2012 Buick Verano FWDPosted on April 10th, 2012
Compact luxury sedan at a best value price
By Nina Russin
As fuel prices rise and household budgets shrink, the bulk of the passenger car market is shifting from midsized sedans to compacts. Downsizing isn’t limited to the budget segment. Luxury automakers are jumping on the bandwagon as well, with both Acura and Buick rolling out new compact models this year.
The Verano is initially available with a 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated gasoline engine, followed by a turbo. At this point, Buick hasn’t announced plans to add the eAssist feature which extends gas mileage on the Regal.
Average fuel economy is 25 miles-per-gallon according to EPA estimates: slightly better than the base Regal, but not as good as the mid-sized sedan with eAssist. I did considerably better on my 150-mile test drive, during which the Verano averaged 29 miles-per-gallon.
A six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection is standard. The new Verano comes well-equipped with standard convenience features, including keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror and heated outside mirrors, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, an infotainment center which interfaces with the driver’s smart phone, and OnStar with a complimentary six-month subscription.
While these features might not be surprising for a car costing $30,000, they’re exceptional for a vehicle priced under $25,000, including the delivery charge. MSRP on the test car is $24,670: six thousand dollars below today’s average vehicle transaction price, according to statistics from the research firm, TrueCar.com.
Product planners didn’t skimp on safety features either, making ten airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control standard equipment. OnStar’s automatic crash notification service sends police and medical personnel to the scene if the vehicle is involved in a serious collision.
Being a long-time fan of the brand, I was anxious to see how the new Verano compares to other new models in Buick’s lineup. While current cars don’t tug at the heartstrings quite as much as the Wildcat and GS models from my formative years, they offer buyers a unique and satisfying combination of performance and value.
Buick has shed the stodgy image which held the brand back for several decades, with a new generation of more youthful, upscale products which serve as similar role in GM’s product strategy as they did in the 1960s. Back then, Buicks were doctor’s cars, since they offered many of the same features as Cadillacs in a less ostentatious manner.
My father bought his ’66 triple-black LeSabre after a fellow physician bought a Riviera. Having kids, my dad couldn’t justify a two-door car to my mother, but the LeSabre’s expansive black hood gave it plenty of cache. It was the apple of my father’s eye.
I learned to drive on my mother’s ’69 Skylark: a trooper of a car which I drove on and off until 1984. I wouldn’t be surprised if that car is still roaming the streets of Chicago.
Today’s market is, of course, quite different, due to the proliferation of competitive products from Europe and Asia. Whereas Buicks of the muscle car era were designed and engineered primarily for the United States, the new model lineup must have global appeal.
The challenge is to fill a lot of squares without becoming generic. I believe that Buick has met the challenge, with unique styling and performance characteristics which distinguish new models from the sea of competitors.
Test drive in Phoenix
This week, I drove the front-wheel drive Verano on surface streets and highways in Phoenix’s east valley, as well as some less populated roads outside town. For most of the drive I kept the transmission in fully-automatic mode, shifting into manual sport mode for the rural roads.
In this writer’s opinion, engineers did a great job on the powertrain, with seamless acceleration, firm linear braking, and good steering response at all speeds. Shift shock under normal driving conditions is virtually non-existent. Even under wide-open throttle, it’s not unpleasant. Shifting manually, performance is smoother than on any competitive product I’ve tested.
The steering and suspension are equally adept. A power electric steering system shaves weight under the hood and is more compact than hydraulic components. It’s well tuned to the car, with plenty of assist at low speeds and good on-center response on the highway. A 36-foot turning circle makes it easy to park on the street or perform the occasional U-turn.
Decoupled MacPherson struts in front and a Z-link design in back provide a compliant ride. Yet the chassis had no problems recovering from the pitchy hills and dips on a two-lane rural road outside of town.
The Verano’s only drawback is visibility. Both A and C pillars are on the thick side, and the rear glass is too small. The standard ultrasonic park assist helps some when driving in reverse, but it’s very hard to see cross traffic pulling out of a vertical parking spot. Over-the-shoulder visibility, especially to the right, is poor. Large side mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots in the back corners, but the driver’s side mirror obstructed my forward vision when cornering to the left.
Quiet interiors have always been a Buick hallmark. Engineers did an exceptional job minimizing road and wind noise on the Verano, making it easy for both rows of passengers to converse on the highway.
The driver’s seat bottom has power adjustments, but the seatback does not. I would have preferred a fully-automatic seat with adjustable lumbar, although lower back support was adequate for the two-hour test drive. The cloth and leatherette upholstery was attractive in my opinion, and more practical than pure leather in hot weather.
A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view. Redundant audio controls, Bluetooth interface and cruise controls minimize driver distraction.
The center stack has a similar design to the Buick Regal and LaCrosse. My preference would be for fewer buttons, and more multifunction controls.
Drivers can use OnStar to download turn-by-turn directions into the vehicle’s information display. I love this system, since it eliminates having to program a hard-drive navigation unit. I’ve used OnStar when I’ve been hopelessly lost, and was very impressed with how nice the people at the call center were, and how easy the directions were to follow.
Buick’s IntelliLink system enables users to pair a smart phone with the car, to access functions such as Pandora and Stitcher. The standard audio system is iPod and MP3 compatible. Sirius satellite radio is standard, with a three-month complimentary subscription.
Rear seats have enough room for two adults. The seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor for long items such as skis or snowboards. Cyclists will be better served with Buick’s Enclave crossover vehicle.
Buick builds the Verano in its Lake Orion, Michigan assembly plant.
Likes: An affordable luxury sedan with good fuel economy, a refined powertrain, and a high level of standard safety and convenience features.
Dislike: Poor visibility due to thick front and rear pillars and a small rear glass.
Model: Verano FWD
Base price: $23,785
As tested: $24,670
Horsepower: 180 Hp @ 6700 rpm
Torque: 171 lbs.-ft. @ 4900 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 8.6 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/32 mpg city/highway
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