Skip to main content

New Cars Review: 2018 Buick Regal is an attractive sportback with impressive all-wheel drive

ROAD TEST

An attractive sportback with impressive all-wheel drive

With the 2018 Buick Regal, maybe the Americans have figured out how to make a sexy hatchback after all

2018 Buick Regal sportback in Austin, Texas.

Sometimes, with a new car, it just takes one small thing to ruin the whole package. You have to feel sorry for the engineers who sweat the details of the transmission to make it great, or write the millions of lines of computer code to tweak its responses just so.

All that hard work, just to be ruined by a sun visor.

It's a little thing to be sure, but when you're on a test drive and the sun is beside you, beating through the window into your peripheral vision, and the visor doesn't include an extender, or pull out on its swivel bar (like in the Buick Enclave and practically every other vehicle on the market) – when it can't block the window to the B-pillar, well, that's a deal-breaker.

Story continues below advertisement

I mentioned this to Buick's national product manager down here in Texas and he looked glum. "It was a decision made by my predecessor," Mike Danowski said, "and it was too late for me to change it." Couldn't he just sign a work order and change the visor on tomorrow's production run? He looked even more glum. "Nothing ever happens quickly in the automotive business," he explained, "but I'd like to see it changed as soon as possible."

It took around four years to bring the new Buick Regal from concept to production, and it broke through plenty of barriers to make it onto these twisty roads in Texas hill country. Its shape, for a start. Buick calls it a " sportback" because the entire cargo door lifts from the back of the roof, including the rear window, to create considerably more luggage space. I folded down the 60/40-split rear seats and put a bicycle in the back with ease.

Just, whatever you do, don't call it a hatchback. "Consumer research says that's very negative. A hatchback technically is more vertical. It's an image of a box," Danowski said. "Yes, it's a hatch, but it looks like a sedan, so it's more sporty. It's a coupe-like sedan, so that's where we came up with 'sportback'."

In China, the new Regal will still be sold as a sedan with a traditional enclosed trunk, but not in North America. Americans like the practicality of a hatch but hate the term. In Europe, where the new Regal is assembled in Germany and sold with different powertrains and interiors as an Opel Insignia, they love hatchbacks. Vive la différence.

Buick calls the vehicle a ‘sportback’ because the entire cargo door lifts from the back of the roof, including the rear window, to create considerably more luggage space.

The sportback is an attractive shape, whatever you want to call it. It's coming available at Buick dealers now, starting at $31,845 for the Preferred II trim with front-wheel drive. I drove the better-equipped Essence here, which starts at $37,345 and is only available in Canada with all-wheel drive.

It's a very good AWD system, too. Buick put an AWD Regal on a set of rollers here, leaving only the left rear wheel on the ground, and it found traction and drove away; an Audi A5 was parked on the same setup and the car was stuck spinning its wheels. In fairness, you can pay extra for the Audi's sport differential that will do the trick to free it up, but the price difference will be huge.

"We didn't have to reinvent the wheel, but we did have to correctly identify what our customers want, and put together the system that would react as we want it to," said the Regal's lead engineer, Mike Mueller.

Story continues below advertisement

"The system is pretty cool in that you've got that twin clutch, and you can push power or torque to any of the four wheels you need to get it to."

Buick's presenters here were fond of terms like "game-changer" and "Buick finds the white space that nobody else is offering yet." In practice, though, the new Regal Essence is not an exciting car. It handles very well indeed, staying flat around corners and responsive at the wheel, but its 2.0-litre, 250 hp turbocharged engine is no more or less than what's needed for the job.

In AWD, the calibration is tweaked to provide extra torque, jumping to 295 lbs.-ft. from 260 in FWD, but there's no Sport setting for the drive mode. For that, you have to buy the GS version, which will arrive in a few months time and start at $43,845. The GS promises a much more stimulating drive, with digital instrumentation and the more powerful V6 engine from the Lacrosse.

Sadly, we won't be getting the Buick Regal TourX, which is a good-looking wagon version of the sportback that will be sold in the U.S. General Motors Canada thought the appeal would be just too small north of the border, though privately, some of the American staffers here thought that was another mistake. If there's enough demand, it could come to Canada next year.

The all-wheel drive is impressive and the car is fully connected.

Tech specs

  • Base price/as tested: $31,845 / $37,345
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: 9-speed automatic with front-wheel drive/8-speed automatic with all-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): FWD: 10.7 City, 7.4 Hwy; AWD: 11.0 City, 8.0 Hwy
  • Alternatives: Acura TLX, Audi A5, BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe, VW CC

Looks

Call it what you like, but the sportback style is both attractive and practical. Maybe the Americans have figured out how to make a sexy hatchback after all.

Interior

The analogue gauges, shiny chrome brightwork and relatively small display screens were lost on me. The car felt like the entry-level trim, though it was the higher-end Regal Essence model. The seats are comfortable, though, and there's space in the back for two six-foot adults to sit without bumping their heads or locking up their knees – impressive for a car with a sloped rear profile.

Story continues below advertisement

The seats are comfortable and there’s space in the back for two six-foot adults to sit without bumping their heads.

Performance

The chassis delivers very good handling, but the engine doesn't match up. Paddle shifters would be welcome for some quick downshifting, instead of jogging up and down with the standard lever, but they won't even be available with the sporty GS version. It was a trade-off for the heated steering wheel, apparently.

Technology

The all-wheel drive is impressive, and the car is fully connected, as you'd expect. In the U.S., GM offers "Marketplace", which lets you order at Starbucks from the screen and constantly delivers special offers from nearby merchants ("a free doughnut this morning with your coffee at Dunkin' Donuts!") but this isn't available in Canada yet. Thank God.

Cargo

Definitely a practical advantage over any sedan and much of the competition. There's 892 litres of space with the rear seats in place, and 1,719 litres when they're folded flat.

Verdict

7.0

A good car, not a great car.


Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.