AUSTIN, Texas — Buick is a brand on the move.
And its marketing team is working overtime to get the message out this isn’t your father’s Buick.
From the girl who gets in the wrong person’s car to the Super Bowl spot with Cam Newton, Buick likes to poke fun at its previous old-man reputation.
My dad has had a lot of Buicks over the years from the 1970s-era wood-paneled Estate Wagon and the sky-blue Skylark of the ’80s to the boat-like LeSabres of the ’90s. One of his last Buicks just happened to be a shiny black Regal.
So, I can say definitively, this is nothing like my dad’s Buicks.
Chockfull of technology, quietness and elegant design language, the all-new 2018 Buick Regal Sportback is certainly poised to target a younger demographic.
Buick’s place in the world isn’t straight-up luxury – that’s Cadillac’s place in GM’s lineup. It’s more in the realm of “near” luxury, battling the likes of Acura and Infiniti rather than the BMWs and Audis of the world.
In terms of design, Buick absolutely hits the mark. The long sleek lines are very reminiscent of the Audi A5 Sportback, which – at a base level – will cost $5,165 more than the top-tier all-in Regal Sportback AWD Essence.
The signature grille and bold headlights reflect elegance. If you didn’t see that Buick emblem, you’d be hard pressed to pick the brand out of a lineup.
The interior is just as neatly designed. It does have some signature General Motors characteristics on the center stack in terms of gauges and controls. But the Regal Sportback carries it off with panache.
However, I was less impressed with the grade of materials used. We were in top-tier Essence trims, and the leather seating surfaces felt like plastic. I was also unimpressed with the overall fit and finish. I’m hopeful that’s because these were pre-production vehicles, but if you’re looking at one in the dealers, be sure to take a close look at the stitched seams and the gaps between dash and A-pillars.
The Regal Sportback is more of a grand tourer than a sports car. That means it will be quiet and comfortable for the long haul.
It’s equipped with a nice and efficient 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 250 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque.
It provides smooth and quick acceleration, and the vehicle handled well in all but the most aggressive maneuvers.
With the front-wheel drive model, it should get 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. I averaged around 30 mpg during my short stints at the wheel.
The vehicle we were driving was an Essence FWD model – though all-wheel drive is available in both the Premier II and Essence trims – and it added the Sights and Sounds Package, Driver Convenience #1 Package and Driver Convenience #2 Package for an as-tested price of $36,270.
Base price for a front-wheel-drive Sportback 1SV will be $25,915.
It’s worth noting that the safety tech that wins vehicles Top Safety Pick + awards (think: forward automatic braking) is only found in the #2 package, which can only be added after the #1 package, which can only be added to the Essence trim.
A Toyota Corolla adds this as standard at a base trim. Just saying.
But why a Sportback instead of a regular sedan?
“Just bringing a traditional same old, same old sedan is not reflective of the market today,” said Chris Hay, product and pricing director at Buick.
With truck and SUV sales on the rise, Buick recognizes that people are looking for more versatility than a traditional sedan can provide.
The hatch on a Sportback provides more flexible cargo opportunities, and in fact, the Regal Sportback has 60.7 cubic-feet of cargo volume behind the first-row seats.
Buick visually demonstrated what that means by showing how a bike fits in the back of a Regal Sportback versus how it would fit in an Acura TLX. (Hint: It doesn’t fit in the latter). There also may have been a large inflatable unicorn involved.
On a regular day, with the rear seats in the upward position, the Sportback still gets 31.5 cubic-feet of cargo volume – which is basically double the amount of a traditional sedan.
The Sportback is currently on sale, and coming soon, you’ll see the Regal TourX (aka wagon) and Regal GS (which adds 60 horsepower via V-6 engine) on the market as well.
The Bottom Line
During its press briefing, Buick talked a lot about the base price of $26K. But this is the base Sportback model with cloth seats and very few amenities.
To get any of the cool safety tech, you have no choice but to go top-tier and add nearly $3K in options. So you won’t get out of the transaction without spending around $37K. Which is still a bit of a steal considering you can’t get all-wheel drive and some of the up-level features on a TLX unless you upgrade to the V-6 engine. So to add these features, you’ll spend at least $46,715. A lux-level Audi A5 that’s comparably equipped will be priced at $47,975.
While there are certainly some misses with the new Regal Sportback, it’s an overwhelming win for the brand. Beautifully designed and well-tuned for a quiet-but-sporting drive, the Regal Sportback has the price point and flexibility that will appeal to someone who wants something that looks nice, drives nice and won’t cost an arm and a leg.
Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Buick covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.