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Auto Show:  2011 Naias

2012 Buick Verano - 2011 Detroit Auto Show

January 2011 author photo


January 10, 2011

Late this year Buick will re-enter the compact car market it vacated when it pulled the plug on the ill-conceived Chevrolet Cavalier-clone Skyhawk in 1989. This time around, although the new small Buick is based on the Cavalier’s descendent, the Cruze, Buick promises the 2012 Verano is no badge-engineered clone.

That is visible from twenty paces thanks to entirely unique sheetmetal for the Verano. The Skyhawk used the very same stampings as the Cavalier, differing only in the plastic front and rear fascias.

Now Buick, like Cadillac, has successfully cultivated a distinctive brand identity, so the Verano is visibly a Buick on sight, without the need to look for badging. Achieving such distinctiveness without also acquiring unwanted notoriety – think Pontiac Aztek – is a major achievement, even if the Chevrolet Cruze hidden underneath is still discernable if you squint a little at the Verano’s profile.

Buick needs to be in the small car market because federal government fuel economy requirements dictate that fuel-sipping small cars offset the sales of any thirstier (and typically more profitable) large cars. It also wants to be in the compact segment because there is where 15 percent of the car-buying population is, according to Jim Federico, Buick vehicle line executive.

“The Verano broadens our market reach,” he explained. “With this new entry point into the Buick family, you can picture a Buick garage, with a Verano next to a LaCrosse and an Enclave.”

The company aims for the Verano to contend with the Audi A3 and the Lexus IS250, and has made many obvious improvements over the Cruze to lend it some credibility in that segment. Triple door seals, laminated acoustic glass and specially designed aluminum wheels all contribute to a quieter, more refined cabin while underway, the company promises.

The base engine, available at launch, is the familiar 177-hp GM 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, which should appeal to traditional luxury car shoppers. A turbocharged 2.0-liter with an available manual transmission that should provide a more legitimate challenge to the likes of the Audi A3 will arrive later.

Inside, the Verano’s cabin is swathed in leather and a winter-friendly heated steering wheel activates automatically when the remote starter is used at temperatures lower than 45 degrees. But many of the plastic surfaces inside appear to be carried over from the Cruze, a car that competes in a segment where such plastics are acceptable. The plastics seen in the show car are suspect in the luxury segment and offer GM an early opportunity for improvement.

DAN CARNEY is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications.  He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award.  Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, D.C.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Buick Verano - 2011 Detroit Auto Show - Autotrader