On Autos: Midsize Buick offers Euro style, hatchback utility

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The 2018 Buick Regal Sportback is a European-designed midsize hatchback that blends style and functionality. (Photo by Brady Holt/The Current)
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When it is designed right, a hatchback can combine all the style of a four-door sedan with a lot more cargo versatility. Whereas a sedan’s trunk is walled off from the passenger compartment, a hatchback lets you fold down the rear seat to create a big open area.

Subtly styled hatchbacks are popular in Europe, and Audi and BMW have found recent success with the genre even in the U.S. There are few downsides to an Audi A5 Sportback or BMW 430i Gran Coupe compared to an A4 or 330i sedan, and a significant functional advantage.

It is still hard to find such a vehicle south of $40,000, though. For 2018, Buick has launched one of the few examples: the all-new Regal Sportback, which was designed by Opel, General Motors’ former European division. Prices start at $25,915, just a few thousand dollars more than a mainstream Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.

Although the Regal name is best known for old sofas on wheels, it has actually used an Opel sports sedan design for nearly a decade — providing livelier handling than the Buick badge would suggest. For 2018, Buick replaced the old Regal sedan with a new station wagon called the TourX and a five-door hatchback called the Sportback.

From the outside of the car, the tested Regal Sportback looks like an Audi A5 rival. Both cars have a subtle elegance, looking confidently premium rather than boisterously exuberant. With simple details and clean lines, the Regal is not going to get many stares, but it is pleasant to look at.

Slim headlights bookend a chrome-framed grille up front, and graceful taillights wrap around the rear. A gently rounded silhouette and lightly creased body stand apart from the aggressive designs that dominate many mainstream and luxury brands today. A small simulated trunk beyond the rear windshield preserves the approximate aesthetic of a sedan, but it lifts up along with the windshield to provide ample cargo access.

Buick quotes a crossover-rivaling 32 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and 61 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. That seems unnaturally high, so do not expect miracles from the Regal Sportback. That said, there is clearly more room and more cargo flexibility than you would get in a sedan, and the TourX wagon does better still.

Like most of today’s luxury cars but few mainstream models, the Regal is offered with all-wheel drive. It is a $2,000 option on the upper-trim Preferred II and Essence models, and standard on the performance-oriented GS.

Despite these unique points, most of the Regal experience is more in line with a humble family sedan: competent and pleasant, but not dazzling.

A smooth, quiet ride and light steering make for an easygoing driving experience. The Regal does not offer the taut, buttoned-down feel of an Audi, though, and even today’s Honda Accord has a more upscale, fun-to-drive experience. Do not expect a floaty archaic barge, either — just a pleasant, ordinary midsize car.

The Regal’s standard engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 250 horsepower. That is more than you would find on a base Accord, Camry or other midsize family sedan, more in line with their optional larger engines. Its fuel economy is competitive with most similarly powerful sedans, but if you did not need quite so much power, you might be disappointed: EPA ratings are 26 mpg on premium fuel with the standard front-wheel-drive layout, and 24 mpg with all-wheel-drive.

The GS performance model promises livelier handling as well as a 310-horsepower V6 engine, which is rated for 22 mpg on regular fuel. It is priced from $39,995.

The Sportback’s interior.

Like the driving experience, the standard Regal’s interior trimmings are nothing special. The controls are user-friendly, including on the standard infotainment system, and few individual details are objectionable.

But most of its plastic trim looks and feels like it belongs in a car that costs around $25,000 — even though prices can surpass $40,000 with all the options. And while Audi offers a pair of stunningly crisp customizable display screens, the Regal’s infotainment options are pretty much the same as you would find in a $20,000 Chevrolet.

Expect to spend several thousand dollars more for the Regal compared to a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. If the Regal’s hatchback versatility and European styling are not a huge draw for you, consider those models instead. You can also get the Regal’s mechanical twin, the Chevrolet Malibu sedan, which is available with the same engine and which even feels more European to drive — thanks to some extra life in the steering — than the Opel-sourced Regal.

Meanwhile, the Acura TLX offers a slightly posher, quieter experience than an ordinary family sedan, at a similar price point to a comparably equipped Regal. In fact, pricing site Truecar.com suggests you can haggle an especially large discount off the TLX’s sticker. But the Acura lacks the Regal’s hatchback body style as well.

Some other options: The all-new 2018 Kia Stinger is a rear-wheel-drive midsize hatchback that matches the Regal’s cargo versatility. It is designed to be sporty, and Kia accordingly made the Stinger look more aggressive inside and out; preferences will vary between the exuberant Kia and the restrained Buick. The Stinger has a higher base price than the Regal ($32,800), but the two cost about the same when you factor in the Kia’s additional standard equipment.

Lastly, if you do still prefer an all-out luxury feel and a hatchback body style, the A5 Sportback and 430i Gran Coupe can be worth the extra money. The Regal is a strong option if you’re looking for a classy, comfortable vehicle that doesn’t scream “luxury” or charge luxury prices.