Test Drive: 2018 Buick Regal Sportback

Oh great. Another sleek-looking sedan that’s trying to disguise itself as a coupe. That means no headroom and lousy visibility. Then you get to the trunk, if it’s even big enough to call it that.

But hold on a minute. This one’s a hatchback. Maybe things are a little different in here.

If you’re a tall driver, looking at any of the current crop of four-door coupes can bring a distinct feeling of dread. A longing for the upright rooflines of sedans gone by. Sit down in the Regal Sportback, and you’re in for a surprise. I was, at least.

With the seat dropped as low as it could go, my default position, I sat down in the car. Instead of my head making intimate contact with the headliner, though, there were inches of headroom. Enough that I powered the seat up a couple of inches to be comfortable but still had headroom.

For tall drivers, that’s a real gift. On top of a vehicle that’s more comfortable, it’s safer. When the top of your head becomes one with the bottom of the headliner, chances are you’re looking directly at the roof and door surround. Visibility suffers, making driving and parking more hazardous. Not here. Here there is excellent visibility, at least through the front and side windows.

Maybe there’s more to this Buick than it appears.

The next big surprise is that rear hatch. American buyers don’t traditionally appreciate the hatch, but maybe after a couple of decades of the very much hatched SUV, the average buyer is starting to warm to the idea.

It’s a good thing they are. The hatch here allows the flowing roofline to continue into what would be the trunk lid in a subtle but appealing shape. Even better, it does that without sacrificing cargo space in the back. Fold the seats and there are 60.7 cubic feet of space

I’m going to repeat that one because it’s a big number. 60.7 cubic feet of space. That’s 3.4 feet more than the Envision crossover. And the Envision’s not just particularly small, that’s almost as much space as an Equinox, which is huge.

But cargo space and headroom aren’t what’s important here. Buick’s pitching the Regal as a sports sedan. Or at least a sporty sedan, since this isn’t the V6-powered GS model.

This one is the Essence, which gives you pretty much everything you need for the Buick experience. Which I suppose explains the naming choice. Heated leather seats with memory, navigation, Bose audio, rear park assist, and rear cross traffic alert.

The trim means a 2.0L turbo four that packs 250 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It gets stop-start and an all-wheel drive system. It’s not the fancy active system of the GS, but it’s still mostly transparent. The car grips in the rain, and pushes a little less in the dry than it would with only two powered wheels.

The engine feels as torquey as the numbers would suggest and it powers this big car along briskly.

With this engine and all-wheel drive comes an eight-speed automatic. That’s the only disappointment in the powertrain. It still has a little too much Buick in the programming and not enough Opel. Shifts are sluggish most times, though acceptable at full throttle. The manual mode offers little more than a suggestion to the gearbox, which will make your shift when it gets around to it.

Of all the cars that offer a sport mode that shouldn’t – looking at you Camry LE Hybrid – this is one of the few where a way to tighten the box up a bit would truly be appreciated.

Same goes with the steering. This is an impressively firmly damped large sedan. It’s never jarring, and it will end up on the soft side of firm, but throw it into a corner and the car takes a set and just goes. It’s delightfully confidence inspiring, and more fun to corner than you’d expect from anything wearing the tri-shield.

But the steering is a throwback to the old days. It’s precise but numb, and it feels overboosted on back roads and on the highway. Add some weight at speed and it would be greatly improved.

That doesn’t mean that this car is perfect though. The interior still has some strange lines and a few cheap-looking bits. Like the expanse of black plastic that faces the passenger and the shiny dash top. There are some strange amenity choices as well, like only giving the driver side mirror auto-dimming. On the road, it’s Buick-silent, which is quickly becoming the new bank vault when it comes to interior noise, but the hatch allows more road noise in from the rear than a sedan would. That’s the price of cargo space.

The infotainment system comes to you through an 8.0-inch screen, and while it’s not GM’s latest, it’s still one of the better ones on the market. Quick, responsive, and intuitive.

It’s difficult to set expectations for the inside of this car, though. From the body and the size it looks like it’s aiming for the mid-40s. But the actual sticker on this car is just $32k. It’s that dissonance that makes you expect something nicer, but at this price point, it’s pretty good. It’s nicer than a loaded Camry, but maybe not as nice as a Grand Touring Mazda6’s suede.

That comparison to the Mazda6 is an apt one. Remember the first generation of the 6? It came as a sedan, a wagon, and a hatchback sedan. And it was aimed as a sporty-ish sedan. Sound familiar?

It’s a pretty good way to look at the Sportback. It’s like a Mazda6 hatch that evolved with a bit more quiettuning. The handling is similar to the current 6, which is a big compliment in this segment.

If you want a very attractive looking big sedan with loads of space, then this is a very good place to look. With handling that’s crisp enough to back up those pseudo-coupe looks. Even if the steering and gearbox are a little loose. This is a Buick that’s a surprise. Thanks to a little help from its German friends.

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