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Ratings and Review: Delightfully unexpected, the 2018 Buick Regal Sportback thinks outside of the box

Buick makes just one traditional sedan, a full-size car called the LaCrosse. Otherwise, the company’s lineup is comprised of crossover SUVs, a 4-seat convertible, and a 5-door hatchback. The hatch is the new 2018 Buick Regal Sportback.

This is not a gamble. People simply aren’t buying cars anymore. And even when they were buying cars, they weren’t choosing the previous-generation Regal, which seemingly more often than not wound up sitting in a car rental lot near an airport.

Based on the Opel Insignia, that resurrected Regal looked good and, thanks to a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and Germanic dynamics, drove well. But people have long memories. And memories of Regals past did the car no favors.

Nevertheless, Buick is sticking with the Regal nameplate for this complete redesign. The new 2018 Regal continues as a rebadged version of the Opel Insignia, and it is even built in Germany. But in the U.S. market, a sedan is not a part of the mix. Instead, the Regal is available as a 5-door Sportback and as a station wagon-based TourX crossover with all-wheel drive, a slight suspension lift, and SUV styling cues.

Eager to sample the new Buick Regal (yeah, I wrote that), I requested a TourX for testing. It wasn’t available. But a Sportback in Essence trim was.

To its $32,695 base price, my test vehicle included extra cost Darkmoon Blue metallic paint, a Driver Confidence 1 option package, and a Sights and Sounds option package. These upgrades inflated the window sticker to $35,615 (including $925 for destination), which is about what you’d pay for a top-trim competitor in the midsize family car segment.

In a vehicle class where attempts at “style” often just wind up looking weird, the new Regal is a clean, conservative, and cohesive breath of fresh air. There isn’t much in the way of visual excitement here, but there also isn’t a wrong line or wonky proportion on this car, and that means it will age exceptionally well.

That goes for the upscale interior, too. My test vehicle’s Shale leather, dark striated gloss wood grain trim, polished metal and chrome accents, and black carpeting provided rich contrast, and the Regal’s dashboard and door panel tops are black in order to reduce reflections in the glass and maximize visibility on sunny days.

Hard plastic is used to panel the lower portions of the cabin, which is typical in this segment, and Buick has done a fine job with surface gloss and grain. No doubt, the tan color helped to hide any shine.

Build quality impressed, too, though two things stood out as candidates for improvement. First, the sound of the doors shutting should be solid thunk instead of a shudder. Second, it appears that Buick is back to installing turn signal levers that snap like a breaking chicken bone when used, which does not instill confidence in this oft-used control’s longevity.

Granted, I could stand to lose a few pounds. Even so, the Regal’s bottom front seat bolsters are rather snug. Each time I got into the car, I experienced minor discomfort until I acclimated to them. After that, however, they were fine, lacking only a ventilation option for hot days.

Helping to make up for this, the Regal nicely accommodates man-spreading. I tend to splay my legs when driving, my right leg resting against the center console of many vehicles I drive, and Buick has shaped this area for pleasant rather than painful contact.

Rear seat legroom was a problem in the previous Regal. Buick has solved it this time around, providing good space for legs and feet, softly padded front seatbacks, a supportive seat cushion, and rear air conditioning vents. Now, the Regal is equal to or better than most competitors in terms of rear seat comfort levels.

In most of its cars and SUVs, Buick has mastered the art of simplifying complexity when it comes to interior design. Commonly used controls within the Regal are easy to find and use, and operate in a familiar manner. Steering wheel controls are sensibly arranged, too.

Instrumentation is comprehensive; the gauges nestled within their own stylish binnacles and recalling the original Bill Mitchell-penned Riviera of the 1960s. They are, however, rather far apart, and the markings could be larger.

A driver information center and the IntelliLink infotainment system provide access to the car’s deeper settings and technologies. Most of the former you are likely to set and forget, while the latter are reasonably accessible thanks to an infotainment “Home” button that displays large menu icons upon the car’s dashboard touchscreen.

Previously, I mentioned how cheap and flimsy the turn signal stalk feels when used. It is worth repeating here, because it is a glaring flaw in a cabin that otherwise hits a home run in terms of design and quality.

One of the reasons that people have stopped buying sedans is because of their restrictive cargo spaces. You get a trunk, and the only way to expand the space is to fold the rear seat. That’s great for long and relatively slender items, but if you’ve got something big and bulky to carry, you are out of luck.

Enter the 2018 Buick Regal Sportback. Open its huge hatch by pushing on the rear Buick emblem and you’ll find 31.5 cubic-feet of cargo space behind the rear seat. The load floor isn’t totally flat, which is why the full-size suitcase in the photo above appears to be uneven. However, if you remove the cargo cover the Regal easily swallows a week’s worth of luggage for a family of four, plus a compact folding stroller, plus a few smaller duffles or backpacks.

If you need even more space, you can drop the middle section of the available 40/20/40-split folding rear seat to carry things like skis or lumber – all without kicking the kids out. Or, you can fold the entire rear seat to enjoy 60.7 cu.-ft. of maximum volume.

Unfortunately, Buick doesn’t supply quite as impressive an amount of storage within the cabin. Up front, you’ve got a mix-and-match approach with bins that double as cup holders, and while the glove box is a decent size the center console bin is small. Buick also missed an opportunity to turn the door panel grips into small trays for holding, say, the car’s key fob.

As a result of this dearth of storage space, I wound up using the door panel bins the majority of the time.

Buick includes a comprehensive infotainment package in every version of the Regal. A 7-inch touchscreen is standard, and it provides access to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, OnStar subscription services, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot connection.

My test car had the upgrade version of IntelliLink, equipping the Regal with an 8-inch touchscreen display, navigation, satellite radio, HD Radio, and an unimpressive 8-speaker Bose sound system. Wireless device charging is also available for the Regal.

Thanks to its handy volume knob, tuning buttons, “Home,” and “Back” buttons, the Regal’s system is a breeze to use. Large menu icons shown on the display make it easy to access the system’s various functions, and the navigation map is clear and colorful. The only hiccup I experienced relates to the voice recognition system, which misunderstood me when trying to program an address as a destination.

Buick also includes a Rear Seat Reminder system with the Regal. If you open a rear door before setting off on an errand, commute, or other journey, when you reach your destination a chime will sound to remind you that you may have placed something, or someone, in the back seat before the trip. This technology is designed to prevent parents and pet owners from accidentally leaving children or pets in the car.

Another standard technology for the Buick Regal is an IntelliLink program called Teen Driver.

If you’ve teenagers in the house and they’ll be using the Regal from time to time, you can program one of the car’s key fobs to the Teen Driver system and receive a driving report after vehicle use. You can determine specific vehicle limits, too, such as maximum speed and stereo volume level. Or, you can prevent deactivation of any of the driver assistance systems.

After a free 3-month trial period, you might want to subscribe to OnStar for its automatic crash response, emergency services, and roadside assistance functions.

Buick offers a full suite of driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies, but they’re optional upgrades contained in two different Driver Confidence option packages.

The first one costs $1,580 and adds a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, LED headlights with cornering lamps, and rear parking assist sensors along with a bunch of other stuff that has nothing to do with safety.

The second one runs an additional $1,090 and installs an adaptive cruise control system, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, forward automatic emergency braking, and a lane departure warning system with lane keeping assist. My test vehicle did not have this package, so I cannot comment on these systems’ effectiveness.

What I can tell you is that I didn’t miss the Driver Confidence 2 Package whatsoever, while the Driver Confidence 1 Package was useful every single time I drove the Regal.

Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) nor the federal government (NHTSA) had performed crash tests on the Regal as this review was written, so we’ve elected not to rate the car for overall safety at this time.

Buick equips the Regal Sportback with a standard turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. You can get a 3.6-liter V6, but only if you upgrade to the top-of-the-line GS trim level, which is a performance tuned version of the car priced from $39,995.

With front-wheel drive, the turbo four makes 250 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 260 lb.-ft. of torque between 2,000 rpm and 5,200 rpm. It employs a 9-speed automatic transmission and automatic engine stop/start technology.

If you opt for the Regal’s active twin-clutch all-wheel-drive system, the figures change. So equipped, the Sportback is making 250 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 295 lb.-ft. of torque from 3,000 rpm to 4,000 rpm. Buick uses an 8-speed automatic with the AWD system, too.

Though my front-drive test vehicle did not make as much torque as a Regal with AWD, the twist was spread across a much broader portion of the rev range, which is my preference. Still, if you live where it snows, or at elevation, it sure is nice to know that you can get a turbocharged AWD car with lots of cargo space and room for a family. And it’s not trying to be an SUV.

As a result of its broad power band, my front-drive test car accelerated smoothly and effortlessly after just a hint of lag at launch. Once underway, there was plenty of power to leverage holes in traffic, pass slower vehicles, and climb mountain grades, the turbocharged engine seemingly shrugging at such challenges.

Better yet, you’d never guess that the automatic is working with nine different speeds from which to choose. This is a terrific execution of a 9-speed automatic, and while Buick supplies neither a Sport driving mode nor paddle shifters on the steering wheel, they’re not necessary. In fact, the software is so good at its job that I didn’t find the manual shift gate to be a better solution on some of my favorite mountain roads.

The automatic engine start/stop system worked seamlessly, too. However, I must point out that the Regal got 24.1 mpg on my test loop, falling short of the EPA’s projected 26 mpg in combined driving.

Designed, engineered, and built in Germany, the Buick Regal is rewarding to drive.

In Essence trim, it’s not as taut as the stiffer Regal GS, but that’s only a bother when traveling across undulating pavement, where the turbocharged Sportback’s suspension allows a little more body movement than might be preferable. Handling is adept, too, but if you really hustle on a writhing road you’ll discern a bit of understeer due in part to the P245/45R18 Continental ProContact all-season rubber.

Nevertheless, the Regal is a willing dance partner if the mood strikes to have a little bit of fun, the car capable of carving corners with grace and precision thanks to its excellent brakes, responsive and accurate steering, and well-quelled body roll. It drives more like a Volkswagen than an Audi, lighter and looser but still effortlessly planted to the pavement, inspiring lots of driver confidence in its capabilities.

Road noise is unexpectedly high, especially given Buick’s “QuietTuning” efforts. However, I prefer to get some aural information about road texture while I’m driving, so this didn’t bother me.

Among midsize family cars, the new Buick Regal is one of my favorites. It looks great, it drives great, and it delivers all of the blizzard-beating capability and cargo-toting utility of an SUV wrapped in a rakish German-engineered car costume.

The only outstanding question here pertains to vehicle safety. How will the new Regal protect its occupants in a collision? Should the car excel in both NHTSA and IIHS testing, then I would absolutely recommend a Regal Sportback to any family of four.

Buick’s decision to make this car different from everything else in the class is a smart one, and the Regal is priced competitively against what is its most direct competitor, the Kia Stinger.

Still, the Kia Stinger is undeniably cool, in terms of its design, its image, and its name: “What do you drive?” “A Stinger!” “Cool!”

Meanwhile the Buick Regal is undeniably conservative, in terms of its design, its image, and its name: “What do you drive?” “A Buick Regal.” “Did your grandparents give it to you?”

Hey, don’t let the potential for trolling change your mind about this new 2018 Buick Regal Sportback. It’s a terrific car, and well worth your consideration. Just take the badges off, which is a process that Buick is actually planning to start next year.

STREET SMARTS: 8 GREAT TRAITS OF THE 2018 BUICK REGAL

FIRST DRIVE: 2018 BUICK REGAL TOURX REVIEW

FIRST DRIVE: 2018 BUICK REGAL GS REVIEW

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