Just as the last-generation Buick Regal before it, the all-new 2018 Regal is based off the new Opel Insignia sold in Europe. With it came the promise of a more athletic, German-engineered passenger car that’s offered in an otherwise snoozy lineup of passenger cars, in a brand stereotyped for historically having snoozy passenger cars. A stereotype that’s being gradually shaken off. When it debuted, the last-gen Regal was nicknamed “the athlete” of the vehicle lineup. This was especially true with the Regal GS. The new version of the GS is expected to launch in a few months.
For now, we’ll talk about what it’s like to drive the standard 2018 Buick Regal Sportback, and it’s awesome liftback design. It’s a welcome quirk that is refreshing for the segment that seems to be stuck in neutral. As a result, it has more cargo space than the Buick Envision crossover, with the second row folded down. It can fit a bike (or two). Or a Christmas tree. Or a living room’s worth of IKEA furniture. It’s a hatchback without the typical profile of one, and a sign of evolution that the midsize passenger car segment needs if it’s going to survive in the new era of the crossover SUV. It’s arguably the strongest unique selling proposition for the 2018 Buick Regal.
Balancing out the cleverness of the liftback design, however, is the interior. The ergonomics are actually fine, and the overall design looks sexy in photos, the seats are nice, and the technology is plentiful, but there’s an overarching cheapness to most of the panel materials. We feel that this comes from the compromise of using a global car from a mainstream brand. Buick has made wonderful strides on making its vehicles feel more upscale, like in its glory days, when America was great. The larger LaCrosse and the serene Enclave SUV are both major proof points of this.This is amplified with the introduction of the Avenir Sub-brand. Their warm, welcoming color palettes, as well as their content for the price seemed to play beautifully into the space where Buick is planting its flag – upmarket from the mainstream brands, but below the high-end European luxury brands. This doesn’t come through as effectively with the Regal. The otherwise warm and welcoming vibes from Buick is replaced by a contradicting black and gray German color palette. If not that, there’s the “I-know-who-I-am-and-it’s-boring” beige. That’s basically it.
Then there’s the content. One cannot have a Regal with leather seats unless they go for the top-trim Essence Package. There’s also no Heads Up Display – which literally every car should have – and no surround-view camera system, or automatically tilting mirrors for reverse/parallel parking. But there is 40-20-40 optional rear seat folding, while the standard is 60-40. And we can now order Starbucks from the car via the integrated Marketplace app on either a 7 or 8-inch touchscreen, and OnStar 4G LTE wifi remains standard. But with a starting MSRP of $25,915 and a lack of leather until the top lineup, coupled with the otherwise budgeted interior materials, the cabin of the Regal felt more mainstream than premium. In our eyes, we wish the cabin carried more cues from the Enclave and less from Opel.
Same with the exterior. Yes, the Regal sports a very clean look. The profile is sleek, and its winged-style grille with a red-white-blue Buick logo glides across the highway elegantly. But between sharing the looks of its Opel/Vauxhall Insignia and Holden ZB Commodore twins, the Regal’s exterior compromises a certain American flair that we see in the flagship Buicks. Again, looking at the subtleties of the LaCrosse and Enclave.
The driving experience is confident through Texas Hill Country, just outside of Austin. The ubiquitous 250 hp 2.0L turbocharged LTG engine that’s in plenty of vehicles these days wonderfully whooshes and pleasantly pulls the 3,748-lb Sportback through the undulating roads that lay randomly noodled through the topography of brown grass and cattle farms. It could sound better, and pull harder from higher up in the rev range, but since that’s not normally what a Buick customer is looking for, we’ll give it a pass. Firm trail-brake maneuvers demonstrated the car’s above-average eagerness to stay balanced, while the Continental ProContact all-season tires maintained a sufficient level of grip. And here’s a fun fact, the tires feature a line of sound-deadening foam on the inside to curb road noise by two decibels. A tactic that Rolls-Royce also incorporates.
Despite the above-average athleticism, the feedback from the steering and the brakes were otherwise numb. We looked for a “Sport Mode” button to push, but there wasn’t one. In short, if you want a driving experience that’s a little more complete, sit patiently for the Regal GS.
Spending our time between the FWD and AWD versions of the 2018 Buick Regal Sportback, we noticed a few nuanced differences. One being that there’s an extra 35 lb-ft of torque (295 lb-ft from 260 lb-ft) for those opting for the AWD model, plus a five-link independent rear suspension. Between the extra traction and the pushing force, the Regal AWD, with an 8-speed, feels a little more eager from a standstill than the FWD version, with a 9-speed. Meanwhile, the 2018 Buick Regal FWD felt like it had the quicker steering, and the saved weight seemed to make up for the missing 35 lb-ft of extra torque granted to the heavier AWD model, especially around the bends, even though it had a four-link rear compared to the AWD’s five-link. Lastly, the 9-speed in the FWD Regal seemed to shift a little crisper than the slightly older 8-speed in the AWD model. Ultimately, there are benefits to selecting either configuration, and it will simply come down to customer preference.
The short end of it all is that the 2018 Regal Sportback is an otherwise great passenger car for the global stage, as it was developed as such. It’s a solid overall package, and its incredible cargo capabilities from its unique design should attract anybody with an active hobby, or rejects the profile of a wagon. It’s just missing some of that Buick charm that’s been shining lately.