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.
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.
Seemingly Larger in Front, Actually Larger in Back
The new Regal is 2.7 inches longer than the outgoing model. It’s not much wider (just 0.2 inch), but from the plain-looking and remarkably supportive driver’s seat, where one faces a sweeping, horizontally oriented dashboard and where massive pockets carved into the lower doors visually open up space, it feels as wide as the bigger LaCrosse. And in the rear seat, where nearly two additional inches of hip room have appeared, one would swear it has expanded by a foot.
Ergonomically, the Regal has joined this decade, with its flush-mounted touchscreen infotainment system measuring 7.0 inches in lower-spec models, upgraded to 8.0 inches in the cars we drove. The app-like presentation of the various systems required little time to learn, and the presence of a physical volume knob, track up/down buttons, a back button, and a home-screen button were all used and appreciated. Unfortunately, while Buick’s fastidious “QuietTuning” efforts place insulation and padded materials in many places, several hard plastic surfaces remain, such as on the center console, lower door panels, and parts of the dashboard. Those are most evident, we found, with the all-black interior, where hard plastics tend to shine a little more than adjacent soft-touch materials; they are much better masked in the lighter Shale interior.
Calm, Quiet, Quick
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.
Steering is light but direct, and the all-wheel-drive model’s rear axle can produce a torque-vectoring effect, helping the car rotate in corners and minimizing understeer—at least in the dry. Turn-in could be crisper, but ultimate grip is impressive in both models: Push it a little in corners, and it sticks. Push it a little more, and it keeps sticking, with minimal, if any, protest from the 245/45R-18 Continental ProContact TX tires as they help the Regal hustle around corners at speeds one would never, ever attempt in Grandpa’s Lucerne. We were surprised by how unobtrusively the lane-keeping-assist system functioned when we clipped apexes. Another surprise was how reassuring and communicative the brakes felt. Seriously, they’re great.