Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
Buick is billing the 2012 Verano as the first compact in the Buick family "designed to deliver premium features and luxury characteristics." Fair enough. That's a good place to start. But with that kind of promise we instantly start to wonder, "Are the features really all that premium? How luxurious are its characteristics?
Yet, even with that mindset, this all-new Buick did so little to draw attention to itself that we found little to complain about. Why? Excessive competence, quiet proficiency, call it what you like, the Verano is loaded with the stuff and it's all within a quiet, solid and attractive Buick shell.
That's not to say the Verano is akin to a boring shoe-gazer at your housewarming party. No, it's more like a well-mannered, engaging neighbor that you want to invite over again to chat up a little more. "Hey, remember Verano? I like that Verano. Let's invite him over again to see what he's all about." In other words, the door is open.
Fixing the Issues
We had reason to be skeptical of Buick's claims. After all, the Verano shares its underpinnings with the Chevrolet Cruze, a car we tested for a year with mixed results. Thankfully, Buick addressed almost every one of them in the Verano.
For instance, the Buick's transmission feels far more refined in almost every situation. It delivers quick upshifts and rev-matched downshifts in Manual mode. Gently squeeze the throttle and you get a quick single-gear downshift instead of the much-delayed double-gear downshifts we got in the Cruze.
There's none of the Cruze's irregular turbocharged power delivery either. The Verano's naturally aspirated, direct-injected 2.4-liter 180-horsepower inline-4 serves up linear, conventional power all the way to its 6,700-rpm fuel cutoff. It feels like a completely appropriate and effective engine for the 3,400-pound car, at least in terms of power. Its mileage wasn't so great, as we only averaged 20 mpg during our hectic week with the Verano.
That number doesn't include our trip to the test track where the Verano reached 60 mph in 9.0 seconds (8.7 seconds with a 1-foot rollout) and crossed the quarter-mile mark in 16.5 seconds at 84.5 mph. Not the stuff of legend, but reasonable performance for a small premium sedan running on 87-octane.
A Refined Ride in More Ways Than One
Steering feel has never been a strong point for Buicks. Most of the time it didn't matter, as they weren't for driving quickly anyway. That doesn't fly with modern luxury cars, though, so the Verano has been tuned accordingly — and tuned well.
Our test-driver called the Buick's steering "crystal clear" thanks to its ample response and precision. This comes from both mechanical and electric pinions acting on the same steering rack — an attribute of rack-mounted electric-assist power steering (EPS). At least on systems done the right way, that is.
Contrast this with the equally precise yet inert steering in the Cruze. Mechanically, they share the same hardware and steering ratio (15.5:1) so the difference must be in the tires, the electronic controls or the feedback of the system. Whatever the reason, the Verano's just-right steering dispels the idea that Buicks and sharp steering are mutually exclusive.
Over almost every surface we encountered, the Buick Verano exhibited a refined, compliant ride. Again, the Cruze and Verano share similar parts, but the Verano's additional weight demanded larger-diameter dampers, higher spring rates and thicker antiroll bars that all work to better control the ride. Only on unusually jarring impacts (like a train track crossing) did we notice front impact harshness in the Verano.
Combining these chassis components and Verano-specific tuning also produced no-nonsense track results. The Buick Verano posted 0.84g in lateral acceleration on the skid pad and a 64.6-mph best in our 600-foot slalom test. Those figures, though slightly less enthusiastic than those of the lighter Cruze (0.86g and 67.2 mph) are still competitive with its rivals.
A More Midsize Compact
It's hard to tell exactly which cars are the Verano's rivals given its odd size. With 109 cubic feet of combined trunk and passenger space, this Buick is at the outer limits of the EPA's "Compact" classification (100-109 cubic feet). As such, the Verano feels much more like a midsizer. It's especially apparent up front where there's plenty of knee room thanks to the design of the center stack and dashboard. The headroom is generous, too, and even the door pockets are big.
The semi-powered driver seat is indeed comfortable, and in our leather-equipped example both front seats are heated along with the steering wheel. However, we had to double-check that this car wasn't mistakenly equipped with leatherette surfaces. A little perforation would've been appreciated and would have reduced the damp-back syndrome we experienced on a hot day.
The rear bucket seats provide ample leg-, shoulder- and headroom for two across, but this isn't much of a five-passenger sedan. The inelegantly stowed rear armrest does not make a comfortable seatback and there's no head restraint for the hump rider either. We expected a premium sedan to offer rear seat passengers a couple directional vents, too, but the Verano only has basic floor vents.
Trunk space is generous and ranges between 14 and 15.2 cubic feet depending on whether or not you get the premium audio upgrade and/or tire inflator kit. Perhaps more importantly, the shape of the trunk is very open without awkward niches or humps, and it has a relatively low (29-inch) lift-over height.
Other standard features include a bevy of sound-attenuating measures like triple-sealed doors, laminated windshield and front side glass, a five-layer acoustic headliner, fabric-wrapped A-pillars, computer/robot applied goo throughout the body cavity and so on.
All together the noise reduction features reduce sound levels when compared to the Cruze, but not by much. At idle and at a 70-mph cruise the Verano was 0.3 and 0.6 decibels quieter respectively. Where the Verano was noticeably quieter was at wide-open-throttle (by 5 dB), but since the cars have different engines it's not a very comparable number. Numbers aside, it's a well-buttoned-down vehicle that rarely lets in any unwanted noises.
Features Without Frustration
Unlike the current Buick Regal, which serves up a visually and ergonomically challenging center stack, the Verano's is logical and well labeled while offering a crisp, color touchscreen (even without the optional navigation system). Optional equipment includes SD card-based sat-nav ($795) with upgraded audio, a sunroof ($900) and forged alloy wheels ($450).
The sound quality from the standard audio system is a small step above adequate, but standard connectivity and infotainment features are up-to-the-minute. Bluetooth for phone and audio are standard, as are an aux jack plus iPod via USB, SiriusXM (free for 3 months) and the most current version of OnStar (free for 6 months). Further, what GM calls Buick IntelliLink allows specific smartphone integration including both steering wheel and voice control of streaming audio from the phone through services like Pandora and Stitcher — although we were unsuccessful with our iPhone 4 with 5.0 software.
A push-button parking brake, dual-zone climate control and keyless ignition all come standard. The only option on our test car was the $495 White Diamond Tricoat paint, which didn't seem like a bad choice given its flawless appearance. The as-tested total of our 2012 Buick Verano was $27,345, or about $1,200 more than our loaded long-term 2011 Chevy Cruze LTZ.
Is the Verano Worth It?
Buick clearly thinks so and it points to key competitors like the Audi A3, an old, cramped four-door hatchback and the Lexus IS 250, an old rear-wheel-drive sport sedan that would clobber the Verano dynamically.
A better matchup would be the four-cylinder Acura TSX, which offers similar equipment and passenger space in a comparable price range.
Actually, the Buick is a little bit less expensive than the Acura. You wouldn't know it from behind the wheel, though, as the Verano is stocked with features, handles well and generally feels a step above your average small sedan. It's not what we would call sporty, and Buick isn't pushing that idea either. Instead, it's pitching it as more of a traditional Buick, a well-built, quiet sedan with modern technology and understated styling. Nothing wrong with that, especially when the car is as good as the Verano.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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