Consumer Reports Gives Some Love to Buick’s Regal and Volvo’s S60

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“It’s long been known for vinyl roofs and wire wheels, and tough velour interiors,” Consumer Reports’ Tom Mutchler said, of the Buick (NYSE:GM) Regal. “But thanks to GM’s global product network, the Regal actually winds up being an Americanized bread and butter European family sedan.”

This makes the new Regal into a wholly different car than what Buick patrons are used to, Mutchler notes. The suspension is firmer, the steering is accurate and pleasantly heavy (“a good heft to it,” Mutchler says). And for a shade over $34,000 (for the Consumer Reports test mule), it’s quite a bargain too. The GS (pictured) offers bigger wheels and magnetic ride suspension. “It makes back roads fun,” Mutchler continued.

Freshened for 2014, the Regal builds on its solid foundations with a revised 2.0-liter turbo­charged four-cylinder engine that makes the car quicker and more fuel-­efficient,” the magazine said. “Also, all-wheel drive is now available, controls are improved, the infotainment system is upgraded, and the standard equipment list has become more lavish.”

The Regal, which in this case was equipped with the 259 horsepower, 2.0 liter turbo-four, has come a long way in terms of driving dynamics relative to the Buicks of old. That’s great news, and good for Buick, but it also puts the car in the running up along segment stalwarts like the the Audi A4, or another Consumer Reports favorite, the Volvo (VOLVY.PK) S60.

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The Buick is by no means a bad looking car. It’s simple and understated, and hardly flashy. But in terms of those factors, few companies perform understated elegance as well as Volvo does — its Scandinavian design is characterized by clean, crisp, and simple lines, and the latest S60 drives this point home with gusto.

According to Consumer Reports’ experience with the S60, the model — which came equipped with a $240 horsepower turbo-four — wasn’t the first pick if you’re looking for a sporty all-around sedan. Like the Buick, it offers a firm and responsive ride, is “secure and composed,” with power that is “generous and smooth, with a well-integrated turbo that makes the car very responsive and provides effort­­less power.” 

The new powertrain transforms the S60 into a much more enjoyable and compelling car,” the publication said. “Very comfortable seats highlight a well-finished interior. And a safety highlight is an automatic braking system that can help avoid low-speed crashes.”

Consumer Reports observed mileage of 25 miles per gallon, 1 mpg better than the Buick. However, they also found the Volvo’s ride to be overly firm, and the backseats were a bit cramped. As for the Buick, visibility was an issue — the pillars all the way around are quite thick, hampering the view outward. The rear seat, too, was also a point of contention.

In short, both cars have been greatly improved — that’s basically the conclusion that Consumer Reports reached. But in the bigger picture, the site made the point that both of these cars have what it takes to compete with some of the biggest names in the game — the Mercedes C Class for instance, or the Audi A4 mentioned earlier.

“The recently freshened Buick Regal and Volvo S60 are giving their sportier and more prestigious German competition a serious challenge—for less money,” it said. “If you still think of Buick as a brand only for octogenarians with a taste for whitewall tires and vinyl roof treatments, the Regal will change your mind in one test drive. It’s a thoroughly developed and satisfying midsized sports sedan that’s more reminiscent of an Audi A4 than a softly sprung luxo-barge.”

What it means is this: As tech is becoming cheaper, the soft-luxury categories and higher luxury categories are colliding. Coupled with the trend of high-luxury moving downstream, companies are finding that the entry-level luxury sweet spot is around $35,000-$40,000 dollars. But who knows that that will mean when Tesla comes to play in 2016 or 2017 with the Model 3.

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