Buick unveiled an all-new Buick Regal on Tuesday as the once-sleepy brand continued its surge back to relevance in the U.S. premium market.
Based on the stunning Opel Insignia that debuted at the Geneva Auto Show in March, the 2018 Regal Sportback sedan boasts an innovative, roomy, Tesla Model S-like hatchback.
For customers who want even more rear utility, the Regal will also be available in five-door wagon trim just like its European counterpart. Called the Regal TourX, the five-door, crossover-inspired, all-wheel drive variant will go head-to-head with the fashionable Volvo Cross Country or Audi’s Allroad. It will ride about an inch higher than the Sportback and features more rugged fender cladding.
Though Buick isn’t releasing pricing yet, it will likely be thousands of dollars less than those European competitors. Both the Sportback and TourX will be available in the fourth quarter of this year.
“These are expressive cars like the Audi and Volvo and BMW 4-series coupe, but the pricing will be a real advantage for us,” said Buick Marketing Manager Doug Osterhoff. “With the TourX you get the five-door aspect with the sporty handling, but don’t have the trade-off of having to spend thousands of dollars more.”
Buick has gotten its mojo back by presciently reading U.S. demand for crossovers. With a full SUV lineup — including the wildly popular, segment-first subcompact Encore — Buick is on a roll. In an industry with flat sales last month, Buick surged 15.1 percent over last year. Its three crossovers and three sedans are the most modern lineup in the industry, all having come to market in the last 21 months.
The midsize Regal will serve double-duty for the brand: It will replace both the outgoing Regal and the Verano compact, the brand’s entry-level car that was discontinued last winter. Osterhoff says the Regal will serve a broader price band (dropping its base price to include cloth seats, for example) to help pick up Verano customers.
The reduced car lineup is also an acknowledgment that the sedan market is shrinking. Regal sales last year gained just 1.7 percent compared to the Encore’s 16.3 percent, for example. The Regal’s sister sedan, the larger Lacrosse, saw sales plummet 34.4 percent despite introducing an all-new vehicle.
But sedans remain the style leaders for car brands and the much-anticipated Regal is a head-tuner.
“You have to get noticed to stand out in the sedan market, and this car’s hallmark is its sculpted beauty,” said GM Vice President for Product Development Mark Reuss.
The Regal is the most concrete example of Buick’s new design direction inspired by the gorgeous Avenir and Avista concepts that headlined recent Detroit auto shows.
Based on GM’s new, front-wheel-drive Epsilon architecture, which undergirds the roomy Chevy Malibu, the Regal is considerably larger than the last generation with a three-inch-longer wheelbase that translates into almost that much more room in the rear seat. The Sportback also allows much more cargo versatility than the outgoing car with rear seats folding flat to allow trunk-to-front seat storage room. The sedan will come standard with front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive available as an option as on the current Regal. Expect a high performance version to come later.
The 2018 Regal has a new, turbocharged mill under the hood, scrapping the old model’s normally aspirated, base 2.4-liter engine. A 2-liter turbo-4 will power both the Regal Sportback and TourX space and will be mated to GM’s sippy, nine-speed automatic transmission. The same engine that powers the Chevy Malibu, it will pump out considerably more muscle with 250 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. That torque figure climbs to a whopping 293 pound-feet in the all-wheel-drive option for both Sportback and TourX. The latter will also feature a cavernous 73.5 cubic feet of storage.
The Regal was designed in Germany by Opel, which GM recently sold to PSA Group, owner of Peugeot and Citroen. Buick designer Bob Boniface, recently of Cadillac, said the Opel-Buick design partnership will continue to inform Buick design, with the inevitable transition stateside coming as Buick rolls pout 12 more vehicle updates by 2020.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.