North American car buyers, myself included, are an interesting bunch.
On one hand, we crave all of the sports sedans that automakers have to offer, vowing that will be the car we buy. On the other hand we turn our attention to the luxury SUV and crossovers when we get that hard-earned promotion. We ration the better practicality and winter driving safety for a small price to pay in the form of driving dynamics.
The good news is, this rationality has not deterred automakers from introducing sports sedans to the market. To attract practicality-conscious buyers, a recent trend is for automakers to launch five-door “Sportbacks”, which are essentially a sedan offering with a usable hatch; a wider opening to a deeper trunk, and a swooping bodyline that makes them look sleeker than the traditional sedan. There are several prime examples of these sports sedans, including the Audi A5 Sportback, the BMW 430i Gran Coupé, and the Kia Stinger GT (reviewed here).
To compete for a piece of the pie in this sports sedan market, General Motors took a page from Europe and offered us its Buick Regal Sportback sedan, which is built in Germany and sold in Europe/United Kingdom as the Opel/Vauxhall Insignia. We recently tested the Regal Sportback Essence AWD (reviewed here). We wanted to find out whether GM has a legitimate competitor against sports sedans, so we took the new 2019 Buick Regal Sportback GS AWD for a weeklong test.
The Regal GS is the highest and sportiest trim in the Regal lineup. With its swoopy roofline and elongated sleek Euro design, LED headlamps, constrasting black and silver front air vents, 19” aluminum wheels wrapped in 245/40R19 tires, red Brembo® brakes and dual integrated exhaust, the GS is a car that looks much more expensive than its $43,845 base price suggests. It is refreshing to see this Sportback design and you would probably not have guessed that it is an American car if the badges were covered.
The Regal Sportback GS comes in all-wheel drive configuration only and is powered by a 3.6L V6 engine producing 310 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The engine offers plenty of power throughout the power band, however it does feel a bit unrefined compared to the Audi and BMW’s turbocharged counterparts. Displacement still provides that immediate response that turbocharged vehicles lack, so that’s a plus point right there.
The nine-speed automatic gearbox is quite smooth. It prefers to keep the Regal cruising along in higher gears and lower RPMs for a quieter drive, but the consequence is that it requires more downshifting when you want to speed up the Regal. It’s worth mentioning that the Regal GS does not come equipped with paddle shifters, which is a curious and unusual omission in the luxury sports sedan segment.
The Regal Sportback GS AWD comes equipped with Buick’s second generation Continuous Damping Control (CDC) that is capable of making 500 adjustments per second. The adjustable dampers can be modulated using one of the three driving modes (Tour, Sport, and GS) and can also be individually adjusted within the menu itself.
My favorite drive mode throughout the course of the test was the most aggressive GS-mode setting. It firms up the electric rack-mounted power steering and sharpens the CDC suspension system nicely. It is particularly smart and makes for sharper steering and handling response, and knows to alter the shift points of the automatic gearbox to artificially make the car feel more responsive.
Buick rates the Buick Regal GS AWD’s fuel consumption at 8.7L/100km highway, 12.4L/100km city, and 10.7L/100km combined. After a week of testing, I averaged 11.7L/100km with mostly city commutes. Even though the fuel economy is not as frugal as some its four-cylinder turbocharged competitors, this is expected given the naturally aspirated V6 engine.
Handling is where the Buick really shines. It is truly remarkable how well the Regal can handle itself on twisty roads. Turn-in is sharp and the Regal goes where the driver looks and points it. Overall response is on par if not better than its European rivals. When the twisty road turns into sharp corners, the GS-specific Brembo performance brakes help pull the Regal to a halt with firm and consistent feel.
The ride of the Regal GS can be considered firm by many standards, though the wonderful handling means most shoppers would not feel too upset about this compromise. The suspension also helps absorbs the bumps when the driver is seated in the supportive, heated and ventilated, eight-way power-adjustable, performance bucket seats that have air massage features.
Buick will be proud to remind you that the front seats are Aktion Gesunder Rücken (AGR) certified, an association in Germany supported by doctors and therapists in preventing backaches. The logo of AGR is marked on the side of the seats and AGR literally means “Campaign for Healthier Backs”.
Beyond ergonomics, the rest of the interior is a bit of a letdown as a entry-level luxury sports sedan. The interior layout is pleasing to the eyes but some of the materials felt cheap to the touch. It also has several buttons with on-screen clarification of functions, requiring one to study the owner’s manual to really understand.
Our test car was equipped with the optional Experience Buick Package, which adds a Bose eight-speaker system, power sunroof, wireless charging, LED headlihgts, and SiriusXM radio to put it as average in its class when it comes to features. The Buick Regal is equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a built-in 4G-LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot to keep you connected while driving.
Rear seating is a strong plus in the Buick Regal, with much more legroom than what one would expect from a sedan of similar size. Headroom is a little compromised with the swoopy Sportback design but it does not feel cramped in any way. The rear hatch opens to more than 890L of cargo space, a number that would be considered respectable in compact crossover vehicles, let alone in a five-door sedan.
The Regal Sportback GS starts at $43,845, a whopping $12,000 over the base model, however the two look and feel like completely different cars if compared side-by-side. This GS was equipped with the Experience Buick Package ($3,495) and the Driver Confidence Package ($1,995 for active safety features). It was painted in a $1,195 White Frost Tricoat color. This brings the total as-tested price to $50,630.
The 2019 Buick Regal Sportback GS AWD represents a good value when compared with the European sports sedans. It has the looks, the handling, and boasts a powerful engine. The Kia Stinger GT offers a similar sportback design, and the Acura TLX offers an interior that feels a class above the Regal’s. The Regal Sportback GS does offer a nimbler chassis and sharper handling, and is a solid choice for buyers who decide to get the premium sport sedan their heart desires.