AUSTIN, Texas – Allow me to begin my 2018 Buick Regal first drive review by sharing some interesting facts. Did you know that General Motors’ premium division ranks among the most reliable car brands according to J.D. Power? Yes, it’s true. Also, among GM’s brand portfolio, Buick is the second most sold brand globally. As a matter of fact, China loves Buick. Over there, when you go up in life, you don’t buy a Mercedes-Benz. You buy a Buick.
But what is the tri-shield’s image perception in our market? Does the next generation of car buyers consider buying a Buick instead of an Acura or an Infiniti? Or does it prefer leaving it to its parents or grand-parents instead? For Buick, the answer to this existential question is crucial to its future. The 2018 Regal is here to guarantee the brand’s survival for the years to come. But will it work?
Finally Aligned with the Right Competition
The last-generation Regal, especially in GS trim, had impressed us by its dynamic handling and modern design, but even if Buick kept telling us it was built to compete against stalwart German brands such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, it was unfortunately not up to par. And let’s be honest here, I don’t think many Audi buyers are cross-shopping a Buick!
Buick has therefore realigned its mission statement. The 2018 Regal competes directly with other premium sedans such as the Acura TLX. Buick speaks of “affordable luxury,” or more commonly known as the premium segment. You buy a Buick because you seek something a little more refined and better equipped than a Chevrolet, but don’t necessarily want to enter Cadillac territory. The Regal therefore comfortably sits in a price bracket of $31,000 to $43,000.
A Sedan with a Hatch
For 2018, the term “Sportback” gets grafted next to the Regal nameplate. The name refers to the car’s fastback configuration, which allows for a much larger trunk than the competition. With the rear seatbacks folded down, we’re talking about 1700 litres of available cargo space, putting the Regal in the same ballpark as some compact SUVs.
But the Sportback’s design goes a little further than a cool liftback trunk. The car was entirely re-engineered from the ground up and now presents itself through a much cleaner, younger and more modern design than the car it replaces. Part of this has to do with the fact that the Regal is assembled in Germany by Opel and shares several design and mechanical elements with its cousin, the Opel Insignia. That’s why this new Regal looks and feels more European than ever, with a clean, elegant and modern design language. It works; this is a good looking car!
In the U.S., three body styles will be offered: the Sportback, the GS and the TourX, the wagon model. The latter is the one we’ve all been eagerly waiting for. Sadly, it won’t be available in Canada. At least, not for now. Buick says it first wants to study our market, and if demand is strong, it might bring it here down the road.
This leaves us with the Sportback, and also the GS, which is more or less a sportier version of the Sportback. It comes with more aggressive bumpers, larger wheels, Brembo brakes and a naturally aspirated, 3.6-litre V6 good for a lofty 310 horsepower. All Regal GS variants, which should appear on our market some time in February, will come fitted with all-wheel drive.
All other Regals are powered by a turbo 2.0-litre four, the same one as in the Chevrolet Malibu and Equinox. Here, it pumps out 250 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque in front-wheel-drive versions. All-wheel-drive Sportbacks get a 35-lb.-ft. torque increase. Two gearboxes are offered, either a nine-speed automatic for FWD cars, or an eight-speed automatic for AWD models.
During my drive in Texas, I was only offered to get behind the wheel of an all-wheel-drive car, since it’s most likely going to be the one most sold in Canada. The Regal’s first noticeable element is the quietness of its cabin. Buick puts a lot of work into sound deadening through a process it calls Quiet Tuning. Thanks to a series of clever techniques, such as noise cancellation using the Bose sound system, for example, the Regal’s cabin is vault-like serene.
Speaking of interior, the Regal’s is clean and functional, but remains a little stale. Materials are only of ok quality, especially the fake wood used in the door inserts, which is in reality hard flimsy plastic. The car feels more like a better-looking Malibu than a Buick. On that front, the Japanese competition feels a tad more upscale. However, Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system is simple, easy to comprehend and pleasing to the eye. All Regals come standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, as well as the Teen Driver and Valet driving modes.
I was also pleased with the Regal’s overall handling. That’s where you notice the German influence. The suspension calibration slightly leans towards sport-sedan territory with a nimble and light feel overall, but the classic Buick-smooth composure hasn’t been compromised. Balance is a Regal strongpoint; the car can attack a bend fast without screeching its tires, but it remains too soft to be dubbed a real sports sedan. Even the Acura TLX offers a more dynamic drive. That said, on Texas’ sinuous roads, just outside Austin, the Regal proved to be agile, well planted to the ground, and engaging at the limit. Steering feel is a tad too vague, and I do wish Buick had fitted the car with a sport mode to firm it up a bit.
The 2.0-litre engine offers plenty of low-end torque and throttle response is quick, with instant pick-up and a smooth and linear power band, but the mill lacks an engaging soundtrack or any kind of soul, for that matter. It’s just too damn quiet and doesn’t marry well with the car’s sleek design and “aimed at a younger generation” marketing promises. There’s just nothing exciting about the four-cylinder Regal, it simply gets the job done. I guess (and hope) the GS will fix that problem.
The automatic gearbox, on the other hand, is absolutely brilliant. I tested the eight-speed and it adapts wonderfully well to throttle input, knowing precisely which gear it should be in at the right moment. Something Acura can’t exactly brag about its TLX.
So Buick now sells a good-looking, midsize sedan that offers more cargo space than a Volkswagen Golf, handles surprisingly well, is well put together and is sold at an affordable price tag. From a technical and marketing standpoint, the 2018 Buick Regal is solid and finally stands out.
But here’s the million dollar question: will young professionals in their late twenties, early thirties opt for the Buick instead of a TLX or even an Infiniti Q50? I’m 34, and I sit right smack in the middle of this car’s demographic. And yes, I would consider the Regal. It’s attractive, it looks the part, it’s dynamic enough to have a bit of fun with it, and is actually practical. Can we safely say Buick has accomplished its mission of attracting younger buyers then? Only time will tell, but the Regal is definitely off to a good start.