fully electronic center gauge panel with a multi-configurable display akin to the one found in the C7 Corvette. The Wi-Fi was a boon for my passenger during a long road trip, but less helpful was the gauge cluster’s tendency to go on the fritz from time to time, leaving me without a speedometer. I tried to use this as a get-out-of-jail-free card for potential speed tickets, but alas, no troopers took notice of the GS, despite its ability to cruise at extralegal speeds with ease. cq5dam.web.1280.1280 (3) cq5dam.web.1280.1280 (1) The Regal is an easy car to like. The GS even more so. It’s not an obvious choice within its field, probably for the reason that it’s tough to line up against a direct competitor. A Subaru WRX STI is similar money and brings more speed to the table, but it’s hard-edged and not as well-equipped. Plus, it sends the wrong message for corporate-ladder types. Audi’s upcoming S3 will offer boosted all-wheel-drive performance at a similar base price, but won’t be anywhere near as well-equipped as the Buick, and offers less space inside. The GS is better than the CLA250 I drove last week in just about every way, though few people will be cross-shopping the two. The Regal is an out-of-the-box thinker’s choice for sure; similar to the way a performance Saab or Volvo might have been a couple of decades ago. And it’s a better car for it. SAMSUNG CSC   [gallery ids="11024,11006,11023,11022,11021,11020,11019,11018,11017,11016,11015,11014,11013,11012,11011,11010,11009,11008,11007,11005"] 2015 Buick Regal GS AWD Base price: $40,585 Price as tested: $43,820 Options on test car:  Adaptive cruise control & automatic collision prevention ($1,195), Forward collision alert, blind zone assist, lane departure warning, memory package and rear cross-traffic alert ($1,040), Power sunroof ($1,000) Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive – 259 horsepower, 295 lb-ft torque S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 25.4 mpg Buick provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author (exterior) and manufacturer (interior).