2013 Buick Verano 1STPosted on June 4th, 2013
Compact sedan for driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
I’ll admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for Buicks. I took my first cross-country trip in my father’s ’66 triple black LeSabre, and learned to drive on my mother’s ’69 Skylark. I drove the Skylark until the ball joints gave way some time in the mid-1980s. Even though the wheels were falling off the car I was still able to sell it to a friend. The engine was still good.
So I welcome Buick’s current renaissance with open arms, delighted to see its return to a rightful place among the world’s premium brands.
The new Verano compact sedan reminds me in many ways of the Skylark I grew up with. Granted it’s a much smaller car, and the chassis is front-wheel drive as opposed to rear-wheel drive for the Skylark. What the two cars share is a similar product strategy: offering discriminating buyers the performance and luxury they desire at a remarkably affordable price.
Pricing for the base model starts under $25,000. Base price on the test car is $29,105 excluding the $885 destination charge. The upscale grade comes loaded with convenience and safety features, including keyless entry and start, IntelliLink voice-activated infotainment system, satellite radio, leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and streaming audio, a heated steering wheel with redundant controls and a premium audio system. Options including a power sunroof, navigation and special exterior paint bring the final MSRP to $32,180.
Test drive in Oregon
At the recent Heels & Wheels women’s automotive conference, I had the opportunity to drive the upscale Verano 1ST on a road trip between Bend and Portland, Oregon: a distance of about 150 miles. The drive route included rural roads, four-lane highway and some surface streets around the city of Portland.
The 1ST comes with a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine: one of two available blocks. With 250 horsepower, it is significantly more powerful than the base 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine. A six-speed manual transmission enables the drive to shift a little later and take advantage of the sedan’s 260 foot-pounds of torque.
Did I say manual transmission? Yes, I did, and it’s a very good manual transmission at that, with short-throw shift lever and crisp gear changes.
In addition to an abundance of sweeping turns going over the mountain pass, the route included a significant altitude gain that was a perfect test for the turbocharged engine’s power. Bend, Oregon is high desert, sitting at about 3600 feet. The road through the mountains climbed several thousand feet over that before descending through pine-covered forests back to Portland.
Front-wheel drive cars can have a tendency to push or understeer, which can be a problem with this type of road. A Z-link rear suspension design on the Verano helps to counteract that tendency. Standard 18-inch alloy wheels provided an ample footprint, keeping the car glued to the road.
I was also impressed with the electric power steering system that offered solid on-center response at speed. At no point did I feel disconnected from the wheels.
Both blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera with cross-traffic alert are standard on the upscale grade, making it easier to monitor vehicles in adjacent lanes as well as traffic in crowded parking lots.
Engineers did an good job of isolating passengers from road, engine and wind noise to create the quiet interior Buick is known for.
Overall, designers did an excellent job on the interior. Standard keyless entry and start saves the driver from fishing for the key fob. Once inside, I found both the driver’s and front passenger seats comfortable and easy to adjust. Thankfully, Buick has moved away from the overly soft seats it used for many years.
The instrument panel still has more buttons than I like to see. As someone not familiar with the instrument panel, I found them distracting. On the other hand, both the gauge cluster and center stack screen were easy to read in bright sunlight.
My driving partner and I tested both the OnStar turn-by-turn directions and IntelliLink voice-activated audio programming. The latter worked quite well, easily recognizing both of our dialects.
OnStar, however, was a little awkward. Once we got past the computer commands to an advisor, the woman at the other end seemed to have a hard time recognizing the name, “Portland, Oregon.” We had to repeat ourselves several times and spell both the city and state before she was able to locate it. Perhaps it was her first day on the job.
The second-row seat has enough room for two adults. Three can squeeze in in a pinch, but there isn’t much legroom in the center position.
The trunk is quite spacious, easily holding two people’s luggage.
The Buick Verano comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, tire pressure monitoring, blind spot monitoring, a rearview camera with cross-traffic alert and six months of OnStar automatic crash response that automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision.
Buick builds the Verano at its Lake Orion, Michigan assembly plant.
Like: A premium sedan with excellent ride and handling and a high level of convenience and safety features.
Dislike: Buttons on the instrument panel are distracting for the driver.
Model: Verano 1ST
Base price: $29,105
As tested: $32,180
Horsepower: 250 Hp @ 5300 rpm
Torque: 260 lbs.-ft. @ 2000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 20/31 mpg city/highway
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