2018 Buick Regal Sportback Essence (USA)

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In recent years, the Buick range has been populated by a mix of cars that owe their inspiration to America and those which started out life as a European Opel/Vauxhall model. Not surprisingly, the larger cars – the LaCrosse saloon and the Enclave crossover – come from the first category and the rest of the range, the second. First of these to be added to the range was the Regal, which looked very much like the Insignia saloon that is very familiar to Europeans. Plans to federalise it were well advanced, under the aegis of the Saturn brand, following on from the Astra when GM pulled the plug on the Saturn brand altogether. That meant a hasty rework to create a Buick, which was positioned as a Euro Sports Sedan, much to the bemusement of those who knew the car as it started out, where “sporting” was not a word that was very often uttered alongside the name Insignia, unless it was one of the fast, but rarely seen VXR models. Nonetheless, the Regal enjoyed moderate success in America, where the lashings of leather and the fact that it was not just an upscale Chevy enabled it to compete against cars like the VW CC, Volvo S60, and even the Mercedes CLA. The Mokka went through a Buick-ification process, to create the Encore, which has also found surprising favour, and then more recently, the Cascada arrived with little more than a Buick badge to distinguish it visually from the Vauxhall and Opel models that are slow sellers in Europe. With the replacement of the Insignia with a second generation model, it was no surprise that a new Regal followed it, even though by the time sales started, GM had sold their European business to the Peugeot-Citroen empire. This time, there is no saloon version, so Americans get the hatchback model, which they call the Sportback. And the estate model has made it Stateside, too, called the TourX, aimed at troubling the Audi A4 Allroad in the market. That the hatch also shares a name with what Buick sees as a rival Audi product shows the scale of their ambition. The first Regal models arrived in the Hertz fleet during Summer 2018, and having spotted the odd example parked up, I took one as the final rental car of my September 2018 trip to see what I thought of it.

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Visually, there is little to tell the Regal apart from an Insignia, and indeed they are both made on the same production lines, in Germany. A Buick badge features on the grille, an exact size match for the Opel or Vauxhall logos that appear in Europe. There are side reflectors down the edge of the front bumper, which we do not see in Europe, but otherwise, there’s not much difference at all. Inside, the same is true though in keeping with the sport/luxury positioning, there is an amount of leather inside, to make the customers realise why they paid rather more dollars for this car than the likes of a Ford Fusion or VW Passat. Leather tops the dash, and the door casings, as well as trimming the seats. There are some fake wood inlays, too, which had a particularly odd orange dash pattern in them. Truly this nasty plastic was as odd, and rather tacky looking, as the bizarre stuff I had seen in the top of the range Nissan Altima I had been driving the previous day. I was not entirely convinced by the fake stitching and there are some hard plastics in evidence as well. That apart, the dash layout is neat and relatively straightforward to assimilate, using a lot of componentry that you will see in other GM products on either side of the Atlantic. There is a chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel which proved pleasant to hold. It has a number of buttons incorporated on the spokes, which follow current GM thinking, and operate cruise control and audio repeater functions. The instrument cluster comprises two large dials for the speedometer and rev counter and two smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature, all of them the traditional analogue style as opposed to the digital or TFT type that are becoming increasingly common. There is a trip computer display area which is the same as you will find many of the Regal’s stablemates, with the various menus cycled through using buttons on the right hand steering wheel spoke. There are twin column stalks, again the same as you will find in other GM products of the moment. Lights operate from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The 8″ colour touchscreen for the infotainment system is neatly integrated into the centre of the dash. There are some buttons under this for common functions such as audio tuning. The system in the test car did have XM Satellite radio but it lacked navigation. Wi-Fi with 4G LTE internet is standard (for a limited trial) and connects up to seven devices. There are three USB plugs and wireless phone charging. Bluetooth pairing is easy and can be done via voice command. Sound quality from the 8 speaker audio unit was good. Beneath this setup on the dash are the knobs and buttons for the dual zone climate control. Whilst I appreciated the fact that there was noting overly fussy or complex here, making it easy to operate all the functions with minimal learning curve, buyers making expect something a little more special in a Buick than the sort of interior that, leather aside, is what you would find in a more prosaic Chevrolet Malibu or indeed a Vauxhall Astra.

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Adjustment of the front seats in the top spec Essence trim of the test car is all electric, with the seat moving in all the expected directions, 10 of them in all. Steering column adjustment is manual, with the wheel telescoping in/out as well as up/down. Despite the presence of a sun roof, there was ample headroom and I was comfortable when sitting behind the wheel. The seats were upholstered in leather, as befits a car with luxury ambitions and the proved comfortable when sitting on them for a couple of hours at a time.

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This generation of Regal has a 3″ longer wheelbase than its predecessor, and you will notice the difference when you look at rear seat space. Unlike the old Regal, this is a roomy car and there is plenty of legroom even if the front seats are set well back, though there is a noticeable central tunnel and the centre console unit is large and does extend quite a way back. The car is wide enough that three adults should fit quite easily across the seat without feeling unduly cramped. It’s not quite such a good story with headroom, though it is better than the previous model, which I found to be too tight. In this one, my head did just clear the rooflining and it was not jammed against the top of the rear window like it was in its predecessor. There is a drop down armrest with cup holders in the upper surface. There are map pockets on the back of the front seats and pockets on the doors and occupants here also benefit from a pair of air vents and 2 USB ports.

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There is no remote release for the boot either on the key fob or inside the car, but you can open it by pushing the boot badge in. The tailgate is large and correspondingly quite heavy. The boot itself is large, considerably more spacious than that of the previous generation Regal. It is long from front to back, and decently wide and deep even under the standard parcel shelf. There is a space saver under the boot floor, which is packed in very tightly so there is no space around it for any odds and ends. You can create more luggage capacity by dropping the asymmetrically split 40:20:40 rear seat backs down. They fold flat on to the rear seat cushion giving a completely flat and very long load area. Inside the cabin there is a reasonable sized glove box, a central cubby under the armrest, pockets on the doors and a lidded cupholder and a recess in front of the gearlever which should be sufficient for your odds and ends.

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Although Buick would like you to think of the Regal as tending towards sporty, it really is not. A luxury cruiser is far closer to the mark. The test car was powered by the 2.0 litre 4 cylinder turbo unit which features in all Regal models apart from the GS. It generates 250 bhp and 260 lb/ft. It is smooth in operation and the 9 speed transmission is well matched, rarely being caught out. This means that there is decent acceleration, making the Regal feel rather more urgent than the Malibu/Camry class of car with typically around 180bhp. This punchy engine and good levels of torque will deliver extra speed no matter what your starting speed is and there is pleasing, if somewhat muted growl to the engine not when you are working it hard. Generally, though, engine noise is well suppressed especially at freeway cruising speed, where you can barely hear it. Road noise is not quite so well controlled, but generally this is a pleasant car in which to travel a long distance. Reminder, perhaps, of the European origin of the car comes from the fact that there is a Stop/Start system, still not something you tend to find in US-designed cars. It worked well, as such systems generally do these days. Penalty for the better than average performance is slightly worse than average fuel consumption. I drove around 150 miles in my day with the Regal and so only used part of a tank, and it is possible that I returned it rather more genuinely full than it was when I collected it. I managed 26 mpg US, which is not particularly good if that was the true figure.

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The steering is quite light, but did retain some feel. It was on the canyon roads when the lack of sporting edge was perhaps most evident. The car feels soft, though it did seem to have ample grip, despite the fact that a twisty road tackled with some gusto evidenced a trend to understeer at even moderate speed. The Regal came on 245/45 R18 diamond cut alloys, and dealt as well as any car with the often rather challenging road surfaces of the Los Angeles area, with the car feeling comfortable without being floaty or wallowy. The brakes were well up to par, providing ample stopping power with only moderate pressure on the pedal. There is an electronic handbrake, with a button in the centre console. Visibility was generally OK, though the door mirrors are rather small. The rear view camera was helpful to judge the back of the car when reversing, as the slope of the tailgate made it otherwise quite hard to judge just how close I was to any obstacle.

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The 2018 Buick Regal Sportback comes in five trims: 1SV, Preferred, Preferred II, Essence, and GS. The estate version, called the TourX, has three trims: 1SV, Preferred, and Essence. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine comes as standard in all but the GS, which is equipped with a 310 bhp V6. For Sportback models, front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is available in the Preferred II and Essence. All-wheel drive is standard in the GS and all TourX trims. The 1SV base trim starts at $24,990 for the Sportback body style and $29,070 for the TourX body style. It comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, LED daytime running lights, a 7-inch touch-screen infotainment system incorporating Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a USB port and a built-in Wi-Fi hot spot with a seven speaker audio system, push-button starting, proximity keyless entry, a rearview camera, Teen Driver, and heated exterior mirrors. There are no available packages with this trim. The Regal Preferred ($27,670 for Sportback, $32,670 for TourX) adds power-adjustable front seats with driver lumbar support and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Unlike the base trim, the Regal Preferred offers several packages. The Driver Confidence Package I costs about $1,245 and gives you blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, rear parking sensors, and LED cornering headlights. The Sights and Sounds package adds remote start, an eight-speaker Bose audio system, navigation, an 8-inch touch screen, satellite radio, HD Radio, and a 4.2-inch driver information display. Starting at $29,770, the Regal Preferred II is only available as a Sportback. It has an 8-inch touch screen, satellite radio, a 4.2-inch driver information display, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, a heated steering wheel, fog lights, ambient lighting, and 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats (replacing the 60/40 split found in the lower trims). Like the Preferred trim, the Preferred II offers the Driver Confidence Package I. In the Preferred II, it costs $1,080 and comes with wireless device charging. For the Preferred II, the Sights and Sounds package includes an eight-speaker Bose audio system, navigation, and HD Radio. The Buick Regal Essence starts at $31,770 for the Sportback and $35,070 for the TourX wagon. It comes with leather upholstery and heated front seats. For an extra $1,580 (Sportback) or $1,725 (TourX), the Driver Confidence Package I adds all the same optional safety features from the lower trims plus memory settings for the driver’s seat. Alternatively, the Driver Confidence Package II ($1,090 in Sportback, $1,190 in TourX) gives the Regal a slew of safety features not available in the lower trims. They include adaptive cruise control, a following distance indicator, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and lane keep assist. Contents and pricing of the Sights and Sounds package remain the same as in the Preferred II trim. Building on the Essence trim, the naturally aspirated Buick Regal GS ($39,070) comes standard with a V6 engine, all-wheel drive, and Brembo brakes. You’ll get many of the safety features from the lower trims, including lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and front and rear parking sensors. The GS-specific sport seats are heated and ventilated. They also have memory settings and a massaging function. You’ll also get a flat-bottom sport steering wheel and metal gas and brake pedals. For $485, the Appearance package adds wireless device charging and LED cornering headlights. The Driver Confidence Package II is $1,690 in the GS. Contents and pricing of the Sights and Sounds package remain the same for this trim. This test car was in Essence trim.

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I thought this Regal to be a likeable car. It really is not a sports sedan, and despite the Buick badging and lashings of leather, it is not really an out-and-out luxury car, either. That means that probably its most obvious rival is the VW Arteon, a model which is headed States-side but has not yet arrived there. American aversion to a hatchback many prove to be an impediment, though interestingly, I heard from an Audi salesman that they got a lot of people asking for the old A5 Sportback that was not sold in America, and BMW have indeed offered the 4 Series Gran Coupe to US buyers and had some success with it, so perhaps attitudes are changing. Get past that, and this is a roomy and comfortable car at a reasonable price, with no real weaknesses, but equally nothing that really stands out as a “wow” sort of factor. Whether that will be enough to achieve the sales volumes that Buick are hoping for remains to be seen. From my point of view, if you want a rental car that is a cut above the Camry/Altima/Malibu class of car, the Regal is certainly a car to seek out, though if you like the Buick way of doing things, the slightly larger LaCrosse would be an alternative worth seeking out for no much of a rental car upgrade fee.

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