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2018 Buick Regal Sportback Essence AWD offers practicality of a crossover with the appearance and driving dynamics of a car

2018 Buick Regal Sportback Essence
2018 Buick Regal Sportback Essence - Richard Russell

What a pleasant surprise! Over the years I have become accustomed to approaching Buicks as solid, quiet, near-luxury vehicles.

GM’s own demographics show the average Buick buyer to be “of a certain age.” They are not interested in driving dynamics or performance.

They might not like the new Buick Regal Sportback.

This is a Buick developed for folks who enjoy driving, rather than merely getting to a destination.

After the first session at the wheel of the 2018 Regal Sportback, I found myself approaching it with a skip in my step and smile on my face. This is a Buick enthusiasts would appreciate.

It may look like a Buick and provide the expected quiet and smooth ride, but push it even a little bit and there is a unfamiliar responsiveness, an alertness if you like.

All inputs, whether to change speed or direction, are met with an immediacy that comes from engineering with that in mind.

This is a Buick, but comes at it from a different direction. It starts in Germany, where it was developed and is built. The solid chassis and steering and suspension tuning required for hyper speeds on the Autobahn, have made it across the Atlantic intact.

This is also a hatchback, that wonderful concept that combines the look of a sedan with the functionality of a crossover.

Thankfully Europeans still appreciate and buy hatchbacks. They are making a comeback of sorts.

The Regal Sportback and Kia Stinger are a pair of newcomers developed in and for Europe but available here. They join vehicles from Audi, BMW and Mercedes among others.

The Regal Sport back is positioned as a premium sports sedan, with a fifth dimension — a stunning amount of cargo space.

Compared to the outgoing four-door Regal sedan, the Sportback offers more than twice as much cargo space (892 litres) with the rear seats in place.

With the second row seats folded down, the available space beneath that giant hatch almost doubles to 1,713 litres.

Compared to the Regal sedan, the Sportback rides on a wheelbase that has been stretched 6.6 cm. That extra room between the front and rear wheels results in increased room for people and packages. It also means the wheels are pushed further out to the corners. This in turn, looks better and provides a more stable base for the suspension engineers to work from. The structure itself is stronger and 90 kilos lighter than the old sedan.

It’s European roots are evident in not only the driving dynamics, but an active hood pedestrian safety system, required under EU regulations.

When the system senses an impact with a pedestrian at more than 25 km/h, small explosive devices raise the rear of the hood by about 10 cm to reduce the impact and likelihood of injury.

The interior of the Sportback is well finished, and here again there is evidence of a driver-centric approach. The center stack skewed toward the driver.

All trim levels of the Regal Sportback are equipped with an OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and five years of basic OnStar. Your own data plan will be used after the initial trial period.

2018 Buick Regal Sportback Essence
2018 Buick Regal Sportback Essence

 

The rectangular screen atop the centre stack has a 17-cm touchscreen for control of the infotainment system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are is standard. A larger screen, embedded navigation and Bose premium audio are available.

Since this is a Buick you expect and experience an extremely quiet ride. The company has concentrated on this feature, developing what it calls QuietTuning. This involves active noise-cancellation, thicker glass and more insulation in strategic areas.

Power is provided by a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine producing 250 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque delivered to the front wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission.

When equipped with the intelligent AWD System and able to apportion power to four tires <FZ,1,0,15>instead of just two, the engine is freed up to deliver up to 295 lb.-ft. of torque. A more rugged eight-speed automatic is used in this application.

The engine is smooth and quiet, even under wide-open throttle. There is very little evidence of turbo lag and performance is more than adequate.

As always, fuel mileage is directly relate to how much you want to sample the available performance. Want more power? The GS model, has a 310-horsepower V6 under that trick hood.

The Regal Sportback is available in five trim levels — Regal, Preferred, Preferred II, Essence and GS.

I drove the AWD version in Essence trim. Equipped with an active electronically-operated twin-clutch differential, it is able to seamlessly vary power not only between front and rear wheels, but from side-to-side.

Most users will experience and appreciate this in slippery winter conditions. But those who chose to drive with more “spirit” will find this car feels like a rear-drive sedan with a dollop of pull from the front when exiting a corner year-round.

AWD-equipped Sportbacks also benefit from a unique five-link independent rear suspension. This setup is partially responsible for the lack of lean when pressing hard in the corners.

Crossovers have taken over the industry. Fortunately for the enthusiasts among us, there are companies that continue to develop and offer vehicles that offer the practicality of a crossover with the appearance and driving dynamics of a car.

2018 Buick Regal Sportback Essence - Richard Russell
2018 Buick Regal Sportback Essence - Richard Russell

 

The specs

  • Model: 2018 Buick Regal Sportback Essence AWD
  • Engine: turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 250 horsepower, 295 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel
  • Transmission: eight speed automatic
  • NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 12.4 / 8.7
  • Length: 4,900 mm
  • Width: 1,862 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,830 mm
  • Weight: 1,553 kg
  • Price, Essence trim: $37,345 base, $44,580 as tested, including freight
  • Competition: Acura TLX, Audi A5 Sportback, BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe
  • Options on test vehicle: Rioja red metallic paint, $495; Driver confidence package, (power lumbar adjusters, front seats; heated mirrors auto dimming on driver’s side; self-levelling LED headlights, cornering lamps, rear park assist, blind spot, lane change and rear cross-traffic alert) $2,195; Experience Buick package, $2,695; (Infotainment System with Navigation and 20-cm colour touch screen, HD Radio and eight-speaker Bose premium audio system, power moonroof)

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