2018 Buick Regal Sportback First Drive: A Few Surprises Up its Sleeve


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It feels like ages ago, but I first drove the Buick Regal in 2014 during our entry-level luxury sedan comparison. When the Regal showed up to join its three competitors, it looked like the least athletic of the bunch, hands down. Perhaps it was the bookish type keen on correcting everyone else’s grammar. Little did we know the humble Regal would earn second place in that comparison, just narrowly missing the top spot to the BMW 320i. We praised the Buick’s accurate steering, plush ride, well-equipped interior, quiet cabin, and even its drive experience on windy roads. In short, the Regal exceeded our expectations. So naturally my imagination went wild before driving the new 2018 Buick Regal Sportback.

Buick has completely revamped the Regal, down to its body style. No longer a sedan, the Regal has transformed into a hatch and a wagon, the second of which we’ll drive later. As a hatch, the new Regal Sportback boasts twice the amount of cargo capacity behind the split-folding second-row seats as its sedan predecessor, Buick says. On top of that, it receives a more modern design, mixing elements from a coupe and sedan. From the updated grille to the narrower headlights and taillights, raked roof, and shorter rear decklid, the model actually stands out in some crowds. The Regal Sportback is 2.7 inches longer than its predecessor and has a wheelbase that is 3.6 inches wider. If it looks lower and more planted, that’s because Buick reduced the car’s height by a little more than an inch.

Under the hood lies a familiar 2.0-liter turbo-four with 250 hp. In front-wheel-drive guise, the Regal makes 260 lb-ft of torque, and all-wheel-drive versions boast 295 lb-ft. It’s hard to find a situation where the Regal Sportback doesn’t have enough power. It gets up to speed quickly on the highway, and it produces a growl you wouldn’t expect from a Buick.

That said, the Regal hasn’t changed its core personality. It returns for the new year with a tan and a toned body, but it’s still that bookworm academic at heart. It’s a sedan that prioritizes driving comfort and value over raw performance, despite its new “Sportback” name. Its steering is light and effortless, though you can feel the size of the body while making your way through turns. The new nine-speed transmission, available on front-drive models, shifts smoothly so that you hardly notice it at all. It’s a small step up from the eight-speed transmission that comes with all-wheel-drive models, though these vehicles benefit from slightly better handling.

Just like the previous Regal, the new model keeps wind and road noise to a minimum. Although the ride is overall composed, it’s not a cruiser that will smooth out every road imperfection you encounter. You can feel even small bumps in the road.

One of my fondest memories of the old Regal was its interior. Not only were the seats comfortable, but the cabin also offered special extras such as touch climate controls. We appreciate the new button-free infotainment system, but generally the Regal’s cabin seems a little sterile now. Hard plastics mix with shiny woodlike accents, glossy aluminum trim, and an outdated-looking instrument cluster, hindering the car’s premium ambitions. Bottom line: there’s nothing really special about the cabin that makes buyers feel they are in for a treat when they sit in the front seat. Keep in mind we drove a top-level Essence model, which rang out to $37,665 when equipped with two different Driver Confidence packages. Not only do these bring together features such as adaptive cruise control, forward automatic braking, and lane keep assist with lane departure warning, but they also add other features including wireless charging, a power adjustable driver seat with memory settings, and other goodies.

Prices for the Regal Sportback start at $25,915, or $2,000 lower than the previous-generation model. For that money, you get standard features such as OnStar and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, keyless entry, a seven-speaker audio system, halogen composite headlights, LED daytime running lights, cloth upholstery, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen. Essence models add heated front seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, a heated steering wheel, and trifolding 40/20/40 rear seats. In comparison, the base Acura TLX starts off at a slightly higher price point as the Regal Sportback Essence and includes LED headlights and a suite of active safety tech but lacks a standard heated steering wheel and only has 60/40 folding rear seats.

The Regal Sportback gets GM Marketplace, a new feature that allows customers to order food and drinks at different restaurants on the go. The automaker intends for customers to use this new feature behind the wheel, raising concerns from at least one safety group about the possibilities of distracted driving. To get a better understanding of the feature, we tested it out for ourselves.

It seems pretty simple to use. Before using the feature in the car, drivers must set up the GM Marketplace app on their phones. Here, they can register their common orders that will appear as selections on the car’s touchscreen. While driving, users can choose an item from their list of preselected orders, as well as make a few other simple decisions such as whether to pick up their items inside the store or through the driveway. The whole process requires pushing buttons on the touchscreen, not typing in complicated orders that would no doubt leave drivers overwhelmed. Drivers can order from places such as Dunkin’ Donuts, TGI Fridays, and starting early next year, Starbucks.

The first Regal Sportbacks have just arrived, and it should take eight to 12 weeks to fill up dealer inventories, the automaker says. The Regal TourX wagon will come to dealerships soon, and the sportier GS hatchback will follow by the end of the first quarter of 2018. No Avenir version of the Regal is planned at this stage.

The new Regal Sportback didn’t exceed my expectations in the same way as the previous Regal. But given all the huge updates for the new generation, how could it? The Regal Sportback is a confident, comfortable, fun-to-drive car that offers some welcome surprises, but it’s not a sporty luxury offering. Just like the previous Regal didn’t quite fit in with the BMW 320i and Mercedes-Benz CLA during our 2014 comparison, the new Regal Sportback makes its own mark.

The Regal’s tall hatchback opening makes it particularly easy to load large items. With 60.7 cubic feet of space behind the first row, you can fit an entire bicycle without removing a wheel.

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