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Auto blogThu, 27 Feb 2014 11:57:00 EST
"This is just silly," I said as I laughed my way sideways around the icy track at Circuit ICAR, a racecourse, drag strip and kart track at the Montreal-Mirabel International Airport in Quebec. It wasn't the activity that had me cracking up, though. After all, winter driving experiences aren't uncommon in this business.
No, in this particular case, it was the car that had me chuckling. I wasn't in a mad hot hatch or a rally-derived rocket - I was in a Buick. The 2014 Regal GS, to be more precise. Somehow, despite its recent product renaissance (not to mention its distant - yet storied - history of performance models), I was having a hard time believing that this attractive, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive sedan sliding around the Great White North could possibly be wearing a Tri-Shield badge on its nose.
But it was, and slide about it did. While having access to a vehicle in this setting is fairly rare, what's rarer is the fact that I've had so much exposure to it. In Mr. Ewing's recent Volkswagen Golf R drive story, for instance, his ice capades were his first experience with the new model. In my case, though, I was lucky enough to first test the refreshed Regal GS for a week back in December before flying to Quebec to drive it on the snowy, icy, winding roads of Canada's most fiercely independent province and on the track at Mirabel.
A few months ago I drove the 2014 Buick LaCrosse and wrote up a First Drive review of it. For all of my quibbles with that sedan (and I had a fair number), I understand that it speaks to the heart of what new Buick loyalists like in a car; it's roomy, has a cushy ride and is as placid as a summer's morning at highway speeds.
Those qualities, while undeniably desirable, don't mean a whole lot to me personally. I prefer sedans that conjure up words like "nimble," "punchy" or even "raucous" on occasion. So, directionally, the high-performance GS version of the 2014 Buick Regal is more my cup of tea than any other car in the company's current range.
In fact, I'd already come to know the Regal GS from its 2012 model year introduction, and grown more than a little fond of the sporting sedan in its original front-wheel-drive, six-speed-manual guise. The fast, sweet-handling car with well-sorted controls may have suffered from a slight identity crisis in terms of pricing (and may still), but it was undeniably fun to drive. So, when I heard that the GS was coming to market for 2014 with optional all-wheel drive (albeit only in combination with a six-speed automatic transmission), I was stoked to have another go and concentrated my driving impressions on the AWD car.
Let's get the most pressing bits of this story out of the way right off the bat: What we see here appears to be a new compact crossover from Buick. According to the spy photographer, this machine may be a little bit smaller on the outside than the current Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain 'utes, which makes sense since recent rumors suggest GM's small crossovers will migrate to a new platform that will mark a convergence between the automaker's Delta (Chevy Cruze, Buick Verano) and Theta (Equinox, Terrain) platforms. This Buick would likely use this new D2UX platform.
We've been expecting Buick to unleash a crossover to slot between the very small Encore and the very large Enclave, and various rumors have indicated that the model may be known as either the Anthem or Envision. It's worth mentioning that Buick had planned, back in 2009, to release a vehicle in the compact CUV market, but abandoned those plans after a particularly poor reception.
And now for something completely different... Take another look at the spy shots above, and pay special attention to the cylindrical device mounted to the vehicle's roof. We can't say for sure what it is, but our spy photographer opines that it looks quite a bit like the 360-degree Lidar camera equipment used by Google for its autonomous cars. Is General Motors working with Google on autonomous car technology? We don't know, but you can definitely consider us intrigued.