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Buick, Drives — July 10, 2012 at 5:47 am

2012 Buick Verano: Drive Review


Forget what you think you know about Buick before stepping into the brand’s smallest and most affordable model, the Verano.

It seems logical that a well-rounded understanding of the history of a subject would make a writer better suited to cover it in a thoughtful and insightful way. For an automotive writer, familiarity with models of decades past should provide context for an automaker’s current crop of new vehicles. So I should’ve known what to expect when given the keys to the latest test vehicle, a Buick Verano.

After all, I recently wrote a feature for Hemmings Classic Wheels on the 1970 Buick GSX Stage 1. That cover story, which will appear soon in the July 11 issue, calls the limited production model one of the last and best cars of the muscle car era. I have plenty of experience with ’80s and ’90s Buick’s too. Those were far less spectacular, suggesting an overall downhill trend for the brand, with a few little bumps upward for models with that powerful, economical and reliable 3.8-liter V6.

But some time behind the wheel of the Verano reminded me that I stopped paying attention to Buick for a decade or more. During those years, Buick engineers must have been hard at work, updating and improving the lineup. Maybe the death of Oldsmobile and Pontiac helped to give Buick a boost. Maybe the folks at Buick grew tired of being trumped by European and Japanese luxury brands. Whatever the impetus for improvement, the Verano seems to illustrate that any downward slide has been reversed.

To start, the proportions of the Verano are considerably more compact than expected. Sure, the brand still offers the larger Regal and La Crosse sedans, as well as a pair of crossovers, the Encore and Enclave. But the Verano, which shares a platform with the Chevrolet Cruze, means that you don’t have to go huge for American luxury. It’s easy to drive and maneuver in tight parking spaces and narrow city streets, but performs quietly and comfortably on the highway. It seats five, and although it leaves little rear-seat legroom with the front seat all the way back, it proved comfortable for three adults and two children in booster seats on a 100-mile trip.

Adding to the comfort factor is a list of equipment included on the test vehicle’s 1SL options package. Also called the Leather Group, the package offers a rich roster of features including a proximity key with push-button start, one-touch up/down windows on all four doors, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, rear parking assist, remote starter, 9-speaker Bose sound and Bluetooth. The only option on the test car is the $795 touch-screen navigation system.

The bottom line for the test vehicle, including an $885 destination charge, is $27,645. Buick says the Verano is a compact luxury sedan designed to compete with “traditional entries” like the Lexus IS 250. The least expensive 2012 IS 250 comes in at $34,670 including destination charge. That a Lexus is “traditional” compared with a Buick means we live in a whole new world. And that the Buick undercuts the stated competition my $7,000 means one of two things. Either Lexus should be very worried, or the IS 250 is not really a competitor for the baby Buick.

Pricing has not yet been announced for the 2013 Buick Verano Turbo, but the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine may give the Verano an edge against would-be Japanese and European competitors. The 2.4-liter 4-cylinder in the test car produces 180 horsepower while the smaller, boosted unit develops 250. Acceleration with the 2.4-liter is just adequate and never brisk. And the economy rating proved elusive, although record heat and mostly city driving were likely factors. I observed just 20 mpg in combined driving, while the EPA rating is 21 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. The turbo may offer both better performance and higher real-world fuel economy. And the Verano’s relative bargain price should leave enough room to make the turbo a sensible choice.

Buick’s days of sexy and powerful special models like the GSX Stage 1 may be long gone, but the era of huge, lumbering land yachts (and barely disguised, badge-engineered little Chevys, for that matter) are history, too. The 2012 Verano offers stylish and affordable luxury, and the upcoming Verano Turbo will likely add a bit of performance to the formula. I’ve updated my perceptions of Buick to reflect this new reality. If yours are stuck in the ’80s or ’90s, perhaps you should take another look, too.

Photography courtesy of Dave May. See the full gallery.