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2018 Buick Regal Sportback Test Drive Review
The Buick Regal returns for its sixth generation with two new, unconventional profiles: a “Sportback” fastback sedan and a TourX station wagon version.
Perhaps Buick’s most recognizable nameplate, the Regal has been a staple of the tri-shield’s stable for more than four decades. More than that, it’s been one of GM’s more successful attempts to attract new buyers to the brand, with the company claiming more than 40% of Regal buyers in the previous generation came from non-GM brands. For this new generation, Buick is trying something different with the Regal, offering fastback sedan and wagon variants, as well as a performance GS version that sees the Regal boasting V6 power for the first time in 13 years.
Look and Feel
The 2018 Regal offers several flavors not often seen on US shores—the wagon has been largely abandoned in favor of crossovers, while the fastback sedan is usually found in European rather than US models. Likewise, in an automotive environment that’s been favoring forced induction of late, the performance GS model has taken the naturally aspirated V6 that’s seen duty in the Camaro for its powerplant. Those are three quite distinct flavors for what has been considered a rather boring model in recent years.
The sixth-generation Regal shares a platform with the Chevrolet Malibu domestically and the Holden Commodore/Opel Insignia on foreign shores, continuing a relationship with the German car company that Buick has flirted with since the '70s. With a wheelbase stretched nearly 3 inches over the fifth generation, this new Regal boasts more room inside while still offering a reduction in weight and improvements to rigidity. Even better, with its fastback design, the Regal has an impressive 31.5 cubic feet of space in the trunk, which nearly doubles to 60.7 with the rear seats dropped.
The starting MSRP of $24,990 gets you a 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine good for 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque sent through a 9-speed automatic to the front wheels. The base 1SV trim can be had only in this configuration, but still offers some impressive features like LED running lights, heated power mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, automatic headlights, and a 4G LTE connection with Wi-Fi hotspot with the 7-inch touchscreen and 7-speaker stereo.
Upgrading to all-wheel drive (AWD) means torque jumps to 295 lb-ft and power gets handled by an 8-speed automatic transmission instead, but this also means you’ll have to move up to the Preferred trim, though you can spec a Regal in the Preferred trim while still keeping front-wheel drive (FWD) and the 9-speed transmission. The price here starts at $27,670, and for your extra cash you’ll get a power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and auto-dimming rear-view mirror. That doesn’t seem like a lot for the money, but it also opens you up to options packages unavailable on the 1SV. These include the Sights and Sounds package for an 8-inch touchscreen with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay plus navigation, a Bose stereo with HD Radio, and dual rear USBs. A Driver Confidence package upgrades safety with rear parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic, as well as 18-inch alloys and LED headlights. This is also the first level at which you can get the sunroof, which brightens the interior tremendously.
The Preferred II trim starts at $29,770 and adds the upgraded 8-inch touchscreen as standard, as well as dual-zone auto climate controls, unique 18-inch wheels, heat for the steering wheel, a 40/20/40 backseat setup, and an upgraded driver's info screen. Preferred II trims with AWD also gain active noise cancellation, while choosing the Driver Confidence package will also add wireless charging at this level.
The top-tier Essence trim’s $31,770 starting price garners heated front seats with leather upholstery and power for the passenger, as well as an added driver memory system when choosing the Driver Confidence package. The big change here, however, is that the Essence is the only trim where you can option the Driver Confidence II package, for adaptive cruise with forward-collision alert and auto emergency braking, as well as lane-departure warning and intervention.
My week with the Regal was spent in the GS trim, which comes with a large price increase and a starting MSRP of $39,065. For that bump you will enjoy a 3.6-liter V6 engine, an adaptive suspension with selectable drive modes, front Brembo brakes, 19-inch cast aluminum wheels, front and rear parking sensors, heated and ventilated sport seats with massage and power bolsters, and the usual visual upgrades for more aggressive front and rear fascias, side skirts, and a rear spoiler. My GS was also optioned up with both Driver Confidence packages ($1,690), the Sights and Sound package ($945), the sunroof ($1,000) and an appearance package ($485) that added wireless charging and automatic leveling and cornering LED headlights. With a $925 destination charge, the final price came to $44,110.
Most Regals are powered by a 2.0-liter Ecotec turbocharged engine in two distinct power profiles, depending on whether you’re going with FWD or AWD. While both have a more than adequate 250 hp, it’s the torque rating that varies quite a bit. FWD versions boast 260 lb-ft that appear between an impressive 2,000 and 5,000 rpm. With peak horsepower arriving just 200 rpm later, that presents a near-perfect linear profile that has power showing up almost immediately off idle and continuing essentially uninterruptedly through a 4,000-rpm range. AWD versions get a healthy torque boost, with 295 lb-ft showing up between 3,000 and 4,000 rpm, but this means you’ll have to wait longer for that peak torque to arrive once you step off the gas, and there’s a slight gap between when it drops off at 4,000 and when peak horsepower takes over 1,200 rpm later. The down and dirty here is that if you don’t need AWD, you’ll likely have a more pleasant driving experience with the FWD engine map.
Fuel economy places the Regal’s 2.0 in competitive if not range-topping territory, with EPA estimates of 22 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined. Given the 2.0’s performance, with stout acceleration bringing the vehicle to 60 mph in a little over 6 seconds—comparable to many current V6 options out there—this is an impressive presentation.
But a turbo four just wouldn’t do in the GS version, so GM has taken the same 3.6-liter LGX engine it dropped in the Camaro, CTS, and XT5 and employed it for an extra performance push here. Its 310 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque mean a sub-6-second sprint to 60 and a 14-second quarter mile. Paired with a 9-speed automatic that was developed in a partnership with Ford, the engine spools quickly and relishes living high up in the rev range. A lack of paddle shifters will perplex some, but that's an expense and complication that Buick has found its buyers simply don’t want, and the transmission seems to have no trouble keeping up with the wants and needs of engine and driver alike.
EPA estimates place this setup at 19 mpg city, 27 highway, 22 combined, but I was pleasantly surprised to find my averages hovering in the 24-25 range all week, and my time on the highway consistently bested 27 mpg, though I never made it all the way to 28. Keep in mind, these figures were attained while I made absolutely no attempt to save gas at all. This V6 is a fun, eager engine, and I leaned solidly on the accelerator whether driving away from a stop, passing on the highway, or pouring the GS through curvier canyon roads.
Some performance caveats do exist, however. While the chassis, steering, and suspension are wholly capable, especially with three driving modes (Default, Sport, and GS) that firm up the steering and suspension, the GS can’t deliver the type of engagement you’d expect from some of the more hard-charging European counterparts. In typically Buick fashion, it gets the job done while keeping things appropriately isolated. And disappointingly, the auto start/stop function cannot be defeated, which can get annoying in heavy traffic.
Form and Function
The Regal’s fastback design delivers a shocking amount of space—31.5 cubic feet in the trunk and 60.7 if you drop the rear seats—putting it in competitive territory with some hatchbacks and smaller crossovers. It even beats its own stablemate, the Buick Envision! Cargo space isn’t usually something I lead with, but numbers that impressive demand comment. Likewise, the extra room the Regal has gained in this generation has garnered extra comfort for passengers, especially in width. At 6’4”, I could actually get into the backseat on the driver’s side without moving the front seat forward at all, a feat I’m not usually able to accomplish. That said, with the fastback’s sharply angled roof, my hair was grazing the headliner in the backseat. Additionally, the fastback hatch may present a slight inconvenience to certain buyers, as the large lid can feel a little heavy for those with weak or worn-out shoulders.
Materials present a pleasant atmosphere, though upstarts in the industry have made some unexpected strides in that particular arena of late, meaning the Buick’s overall presentation comes off as simply average as opposed to upscale. Most impressive for me was the suspension tune, which seems to have hit the Buick sweet spot perfectly. If you’re looking for something truly sporty, you’ll likely be disappointed, but this also means that I kept the drive select in GS mode for the entire week and never felt as though the ride was too stiff or bouncy.
My main complaint here is with visibility, though this is not an issue exclusive to the Regal. The fastback design comes with its own drawbacks, and rear three-quarter views are certainly compromised, but it’s the front A-pillar and mirror mount that really bother me. Turning in the Regal, especially left turns, had me bobbing my head back and forth in an attempt to see around these obstacles, and that becomes a safety issue at a certain point. Again, I am not calling out Buick specifically here, as this is a trend that all manufacturers have been following in an attempt to keep up with increasingly stringent testing procedures, but in a luxury vehicle I’d like to see some investment in higher-strength materials in this critical area in order to keep the A-pillar smaller.
GM’s Intellilink system has been garnering praise for its style, simplicity, and performance, with quick button response and large icons that are easy to see while driving. Standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay give you options with regard to navigation without having to spend extra cash, but if you want satellite radio, you’ll have to pay for a package in the Preferred trim or bump up to the Preferred II and above. Likewise, the standard 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot increases versatility for passengers, but the myriad USB ports that are included in the higher trims tend to underperform when charging, offering too low an amperage to get the job done in a timely fashion. Indeed, if you’re running too many apps on your phone while plugged in, you might find yourself barely keeping up rather than gaining any juice. And as is usually the case with wireless charging tech, the port where you place your phone is simply too small for most of the phones carrying this feature.
Safety tech is ample, but as is often my complaint with advanced safety systems, the adaptive cruise, forward-collision alert with automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning and intervention that come with the Driver Confidence II package can only be had on the top-tier Essence and GS trims. The Driver Confidence I package, which adds LED headlights, rear parking sensors, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts, is thankfully available on nearly all trims, but the base 1SV is left out of the party here.
While neither the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have had time to test the 2018 Regal, the car upon which it is based—the Opel Insignia—has received a 5-star safety rating from the European New Car Assessment Program.
If all-out performance isn’t your primary point of pride, the Regal represents a great value in the field. Comparatively, you can save quite a bit over the competitor’s sportback options—around $3,500 versus an Audi A5 Sportback and around $6,500 against a BMW 430i xDrive Gran Coupe. With that in mind, I find the Regal more in line with options like the Acura TLX or the Lincoln MKZ, with the GS being the perfect counterpoint to the TLX A-Spec. At this point, it really comes down to style preference, and I believe a lot of people will fall victim to image and be willing to spend a bit more money to not have the Buick tri-shield staring back at them from the steering wheel. The sad fact is, with that decision they’ll be missing out on a pretty great car.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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