Buick Verano Turbo — Energetic performance

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

For the first time in nearly 15 years a small Buick returned to the fold last year slotting into the new Buick lineup of smaller, firmer cars with European design and flare. Buick completed its transformation introducing an entry-level luxury car that rivals anything in its class. The compact Verano offers handsome styling, a comfortable ride; an attractive and quiet interior loaded with quality materials; nimble handling; and fuel efficiency.

The chief criticism of the 2012 Verano was its lack of performance. The criticism isn't over the standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine per se. It's a good engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that makes 180 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque and delivers 32 mpg highway and 21 mpg city. The criticism is with its measured 0-to-60 time of around 9 seconds.

This absence of horsepower in an entry-level luxury vehicle may have turned off some people — especially younger prospective buyers — who otherwise liked the small sedan. Buick saw the need for an alternative and the company has delivered for 2013 creating a Premium trim level that includes a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that generates 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.

The turbocharged 4 turns the small car into a rather delightful driving machine. The turbocharging leaves all the quiet and comfort qualities intact while adding the kind of performance that will get noticed. And to give those folks who still enjoy choosing their own gears an option, Buick is offering a six-speed manual transmission at no additional charge.

The turbo has been magazine-tested at 6.1 seconds from 0-to-60 and at 14.7 seconds at 99 mph in the quarter mile with either the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic while getting almost the same mileage numbers as the standard engine — 21/30 automatic, 20/31 for the manual.

About 100 miles behind the wheel on some seriously twisting rural Kentucky county roads and a few stretches of interstate highway left us marveling at the small sedan’s composure. The engine runs smoothly and is well muted, no loud exhaust notes to disrupt the luxury Buick atmosphere.

Later on we spent more than 300 miles behind the wheel in both an automatic and then a manual, which reinforced our initial impressions.

The turbo edition's ride is composed, yet the slightly stiffened suspension allows for some spirited driving. We won't place the Verano turbo in true sports sedan territory, but it comes close enough. And if you opt for the manual transmission, you will find a sporty short-throw shifter with well-modulated clutch action.

Those who like to shout to the world, this is a hot turbocharged Verano, not the standard garden variety may be disappointed. The only differentiations are a small turbo badge on the trunk, dual exhausts and an inconspicuous small rear spoiler.

The interior remains the same and that's a good thing. 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.

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.

Safety is well covered with a standard array of airbags, antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, and the OnStar system. We criticized Buick last year for not including a backup camera. It's available for 2013 as standard equipment. The Premium turbo model also gets a blind-spot monitoring system, and rear cross traffic alert.

The Premium turbo trim starts at $29,990, which is $3,300 more than the top 2.4-liter Leather Group trim. Our test car came in at $31,685 with a handful of options including navigation (extremely well priced at $795) and sunroof.

You will have to determine if the extra performance and superior handling traits are worth the extra cash outlay. We have no trouble saying, bring it on.

Base price: $23,965; as driven, $31,685
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 250 horsepower @ 5,300 rpm
Torque: 260 foot-pounds @ 2,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Length: 183.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,300 pounds
Turning circle: 36 feet
Luggage capacity: 14 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 30 highway, 21 city
0-60: 6.1 seconds
Also consider: Acura ILX, Lexus IS 250, Audi A3

The Good
• Energetic turbocharged engine
• Premium gas not required
• Excellent handling traits
• Quiet, stylish interior

The Bad
• Back seat a bit tight

The Ugly
• Steep price increase for turbocharged engine