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2018 Buick Regal Sportback: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Buick Regal Sportback, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Buick Regal Sportback Review

In response to a market in which passenger cars are losing ground to crossovers, Buick brings us its 2018 Buick Regal Sportback, straddling the gap between crossover and sedan. This isn’t an original concept; Audi, for example, recently released its 2018 A5 Sportback. It is, however, an aggressive move by this premium brand to maintain relevancy in the sedan segment by offering a 4-door car with hauling capacity rivaling a crossover.

With Cadillac positioning itself in the market as car candy for the well-heeled hipster, providing a quality-transportation experience within General Motors for successful families has fallen to Buick. It’s what Buick calls "attainable luxury." We’d add accessible luxury, as well. Clearly, it has assumed that mantle with enthusiasm.

The Regal Sportback is the first leg of a Regal 3-legged stool that also includes the Regal GS and Regal TourX wagon — both arriving a month or more after Sportback’s mid-to-late December availability.

We recently had our first turn behind the wheel of the new Sportback at its media coming-out event in Austin, Texas in mid-November. Sharing time with engineers, product planners and designers, as well as flogging the Sportback around the picturesque and engaging roads of Texas Hill Country, we were introduced to a vehicle that pretty well characterizes today’s Buick.

The Hatch

To save you some time wandering around your Buick dealer’s lot searching for the regular 2018 Regal 4-door sedan, it’s not there. Buick abandoned the traditional sedan for the Sportback. When the GS arrives, it’ll be as a Sportback. Aimed at active, outdoor lifestyles, the Regal TourX will be a wagon. That will be the sum total of the 2018 Regal lineup.

A couple of inches longer that the outgoing sedan, the Sportback also has a wider stance. Additionally, not as tall as the 2017 sedan, the Sportback gives the impression of being lower slung and more planted. An updated grille and shorter rear decklid bookend a number of styling changes blending into an overall sportier look.

The biggest styling news, though, is the sportback rear lift gate. Although in profile the Sportback takes the shape of a modern 4-door with a coupe-like roofline, it opens in the rear more like a hatchback than a coupe or sedan. The liftgate, however, is hinged farther up into the roof than a typical hatchback. The result is a cavernous, unimpeded opening leading to twice as much maximum cargo space (nearly 61 cu ft. total behind the first row) as the outgoing sedan. See the 2018 Buick Regal models for sale near you

Delivering the Goods

Offered in front-wheel and all-wheel drive, Sportback uses a 250-horsepower 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 260 lb-ft of torque for thrust. The AWD employs an 8-speed automatic transmission to turn all the wheels, while an all-new 9-speed automatic tranny switches the cogs for FWD models. We found the 2L had plenty of grunt for what it was called upon to deliver during our Hill Country exercise. Acceleration was brisk and effortless. Both transmissions deliver smooth shifts and are well suited to the engine.

Although we’re not fans of the start-stop systems of some carmakers, the one in the new Regal operates seamlessly. For all intents and purposes, there is no sense of the engine turning off when the car comes to a complete stop, or of it reengaging when the accelerator is tapped.

In its FWD guise, the Sportback achieves a government-estimated 22 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. Checking the AWD box drops predicted efficiency to 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.

The Roster

In Austin, we drove top-of-the-line Essence grades in FWD and AWD. Including the $925 destination fee, the opening price of the Essence is $33,590. Going for AWD adds another $1,050 to the bottom line. Price of entry to the Sportback is $26,840 for the base grade. This is about $2,000 less than the outgoing model. Next is Preferred at $29,515. Neither of these are available with AWD. Between Preferred and Essence is the $31,590 Preferred II trim with AWD, available at a cost of $950.

Loaded to the gills, the Essence models we drove featured both optional Driver Confidence Packages (one and two), as well as the Sights and Sounds Package with premium audio and navigation systems. When the dust settled, the Essence AWD we drove rang the register at $38,715.

Living Quarters

Buick prides itself on the whisper quiet of its passenger spaces. The cabin of the Regal Sportback is no exception. When one of the engineers pulled us over to a cutaway of one of the Sportback’s tires and began regaling us with his efforts to design a silent tire, we knew Buick was uber serious about noise. At cruising speeds, nothing much beyond a gentle hum from the tires seeps into the interior. Under spirited acceleration, a bit of engine growl forces its way into the cabin, as well. But that was music to our ears.

Spacious and comfy, the cabin is tastefully styled. Buick will need to employ a little less plastic in its interiors to take that last step into the ranks of luxury rides, but that’s about the only drawback. If you keep to the lower, more affordable trim levels, that probably won’t be an issue. Wonderfully supportive, the front seats are snug around their occupants.

To illustrate the spaciousness of the Sportback’s cargo hold with the 60/40 rear seat folded flat, Buick had us load a full-size bike into the back. It fit with plenty of room to spare, and without removing the front wheel.

Nerd Land

Techies should be stoked with the amount of technology available in the 2018 Regal Sportback. There just isn’t enough space here to share it all, but one bit of notable safety tech is the Active Safety Hood. Engineered to at least somewhat mitigate the impact of striking a pedestrian, this hood uses igniters similar to those in airbags to force the hood up at its hinges, so it slants forward and down. This creates a cushion of sorts, softening the blow.

Several USB ports, OnStar telematics and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot are standard in the base Regal. Opting for the Driver Confidence Package 1 adds goodies like LED cornering, self-leveling headlamps, wireless charging, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear park assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and lane-change alert, among other things.

The Driver Confidence Package 2 contains a range of safety and driver-assist items like adaptive cruise control, forward-collision alert, forward-automatic braking, lane-keep assist and front pedestrian braking.

The Wrap

We don’t think the 2018 Buick Regal Sportback just helps the brand remain relevant in the sedan segment, we believe it has created a 4-door that will give pause to shoppers thinking about moving from a car to a crossover. It’ll also excite crossover owners who are thinking about returning to the passenger-car fold. It’s that compelling. And just wait for the GS!

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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