Sport-utility vehicles continue to chip away at sales of traditional compact and midsize sedans, partly because they offer superior cargo space and a taller ride. This preference for greater utility led to a dramatic change for the redesigned 2018 Buick Regal Sportback: It's a hatchback.
2018 Buick Regal Sportback First Drive
Hatchback Design Challenges Buick Conventions
The design might look like a traditional sedan from the outside, albeit with a truncated rear decklid, but open the liftgate and you'll find a deep, square cargo hold measuring 31.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats. That more than doubles the available space provided by the outgoing Regal sedan's trunk and compares favorably to space offered by compact SUVs.
This stealth hatchback setup makes the Regal Sportback a unique proposition. Rivals from Audi and BMW are far more expensive, while everyday hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf and the Subaru Impreza are considerably smaller and don't look as sleek. Everything else in the midsize class has a standard trunk.
A revised rear end isn't the only noteworthy addition. The 2018 Buick Regal Sportback also boasts a new look inside and out, new safety features and revised powertrain options.
Head-Turning Design and a Practical Cabin
The new Sportback's low-profile grille and headlights, longer silhouette and stubby rear end help make it look more distinct and expressive compared to its handsome but anonymously styled predecessor. Standard equipment includes LED running lights and taillights, ensuring that every Regal Sportback is immediately distinguished from other midsize cars.
The interior is another high point. The horizontal dash is split into three partitions for the touchscreen, audio and climate controls. The physical buttons are arranged to flow across the dash, and the design feels more natural than the similarly priced Chevrolet Malibu. Materials quality is good for the class, with soft-touch plastics on the dash and the spot on the center console where your knee might hit. While the execution is mostly competent, there's a functional issue with the widespread use of chrome trim. In direct sunlight, the trim on the door panels, center console and steering wheel produce a ton of glare. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's worth noting for those living in sunny regions.
The cabin itself feels more spacious than before, even though interior measurements haven't changed much. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, though the driver's seat doesn't offer a wide range of adjustment. Even at 6-foot-4-inch, I was able to fit behind the driver's seat in my preferred seating position. Unfortunately, headroom is a little tight in the back for those long in the torso, and the seatback doesn't recline.
New Safety, Technology Features
With available blind-spot monitoring and warnings for lane departure and forward collision, the previous Regal could be outfitted with nearly every modern safety feature. Even so, the new Sportback has a few tricks up its sleeve. A lane keeping assist system is new, while pedestrian detection is available. If an accident with a pedestrian occurs between 16 mph and 30 mph, the rear of the hood raises up to 4 inches to reduce the impact.
Like with the previous Regal, these safety systems are bundled into two levels of Driver Confidence packages. New for 2018, the Driver Confidence I package is available on lower trim levels, so you don't have to upgrade to a more expensive model to add features such as rear proximity sensors and blind-spot monitoring.
On the tech front, a 7-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability is standard, while an 8-inch screen is available with navigation and other goodies. Every Regal Sportback also offers a Wi-Fi hotspot with a 4G LTE data connection, alongside GM's new Marketplace application, which allows users to order food, find gas stations, and make hotel reservations from supported partners. The service wasn't working perfectly on our test drive, but it appears to give users a surprising amount of control while the vehicle is in motion. Using the system requires some concentration, so we recommend doing so while stationary or having your passenger make inputs.
Including the destination fee, the base Regal Sportback costs $25,915. Its list of standard features includes 17-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, 60/40-split folding rear seats, a rearview camera, OnStar and a seven-speaker audio system. We think the base Regal is loaded with features at this price, but its limited selection of exterior colors (white, or silver for $395) and zero available add-ons limit its appeal.
The Preferred trim ($28,590) doesn't include much more — a power-adjustable driver seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a spare tire and a leather-wrapped steering wheel — but offers an expanded color palette and access to several features packages that are worth considering. The Preferred II ($30,665) is more substantial since it comes with 18-inch wheels, upgraded 8-inch touchscreen, dual-zone automatic climate control, 40/20/40-split folding rear seats, a heated steering wheel and a driver information screen. The Essence ($32,665) is the top of the four-cylinder Regal range. It includes leather upholstery, heated front seats and a power-adjustable passenger seat.
A V6 engine and all-wheel drive are standard on the range-topping GS ($39,990), as are 19-inch wheels, unique exterior styling, upgraded brakes, front and rear parking sensors, ventilated and massaging front seats, blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning.
The majority of Regal Sportbacks come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 250 horsepower. In front-wheel-drive models, the engine makes 260 pound-feet of torque and connects to a nine-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive models (optional on Preferred II and Essence trims) produce 295 lb-ft of torque and use an eight-speed automatic. These models also gain active and effective noise cancellation through the audio system. While the Regal Sportback is pretty quiet on its own (the tires even have a layer of foam to reduce road noise), the front-wheel-drive version we sampled was noticeably louder than the AWD model in a back-to-back comparison.
The four-cylinder engine is punchy around town, and you don't feel thrust petering out until you hit the gas pedal at highway speeds. Throttle response is natural at low speeds, but it takes heavy pedal application on the highway to force a downshift. There isn't a sport mode and the steering wheel lacks paddle shifters, so keeping the engine in a good rev range while hustling through corners requires using the manual shift gate.
The GS is the outlier of the group, with standard all-wheel drive and a 3.6-liter V6 engine producing 310 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque. It is also paired to a nine-speed automatic. Expect deliveries of the GS to commence in a few months; four-cylinder models should start to trickle into dealer inventories in the coming weeks.
The Bottom Line
It's hard not to like the 2018 Buick Regal Sportback. Not only is it value-rich and competitively priced, its hatchback-that-looks-like-a-sedan design is sure to appeal to a wide variety of buyers. We think the Regal Sportback's overall competence overshadows its handful of minor weaknesses. However, if you need even greater utility than the Sportback offers, look for the related Buick Regal TourX station wagon at your local dealer as well.