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Review: 2018 Buick Regal is a refresh across the board

road test

2018 Buick Regal is a refresh across the board

The Regal GS starts at $45,495 (Canadian).

Buick has replaced the four-door sedan form with a five-door Sportback hatch and a performance-oriented GS version

Buick has always gone about its business in a different way. It may be the oldest American brand at 114 years old, but it doesn't act like it with a long history of renegade moves, including the production of the first closed-body car in 1911, the creation of the industry's first concept car in the Y-Job in 1938 and the introduction of the American-only Cascada in 2015 – the first new convertible for the brand in 25 years.

Recently, however, Buick has had to tackle an old-age perception head-on through a revitalization of its product line starting with its SUVs in the Encore and Enclave, as well as its flagship LaCrosse sedan that have been shown off in several clever marketing campaigns.

"With Buick, it's always about finding its white space, doing things a little differently in our advertising and our position – we're a surprising brand," adds Duncan Aldred, vice-president of Global Buick and GMC.

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For 2018, it's the Buick Regal's turn, but in this case, an "out-of-the-box" approach was constructed. Gone is the Regal's entire four-door sedan form – that will carry-on only in China – to be replaced by a five-door Sportback hatch and a performance-oriented GS version. It should be noted that a third version in the TourX wagon will be offered in the United States and not Canada – a trend that's noteworthy, but hopefully just for the time being.

The most noticeable design difference between the two versions is the grille, with the GS getting a honeycomb mesh patterns as opposed to the Sportback’s vertical slats.

According to Aldred, Buick made the decision to pivot away from launching another sedan as a result of its diminishing sales that are being lost to CUVs and SUVs – the Regal hasn't hit 1,000 Canadian units sold in a single year since 2012. This change is most evident by the the discontinuation of its top-selling Verano sedan.

"In a tough segment like mid-car sedans, we had the opportunity to do a Sportback configuration," Aldred adds. "You don't just get the styling benefits, but the cargo and versatility benefits as well."

In order to get a feel for each Regal configuration, General Motors invited a host of journalists to its Milford Proving Grounds in Michigan for a few short loops around its testing area.

The biggest difference between the two versions are found under the hood with a turbocharged, 250-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine running the Sportback, while a 310-hp 3.6-litre V6 pumps up the energy level in the GS. Both are matched to a nine-speed automatic transmission; however the Sportback optional AWD gets an eight-speed unit with active twin-clutch differential that gives it a product-leading 295 lb-ft of torque.

A 310-hp 3.6-litre V6 pumps up the energy level in the GS.

In the GS, that power and its accompanied growl coming from its sports-tuned dual exhaust is immediately evident. As you take a seat in its GS-specific perforated performance seats and grip the heated flat-bottom steering wheel, the GS's acceleration doesn't simply shoot off; rather its power is delivered in a quick, but gradual manner. More of that gusto can be felt by moving up its three different drives modes: Normal, Sport or GS.

In the end, the Regal isn't about pure speed. Its most appealing attributes come down to its stable and quiet ride. Buick's QuietTuning is to be expected, but the effortless way that the GS eased over the bumps and cracks with minimal vibration and steering input left an impression. The sharp turns were few and far between, but the Regal showed off its chops with precision when the time came.

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A similar experience was felt in the Sportback, minus the ability to switch drive modes. The regular hatch doesn't possess the same pop as the GS and feels less planted on the road, but overall the ride stayed true in its direct handling and quiet sanctuary. And for a price that looks to hover around the $30,000 mark (only U.S. pricing was announced, starting at $25,915), the Sportback would appear to be the best bang for your buck with the GS starting price confirmed at $45,495 (Canadian).

Buick is billing the Regal as "attainable luxury," a value proposition that sits $10,000 under the likes of the BMW 4-Series and Audi A5 Sportback. The strategy makes sense, but as of now, Buick's status isn't at par with the German luxury trio and more in-line with the likes of Acura, Infiniti and Lexus.

With low sales in a fleeting mid-size sedan market, Buick's unorthodox style of dropping the sedan for the hatch may pay dividends in the end. With a total reboot of the Regal product, it will take time to see if Buick once again can be ahead of the curve.

TECH SPECS

  • Price: $25,915 (U.S.) for Sportback (starting from); $45,495 (Canadian) for GS
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged (Sportback); 3.6-litre V6 featuring direct injection, cylinder deactivation and stop/start technology (GS)
  • Transmission/drive: 9-speed automatic (Sportback FWD and GS); 8-speed automatic (Sportback AWD)/ front-wheel drive (standard in Sportback); all-wheel drive (optional in Sportback, standard in GS)
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): N/A
  • Alternatives: BMW 4-Series, Audi A5 Sportback, Acura TLX, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volvo S60.

The GS comes with unique perforated seats that look great and feel comfortable.

LOOKS

The Sportback and GS receive a sleek coupe-like design that exudes a sportier appeal, as well as a two-inch increase in length from the outgoing sedan model. There are many slight differences in design between the two, but the most noticeable is a different grille that sees the GS get a honeycomb mesh pattern as opposed to the Sportback's vertical slats. In addition, the GS sits on 19-inch wheels with Brembo brake calipers and has a rear deck-lid spoiler.

INTERIOR

A soft leather interior consumes the insides from the dash to its seats. The GS comes with unique perforated GS-Specific performance seats that not only look spectacular, but don't dig into your sides as the Recaros can. These special seats have an integrated headrest with heating, cooling and massaging functions.

PERFORMANCE

The sportier GS adds more of a punch through its 3.6-litre V6 that produces 310 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque. Interestingly, the optional intelligent all-wheel-drive (AWD) version of the Sportback has more torque at 295 lb-ft (260 in the front-wheel-drive) than the GS AWD at 282.

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Both the Sportback and GS provide a stable and quiet ride, but it doesn't match up to the power and excitement found in the big German three.

The GS packs more of a punch.

TECHNOLOGY

The Regal GS comes with a standard eight-inch touchscreen and eight-inch reconfigurable instrument cluster that's easy to understand and use, while the Sportback receives a seven-inch infotainment screen that can be optioned to an eight-inch version.

As in most General Motors products, all 2018 Regals come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, 4G LTE connectivity with WiFi hotspot (free for three months) and OnStar. In addition, there are several add-on safety technologies to choose from.

CARGO

The Regal gets a big jump in cargo space to 892 litres, more than twice as much as the outgoing Regal sedan. Naturally, the hatch lends itself to added trunk space, as well as a split-folding second row that increases cargo space to 1,719 litres.

THE VERDICT

8.0

The Buick Regal needed a change and its sleek-looking new hatch design appears to be worth the gamble.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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