Buick Verano — Living up to the Buick name

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

There was a time not long ago when you could buy a Buick that was a Buick in name only. A Buick that didn't live up to the storied Buick nameplate. The forgettable Skylark departed the scene in 1998. It made the phrase "a good, small Buick" an oxymoron.

Now for the first time in nearly 15 years a small Buick returns to the fold. The all-new compact 2012 Verano sedan is the antithesis of the Skylark. The Verano, indeed, is a good small Buick, based on the Chevrolet Cruze/Chevrolet Volt platform.

It takes the well-executed Cruze to a new level of refinement.

The Verano fits right into the new Buick mold of smaller, firmer cars with European design and flare, and with more interior refinement than Buicks of the preceding two or three decades.

The sedan transformation started with the 2010 LaCrosse mid-sized sedan and moved to the resurrected Regal sedan in 2011. You might argue that the renaissance actually started with the 2008 Enclave crossover. But at any rate the Verano is the missing piece of the puzzle that makes the revitalized lineup complete.

It gives buyers who rate economical driving high in their consideration equation, but who also desire a measure of luxury including an upscale interior and creature comforts not found on many high-mileage small cars.
The Verano is a viable alternative to the Acura TSX, Audi A3, Infiniti G25 sedan and perhaps even the Lexus IS 250.

Verano's sheetmetal is conservative — rounded in the new Buick style — and it proclaims its Buick family ties by the distinctive Buick waterfall grille front and center.

But we must confess that a red Chevy Cruze was mistaken for our Crystal Red Verano test car by our riding partner who headed out ahead of us from a restaurant. She only learned her mistake when the Cruze door would not open.

It’s readily apparent that Buick used premium materials in designing the interior. There are rich leathers, warm woods, metallic accents and soft ambient lighting.  The instrument panel blends with an integrated center stack that houses the infotainment display, climate controls and radio controls.

Components within the center stack are flush-mounted and have a gap tolerance of less than one millimeter. Automatic climate control is standard as is an electronic parking brake that eliminates the extra space taken up by an emergency brake lever.  A locking console armrest slides to suit the driver’s seating position.

But not all is perfect. It was almost as if designers forgot the start/stop button and in the rush to find a place for it they awkwardly wedged it into the upper corner of the console.  Also, in probably the biggest faux pas, Buick did not include a backup camera even as an option. This oversight is rather glaring when even many lowly entry-level economy cars have included the useful safety device.

Technophiles have been accommodated in the Verano. Standard is an all-new Buick IntelliLink system using Bluetooth or USB to connect a driver’s smartphone to the touch-screen display radio. It expands Buick’s current Bluetooth and USB capabilities to allow smartphone control via voice activation and steering wheel-mounted controls.

It also enables streaming stereo audio from the phone through services like Pandora Internet radio and Stitcher SmartRadio. In addition to Buick’s IntelliLink, a nine-speaker Bose sound system specifically engineered for the Verano’s interior is available on all three trim levels.

Front seat dimensions are roomy with legroom of 42 inches. However, rear-seat legroom can run anywhere from non-existent to grudgingly acceptable, depending on how far the front seat is slid back. Cargo volume in the trunk is a generous 14.3 cubic feet.

Perhaps what puts the explanation point on Buick's luxury persona is its quiet interior. A dozen noise-reducing and noise-canceling technologies are used in more than 50 areas of Verano’s body structure for increased cabin isolation.

During a live demonstration a person with a high-powered leaf blower cranked up to full power stood beside the driver’s-side door. As the windows were closing it became less of a factor until with the windows completely closed the revving motor was barely discernible. Buick claims the extra soundproofing adds about 10 pounds to the weight of the vehicle, a “weight gain” that few would find fault with.

Quietness isn’t the only virtue in the 2012 Verano. It offers one of the smoothest rides on the road. Through a series of suburban and twisty rural roads the sedan performed perfectly, affording little if any body roll and excellent road-gripping traits. It sits on 18-inch multi-spoke, forged alloy, polished machine face, sterling silver-finish wheels.

A shopper in the compact entry-level luxury segment may be put off when he learns that the Verano is powered by a direct-injection 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Ecotec engine. But it would behove him to take a test drive before dismissing the Buick from his shopping list.

The engine makes180 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Zero to 60 has been measured in around 9 seconds, which is not even close to head of the class, but which offers a satisfying driving experience in all situations. Perhaps of most importance the engine delivers 32 mpg city and 21 city on regular gas.

Because of increased sound-deadening under the hood the high-winding noise mostly associated with four-cylinder engines is hardly noticeable.
Buick has indicated that it will offer a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in the future.

The Verano comes in three trim levels starting at $23,470 Base, and rising to $24,679 for Convenience Group 2, and $26,750 for the top Leather Group. Our Leather Group trim test Verano carried a bottom line of $27,175.

Base price: $23,470; as driven, $27,175
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 180 @ 6,700 rpm
Torque: 171 foot-pounds @ 4,900 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.9 inches
Length: 183.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,399 pounds
Turning circle: 36 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15 gallons (regular/E85)
EPA rating: 32 highway, 21 city
0-60: 9 seconds (Edmund's)
Also consider: Acura TSX, Audi A3, Lincoln MKZ

The Good
• Quiet, well-appointed cabin
• Comfortable ride
• Well priced

The Bad
• Backup camera not available

The Ugly
• Underpowered engine compared to competition