2012 Buick Verano: First Drive
On the heels of Buick's sales rebound here in the States, another new car hits the Buick showroom. The Verano, intending to hit the compact luxury segment where it isn't, is arriving at showrooms with a dollop of traditional luxury wrapped in an all-new sport sedan platform. The end result, engineered by Buick's compact car team and refined by GM's design staff, is a fairly compelling car.
Not a Cruze
Sitting on a footprint and platform similar to Chevrolet's compact Cruze, Buick execs are quick to emphasize the number of changes made to that architecture to create a Buick. The precedent for platform sharing is well established; Volkswagen, notably, has made huge money taking platforms such as Golf and crafting low-volume, high margin derivatives. Before the Verano's luxury interior goes in, significant attention has been paid to the car's structure and suspension. What Buick describes as ‘Quiet Tuning Elements' include sound-absorbing materials throughout the structure and thicker acoustic laminated glass. With a powertrain designed to ramble without rumble, you have an over-the-road experience of relative quiet, while not suffering the mechanical disconnect prevalent in your dad's day.
Performance and Handling
Under the hood, Buick's 2.4 liter Ecotec delivers 180 horsepower through a six-speed automatic transmission. Its 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds and EPA estimated highway mpg of 31 should satisfy most needs on the daily grind. We found it perfectly appropriate for the target consumer, and not unlike an Accord or Acura's TSX in its driving characteristics. For Buick prospects in need of something beyond Accord-type performance, Buick has a 2.0 liter turbo four waiting in the wings.
The Verano's suspension is typical of compact car design in a global age. Up front, MacPherson struts soak up the bumps, while a Watts Z-link design keeps the rear wheels roughly in line with the front wheels. All-independent suspension would be a nice upgrade, but Buick engineers say there are advantages to using a live rear axle, including its compact packaging and lighter weight. The power steering of the Verano is electric, and does a credible job in supplying both immediate response to input and enough road feel for safe corrections. A shout-out goes, also, to the shape of the Verano steering wheel. With a leather covering and your thumbs positioned at ‘10' and ‘2', this most important touch point is a positive reinforcement of the car's capability and content every time you're behind it.
Seats of entry-level Veranos are supportive buckets with cloth inserts and leatherette surrounds, while upmarket Veranos receive nicely appointed leather. We tried both, and liked the breathability of the cloth and the drop-dead gorgeous look of the available Choccachino leather. With pricing of a nicely equipped base Verano starting at around $24K, and the top-of-the-line sitting at roughly $29K, you'll not be priced out of a Verano simply by hitting the option list, a refreshing fact if you've shopped the Verano's German or Japanese competition.
On the road, we found the Verano to be an ideal combination of comfort and composure. It's not what you'll buy if you want to drive it like you stole it (for that, Buick will have a Verano Turbo - or you could ‘steal' the Regal GS), but it represents a competent alternative to the Japanese (Acura TSX, Lexus IS 250), which are typically priced some $5K to $10K more. We liked it a lot, but would advise prospects to drive both it and Buick's Regal. The midsize Regal won't provide the level of luxurious appointment at a mid-$20s price point, but may represent greater versatility within its (slightly) larger footprint. And for those of you vowing never to consider/buy a domestic car, it's time to store that prejudice in another century, or should we say Century.