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Posted: February 11, 2014

Executive wheels: Buick versus BMW

And the winner is ...

Jeff Rundles

2014 BUICK REGAL AWD

I’ve had many vehicles the past few weeks that probably wouldn’t be on most people’s shopping list together. I would argue that the potential buyers of the 2014 Buick Regal and the 2014 BMW 328i would be completely different people, and neither one would test-drive the other vehicle.

This has been Buick’s problem for a very long time, at least in the U.S. market. It has pretty much the oldest demographic of any auto brand name. If you pay attention to who drives what, like I do, it’s almost a given that the guy behind the wheel of a Buick is over 60.

That is too bad, because this Regal AWD is one great automobile, and it stacks up against the BMW 328i xDrive from a driving point of view as well or better than anything on the market. I’ll say it flat out: While I enjoyed the BMW, the Buick Regal was better, and given the $12,000 price premium on the BMW, the Buick gets even better.

Now, this isn’t to say that the BMW 328i xDrive isn’t a great car – it is. But that is not surprising; BMW makes wonderful automobiles. But this Buick Regal is awesome. Given the history and the reputation/perception of the two nameplates, the BMW will hold its value better in the secondary market, and that has to be weighed in a car-buying decision.

BMW 328i xDRIVE GRAN TURISMO

Yet on sheer driving pleasure, give me the Buick. Both vehicles feature a 2.0-liter turbo-charged, 4-cylindewr engine, with the Buick rated at 259 hp (with EPA rating of 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway) and the BMW rated at 240 hp (EPA 22/33), not much of a difference – until you get behind the wheel. The Buick Regal felt very powerful, it was very quick off the line and there was extra power to spare changing lanes on the highway.

The 328i felt underpowered, by contrast, which surprised me since my experience with BMW over a long time is that they usually perform over what is presented. In fact, I often don’t look at the price and specs of test-drive vehicles until after I have driven them, and I simply assumed that the Buick was a V6. They’ve done a great job here.

Both cars had AWD and I was able to really test the systems out given the amount of winter we’ve had around here this year. Both operated magnificently, with plenty of traction and – importantly – great braking on snow and ice. I love AWD sedans, and this Buick and BMW both offer safety and convenience that I wish everyone had out there in slippery conditions. And, I should add, both vehicles performed well on dry roads as if they were no AWD, so there was no apparent effect on the great handling.

These two vehicles were also both top-of-the-line for their respective packages – the BMW is called the Gran Turismo and the Buick is the Premium II Group -- and as such both were equipped with all of the technological extras that have become ubiquitous in today’s luxury cars. Power everything, heated seats – and heated steering wheels, which I love – satellite radio, HD radio, hands-free Bluetooth for phone, apps for music, rear-vision camera, navigation – all the stuff you’d expect and more.

The BMW is a solid car, and it handles as advertised as “the ultimate driving machine,” but I was disappointed by the power, as I said earlier. The feel, though, and the comfort were exceptional. What ultimately turned me off about the 328i here vis-a- vis the Buick Regal was the price. The base price on this model is $41,450, and they added on a bunch of packages.

There was the Cold Weather Pack, for $950, that had the heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, and retractable headlamp washers. Then the Driver Assistance Package, also $950, with the rear camera and park distance control. Add on the Dynamic Handling Package, for $10,000, with a quite nice Adaptive M suspension and Variable Sport steering. Also, the Lighting Package, for $900, with Xenon headlamps.

Then the Premium Pack, for $2,200, that included what they call “Comfort Access keyless entry, lumbar support, and the satellite radio (with one-year subscription). Then the Technology Package, for $3,150, that brought the navigation with touchpad, heads-up display, the BMW apps  and remote services and smartphone hookups. All very nice, but when you add in destination charges, the bottom line here is $52,575.

In the Buick Regal, you get pretty much a very similar-sized car, all of the same stuff, and the base price is $35,935. Here they have added on a Driver Confidence Package, for $890, which includes a sensor indicator for following distance, forward collision alert, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, and a blind side alert.

Also a Driver Confidence Package #2, for $1,695, that includes adaptive cruise control, and automatic collision preparation, and then they added $1,000 for a power sunroof. Add the dealer prep of $925 and the bottom line is $40,445. Plus – and I have to add this – this Buick Regal had, bar none, the best heater in any car ever – it heated up very quickly, more than any other car I have ever driven.

Essentially, these two vehicles were the same car – same size, same stuff, as nicely appointed, and the driving was quite similar. But the Buick was quicker and $12,000 less money. Both great cars, but the Buick comes out ahead.

RATING: BUICK REGAL AWD – FOUR WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)

RATING: BMW 328I xDRIVE – THREE WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

I drive the Buick LaCrosse AWD, and it is by far the best car I have ever owned. Admittedly I am over 60, but when I see younger people driving the similar Lexus model that they paid an additional $20,000 for (and probably had recalled), I have to agree that Buick is not getting their message out. Lord knows they try with the likes of Shaq and Manning, but it's not working apparently. I recall that someone--maybe Jeff Rundles--quibbled with the LaCrosse's power, but I can't imagine better pickup in a car of this weight than the 3.8 V6 delivers. I've had the car almost two years, and no one has kicked sand in my face. By Dave Lucia on 2014 02 13
Jeff, can you include a list of cars you also tested? I'm shocked to not see Lincoln or Tesla mentioned By Dan Plank on 2014 02 11
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