To hear North American automotive marketing types tell it, “hatchback” is a four-letter word with consumers, like trying to sell garlic wreaths at a vampire convention. The rest of the industrialized world seems to love the darn things, though, which is why the sleek little number seen here both exists and carries the brand name it does. This is the Buick Regal Sportback, and it’s a five-door hatchback with a long, gracefully sloping backlight.
But the Buick Regal is a sedan, you say? Well, not anymore. Traditional four-doors have been losing market share to crossover SUVs by the fistful lately, making developing new models less attractive to automakers. And besides, European companies have been busy sexing up the five-door bodystyle’s reputation for years, thanks to cars like the Audi A7, BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and Porsche Panamera. These slantback models don’t just look good, their forms do a nice job accommodating more cargo, giving them much of the utility of a traditional hatchback or wagon without the stigma. Marketers enthusiastically note their “coupe-like rooflines” or even call them “four-door coupes,” thereafter rationalizing that they can then charge more money for them. It’s a win-win.
With the exception of Tesla’s Model S, American automakers have been reluctant to jump into this stylish swimming pool, so it’s nice to see Buick stepping out of its comfort zone with this new Regal Sportback. Like the outgoing fifth-generation Regal, the Sportback has been made possible by General Motors’ European Opel brand. It — along with its new Regal TourX quasi-crossover wagon sibling — are basically thinly reworked versions of the company’s new Opel/Vauxhall Insignia range, but that figures to be no bad thing.
This Sportback is handsome, and it can also be had loaded with features. Powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four giving 250 horsepower and up to 295 pound-feet of torque, the Sportback will be available with all-wheel drive and a brace of infotainment and active safety features. Twin-clutch AWD models will receive a conventional eight-speed automatic gearbox, while front-wheel drive models get a nine-speed unit but have to make do with 35 fewer pound-feet of torque.
Despite appearing more substantial, Buick says the 2018 Regal Sportback in fact weighs around 200 pounds less than its predecessor. Yet it’s stiffer and rides on a longer wheelbase. The latter should help preserve interior room, and it gives 60.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded. And the new Regal certainly has more content. Even base models receive 10 airbags, intelligent key with pushbutton start, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and an OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. Notable option boxes that tech-obsessed consumers may want to check include a larger 8-inch touchscreen navigation system along with uplevel Bose audio.
Available advanced safety equipment includes the usual suspects, including lane-change alert with side blind-spot assist, rear park assist, forward collision alert and adaptive cruise control with auto brake. In addition, foot-traffic-friendly safety tech including automatic front pedestrian braking and a smart hood (which senses when you’re about to to hit a pedestrian at between 16-30 mph) are also available. If an imminent impact with a person is detected, an under-hood pyrotechnic charge deploys, raising the rear of the hood by around 4 inches to cushion the impact. (Such hoods have been in service in cars overseas for years, but they remain a relative rarity in the US outside of premium cars.)
Nice as it is, the 2018 Buick Regal Sportback will have its work cut out for it when it reaches dealers this fall. The old Regal never sold terribly well, and it was often viewed as overpriced — especially before GM issued a belated price correction in 2015. And with Buick’s entry-level Verano sedan having gone out of production in October, the Regal Sportback may actually be tasked with covering a broader segment of the market.
Finally, it’s not clear what buyers will cross-shop this five-door against. By the tape measure, Audi’s nearly here A5 Sportback would seem to make the most sense, but it’s hard to imagine many buyers considering both, even if it’s a valid comparison. After all, the outgoing Regal actually didn’t show poorly against lower-end Audi A4 sedans of a few years ago, but most buyers never thought to look at both. Volkswagen’s aging CC and the Acura TLX are perhaps more likely rivals.
But let’s not get preoccupied with who will buy this car just yet. We should simply be glad the Buick Regal Sportback exists. After all, this attractive and versatile vehicle seemingly almost didn’t happen at all. If you’re an auto-industry news maven, you may recall that GM agreed to sell Opel to France’s Peugeot-Citroën just last month. Thankfully, a provision in the agreement will continue to allow these models to stay in production, even under Opel’s new ownership.
Let’s enjoy them while we can.