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Buick unveils 2018 Regal Sportback

2018 Buick Regal Sportback.

GM will also sell a wagon version of the new Regal, named the TourX, in the U.S. but not in Canada

This is a story about the one that got away.

Few surprises were expected at the unveiling of the 2018 Buick Regal at the General Motors Technical Center. The world had recently been introduced to the Opel Insignia and the Holden Commodore, two corporate cousins that would dictate, almost entirely, what the new Regal would be.

Sure enough, when Duncan Aldred, vice-president of Global Buick and GMC, called for the Regal to be driven out on stage and parked in the spotlight on Tuesday, no one gasped. The car headed to North America, officially called the Buick Regal Sportback, bears a striking resemblance to the new Insignia.

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While the shape of the car was unsurprising, it's nevertheless a departure for Buick in that it adopts the "four-door coupe" body style that has gained traction with competitors such as the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and VW Passat CC.

The bigger surprise, the one that may well leave Canadians fumbling for answers, is that a wagon version of the new Regal will be sold in the United States (they hate wagons, don't they?), but not in Canada (we love wagons, don't we?).

There was no illusion as to which version was the star of the show: Once the Sportback was revealed, it was shuffled off to the shadows to make way for the 2018 Buick Regal TourX. Yes, wagon fanatics, Americans are getting a cool-looking wagon with rugged body cladding in the tradition of the Audi Allroad, Volvo V60 Cross Country and VW Golf Alltrack. Canadians are not.

A new Buick model called the TourX, aimed at Volvo and Subaru’s wagons, won’t be available in Canada.

"The growth in the Canadian market is clearly in SUVs," says Mike Speranzini, director of brand marketing for General Motors of Canada. "Instead of trying to be all things to all people, [this decision] is more about making the choices where there are the biggest opportunities for growth."

So it's all over but the crying when it comes to the Buick Regal TourX. But the version of the Regal that is coming to Canada later this year also looks like a winner.

The qualities begin with a new platform, shared with the Insignia and the Commodore, that is stiffer and stronger than the outgoing version. The body structure is also 91 kilograms lighter, which should lead to improved handling qualities and efficiency over all.

The exterior design features a long hood, giving this Buick a Saab-like quality. The hood is low as well, a design choice that was made possible by a new safety system. This system pops the back of the hood up 102 millimetres when it detects that a pedestrian is about to be struck. While this may seem an odd choice for an innovation, it's been proven to reduce injuries significantly. The wheels are pushed right to the corners and the wheelbase is longer than in the outgoing model.

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The other innovative design choice is the back seat, which features an available 40/40-split flat-folding arrangement. This set-up gives the hatchback crossover-like cargo capacity, and it could be part of the reason why Buick Canada deemed a wagon unnecessary for the Canadian market. With the seats folded down, the Regal Sportback provides 892 litres of space, more than twice that of the previous car.

"What we see [in the Sportback] is a really innovative package," says Speranzini. "One that has stunning breakthrough design and great driving dynamics."

The Regal Sportback will be available in two versions, either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, which features a new active twin-clutch differential. Both will be powered by the same turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder. The engine develops the same amount of power for both cars (250 horsepower), but the AWD version has been tuned to generate more torque. A nine-speed automatic transmission is used for the FWD version; an eight-speed automatic will put power to the ground for the AWD version.

The previous Buick Regal was a surprising ride, certainly more entertaining and more capable than one might expect. The replacement looks to be a significant improvement in terms of design, versatility and performance. Prices will be announced later.

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