Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 Buick Regal Sportback and Regal GS

Some people won’t even consider a sporty sedan if it’s not thoroughly German. A pity, I thought, as I drove the 2018 Regal Sportback Essence and Regal GS through the twisting rollercoaster of road between Nanaimo and Tofino, BC.

A full-on sport sedan that’ll seduce even the fussiest purists.

The last time I was this surprised by the quality of a ride was nearly two years ago. But maybe I shouldn’t have been. The car was a Buick Lacrosse.

Buick combines comfort and sportiness to appeal to the open-minded who love a spirited drive in a cocooned atmosphere. They call your Buick drive experience “attainable luxury”, an apt phrase. The Buick Regal is not cheap but neither is it cheaply made.

The Sportback Essence starts at $37,345. Note its gorgeous design, blending hatchback elements with sport sedan. Just south of forty large may not sound like massive value but a few minutes in the leather-appointed eight-way seat may sway you.

The Regal GS, meanwhile, is a full-on sport sedan that’ll seduce even the fussiest purists. It starts at $43,845. That extra $6,500 delivers a lot of thrills, and any time in its cossetting performance seats would sway anyone but we’ll talk more about that later.

First, the ride.

Our drive was twofold: on the way to Tofino, across the spine of the island, my drive partner and I had the Sportback. It was quiet and comfortable, but occasionally surprising. The 2.0L turbo four-cylinder engine delivered a wicked kick of torque when we needed to pass lumbering lumber trucks on steep mountain gradients. The steering was accurate enough to inspire confidence around the many bends.

The only complaint? The exterior of the Sportback looked slightly grander than the performance it delivered.

The GS was a completely different story. We drove that back to Nanaimo through the same valley channel on the second day. The stunning views included the famous Pacific Rim and Clayoquot Sound Parks, but the GS’s performance remained the hero of the journey.

What should you look for in your test?

In Sport and GS mode, the GS’s steering and tuning noticeably tighten and brighten. Four-piston Brembo front brakes shine lasciviously through from between the spokes and perform heroically.

Speaking of achievement, the 3.6-litre, six-cylinder engine, paired with a nine-speed automatic, puts out 310 hp and 282 lb-ft of torque. However, the carefully placed sound baffles reduce the noise of the GS in full acceleration mode from that of an attacking mountain lion to a low growl.

Quietness has always been a hallmark of Buick products. The Regal includes active noise-cancelling technology on its all-wheel drive and GS models. Furthermore, Buick is the first automotive manufacturer in North America to use Continental ContiSilent tires. They contain a portion of foam inside, swallowing noise that reverberates from the walls of the tire through the compressed air. According to Mark Alger, Buick Canada’s National Marketing Manager, they soften noise levels by up to 10 decibels in certain driving conditions. Obviously, we couldn’t test such a claim with any accuracy, but that these foam-filled tires even exist demonstrates Buick’s obsession with quiet.

Lest we seem to be throwing any shade on the elegant Sportback, it cranks out a beefy 250 hp itself. Better still, it thrusts 295 lb-ft of torque, which is even more than the GS.

In corners, the Regal, especially the GS, speaks fluent German.

The allegedly American Buick Regal is actually made in Germany. Moreover, the GS comes with heated and ventilated seats that cocoon the driver and passenger with side bolsters and cushion extensions. Better still, those seats massage you with magic-fingers technology that’s certified by the AGR, Germany’s professional chiropractic association. Wunderbar!

“If there was a single subject you’d want to talk about in your story, (these seats) would be it,” said Alger. My back and I would agree. See the pictures. They’re different from nearly anything out there. Earlier I complained that the look of the Sportback made it hard for the performance to live up to the promise. Not so these seats in the GS. The comfort, enhanced by the massaging, is womb-like.

Meanwhile, the new body styling increases packing (not parking) space while some deft thinking improves flexibility. Example? The 40/20/40 split of the rear seats allows, say, two back passengers and everyone else’s ski gear (or, rebar) to fit easily.

Kudos to Buick’s engineers. The new Regal is a bit heavier because it’s bigger, but they still managed to subtract nearly 90 kg from the parts of the last model.

But the bigger story is the sheer room. Rear seats up, you enjoy 892 litres and a massive 1,719 litres with seats down. To demonstrate the amount of room, our Buick hosts had us pack two folding bikes in the trunk during a brief pause in the first day’s drive.

On the topic of capacity: The Regal’s 62.5 litre tank will require feeding. Official fuel efficiency numbers of the Essence (aka AWD) we drove are 11.0 L/100 km in the city and 8.0 on the highway. The GS rates 12.4 and 8.7. However, these are government-approved numbers, typically tested under ideal conditions – not in rolling mountains crammed with logging trucks. We did not get near such ideal circumstances.

Packed with safety features, and one you probably never want to test.

The Regal comes with safety features you’d expect like adaptive cruise control, forward automatic braking, forward collision alert, lane-change and lane-departure warnings, and rear park assist. But there are several new safety features to the model like the head-up display (when the road bends, drops, and disappears dozens of times per minute, as it does on Vancouver Island, you want your eyes on the road) and front pedestrian braking for that bonehead who suddenly appears in the street.

The most interesting new feature though is Active Hood. It lessens the likelihood of pedestrian injury in the event of a direct impact.

Consider: If you do collide with some Johnny Jaywalker, physics will send them rocketing, head first, towards your hood. The Regal’s sensors recognize it and instantly react to mitigate. Within milliseconds a “pyrotechnic activator” raises the rear of the hood by about four inches. Johnny gets a face full of wobbly and soft-ish sheet metal rather than a full impact into your manly 3.6-litre engine.

All the tech you expect even with basic entry-level trim.

As said, we drove the Sportback Essence (an AWD version) and GS, which vary in price by about $6K. But for a deeper $5,500 drop below the Essence, you can still purchase a Regal: the front-wheel-drive Preferred II. That’s two, not eleven – and in case you’re wondering, Canada never got the Preferred I.

Understanding that the (younger) folks who typically have less money want more connectivity, the Preferred II offers standard Android Auto/Apple CarPlay on an 8-inch colour touchscreen, with Intellilink and Sirius satellite radio. LTE-powered Wi-Fi is pumped through OnStar.

And understanding that the (older) folks who typically loan the car don’t want it or their teen drivers ruined, even this basic Regal also comes with Teen Driver, the Nanny 911 of surveillance tools. It makes showing off behind the wheel very difficult for your teen driver.

Pricing: 2018 Buick Regal

Preferred II FWD: $31,845
Essence AWD: $37,345
Regal GS AWD: $43,845

Prices above include freight charges.