2018 Buick Regal Sportback - The new Regal feels like a Buick again.
Flashback to 2009: Despite offering just two sleepy sedans and one three-row crossover, Buick survived General Motors' bankruptcy-related restructuring wherein the company euthanized nearly half of its brand portfolio. Buick was then charged with expanding into new segments to fill the chasm between Chevrolet and Cadillac products, an endeavor that occasionally prompts Buick to engage its global partners to achieve-including the 2011 Regal, a mid-size sedan based on the Opel Insignia. The Regal/Insignia was a lovely enough thing, if not exactly what Americans expected in a Buick, what with its taut European suspension, four-cylinder-only engine lineup, and small rear seat. It was remarkably fun to drive, especially in the turbocharged Regal Turbo and GS models that would come later, but they felt about as Buick-like as a BMX bike.
So when Buick revealed its redesigned 2018 Regal as-clutch chest-hatchback (Sportback) and high-riding wagon (TourX) models, with no sedan at all for the United States, we wondered if that meant that Buick had doubled down on the Regal's Europeanness or if, despite its Eurocentric body styles, the Regal would actually feel like a Buick this time. Now that we've gotten a taste of the new Regal Sportback, first in the form of an Opel Insignia and now in Buick livery, we can say that the new Regal Sportback is every inch a Buick-a Buick that has been to finishing school in Europe, yes, but still a proper Buick.
It sure looks like a Buick, all curvy and pretty and sleek but about as aggressive looking as a freshly groomed Weimaraner at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Yes, it's a hatchback, and its Sportback moniker ambitiously invites comparison to the sexy Audi A5 Sportback, but it's a hatchback styled to look like a sedan, and hence it will ruffle no feathers from traditionalists.
All Sportbacks (that aren't the goosed GS model, anyway) look more or less the same; the only visual differences between the $25,915 base model and the $32,655 Essence version involve the Essence's 18-inch machined wheels (versus 17-inch five-spokers) and standard fog lamps, both of which are included in the Preferred II option package ($2065) available on the $4065-less-costly Preferred trim level. The Regals we drove (including our silver photo car) were all Essence models equipped with the $1580 Driver Confidence package, which includes self-leveling LED headlamps as well as cornering lamps, plus many other things you can't see from the outside. Spending another $1950 for the all-wheel-drive version is also unannounced visually, save for a discreet AWD badge on the decklid.
Buick claims that the Regal has lost 188 pounds of mass, a believable assertion given that the new Regal feels surprising lithe in corners and is capable of accelerating with real vigor. Buick doesn't usually make acceleration claims, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect this car to come close to the outgoing Regal Turbo's mid-six-second zero-to-60-mph time. The 250-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four exhibits little turbo lag and has plenty of midrange grunt for passing, although we found it reluctant to rev unless the driver buries the accelerator and pushes through the pedal's kickdown switch. The all-wheel-drive model is tuned to deliver an additional 35 lb-ft of torque, which gives it a bit more authority during acceleration, although the front-driver's nine-speed automatic shifts a bit more crisply than the AWD model's eight-cog unit. With the Buick's lack of both a sport shift mode and paddle shifters, we found ourselves reaching for the shifter to manually select gears and keep the engine speed where we wanted it for our spirited hustle along the Texas Hill Country's wonderful roads.