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Published: 10/08/2012 - by James Riswick, Automotive Editor
The navigation system is set for the Avenue of the Giants, 609 miles away from our home base in Los Angeles. To get there requires a tiresome slog along the noisy, pockmarked Interstate 5, followed by roughly the same distance on the nicer, though hardly glass-smooth U.S. 101 through Northern California. It's the type of journey that just begs for the comfort and quiet provided by a full-size sedan, preferably one with all the luxury bells and whistles.
Sure enough, the road is littered with full-sizers ferrying families and couples on their own road trips. However, we're not in one of them. Instead, it's a 2013 Buick Verano Turbo that has set a course for the towering redwoods of California's northernmost reaches.
Truth be told, this unassuming compact based on the Chevrolet Cruze platform hardly seemed like the impetus for an epic journey. Worse yet, its cheaper price and compact dimensions would struggle to deliver the qualities you look for on a road trip, while its Buick-ness would make for a depressing time on the winding roads up north.
As it turned out, none of that was true. The 2013 Buick Verano Turbo was the perfect car for the trip.
Smaller, yet More Powerful
Another key attribute of a good road trip car is power. Nobody wants to pull out to pass a semi with traffic bearing down on them from the left lane only to discover that the little four-cylinder under the hood can't keep up. That's the case with the stock Buick Verano and its 2.4-liter Ecotec mill that brings it to 60 mph in 9 seconds flat. That's average for four-cylinder family sedans, but leisurely nevertheless, and not what we want on the hills and grades in NorCal.
Nothing a little forced induction can't fix. The Turbo in our tester's name refers to the 2.0-liter, turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder new to the Verano for 2013. It's rated at 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It's essentially a detuned version of the engine placed longitudinally in the Cadillac ATS, and a more distant relative of the one found in the cult-favorite Cobalt SS.
That power is sent to the front wheels through a standard six-speed automatic transmission, but our tester came with the optional six-speed manual transmission that can be ordered at no cost. You read that right, a Buick with a manual, and it's not even one with sporting pretensions like the Regal GS.
The Enthusiast's Choice
Frankly, it's an unusual sensation rowing your own in a car of the Verano's look, price and character. Add to that the gearbox's long, leisurely throws, and it's hard not to look around and double-check that you haven't been suddenly transported to Europe.
And yet, praise be to Buick for including it on the options list. Sure, few buyers are likely to opt for it, but those few will enjoy a level of involvement and control all those automatic drivers will not. We also have a sneaking suspicion that the automatic would've been an annoyance on those aforementioned grades, eagerly selecting 6th gear at the earliest opportunity for fuel economy.
No such worry with the manual. We weren't forced to laze along in 6th gear, yet the Verano still achieved a superb 29.5 mpg on our 1,500-mile journey. The EPA estimates are 20 city/31 highway mpg and 24 mpg combined, so we consider the 29.5 number pretty strong given the hilly Northern California terrain.
Let's not forget about the engine, though. It has a lovely, linear midrange that sufficiently plants you in your seat and eliminates some of the need to downshift — regardless of transmission. At the test track, our 2013 Buick Verano Turbo went from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds (6.4 with a 1-foot rollout as on a drag strip), which is only 0.3 second off the pace of the rear-drive ATS.
It's much quicker than other entry-level luxury cars, including the Acura TSX, Volkswagen CC, Volvo S60 and even the Mercedes-Benz C250. The similarly priced and equipped Acura ILX isn't even close.
King of the Road
But what about all that comfort and quiet stuff from earlier? Well, it didn't take long for this little Buick to defy expectations on the impossibly noisy concrete stretches of I-5. In short, the Verano's a tomb. Nothing with its compact dimensions is this quiet, and its decibel levels compare favorably to much pricier, honest-to-goodness luxury sedans.
Ride comfort is indeed another bright spot, and we're not talking about a floating high-seas adventure like Aunt Esther's Park Avenue. The Verano strikes an excellent balance between comfort and composure. It feels solid and perfectly damped, and it's once again hard not to think we're back in Europe again.
This isn't just a Cruze with some leather, as some have assumed. On the contrary, the Verano feels very much like the equally surprising Buick LaCrosse, a car that easily bested the previous-generation Lexus ES 350 in a comparison test.
As the Road Turns
With its Buick badge, though, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the Verano is this comfortable and quiet. As the long stretches of two-lane divided highway faded in the mirror, though, this compact Buick suddenly started to make an entirely different, and yes, genuinely surprising case for itself.
In the terrifically twisty northernmost stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway, the Verano Turbo displayed an agility that you certainly won't be getting from the LaCrosse or any other full-size sedan. As it sliced among the redwoods, initial turn-in was very good, while the electric power steering demonstrated appropriate weighting and a decent amount of feel. Not quite enough to be deemed invigorating (the long-throw shifter and numb throttle feel don't help, either), but the handling can be described as impressively competent.
When we returned from the redwoods, our handling tests backed up these real-world impressions. The 2013 Buick Verano Turbo pulled 0.83g around the skid pad and snaked through the slalom at 65.7 mph. That's roughly identical to that of the Acura ILX 2.4 Premium, although the Verano's 60-0 mph stop of 125 feet was a good 5 feet shorter.
Agile but Still Comfortable
And just because this Buick is small and nimble doesn't mean it goes without the comfort-biased attributes that go hand-in-hand with the brand's full-size sedan. The seats never ceased to be comfortable and supportive, while the driver seat adjusted to a degree that made this 6-foot-3 pilot a happy guy over the course of 1,500 miles. Unfortunately, though, the driver seat is manual recline only, which also eliminates the possibility of memory functions.
Still, there's not much else that's missing from this $31,110 near-luxury sedan. Every Verano Turbo is a Premium trim level and vice-versa, which either way you look at it is the most expensive and loaded model available. With it you get heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, keyless ignition/entry, a rearview camera, a blind-spot-warning system, Bluetooth phone and audio, a Bose sound system and Buick's Intellilink configurable touchscreen interface.
Our test car also included the excellent navigation system that was easy to program and scan on the fly thanks to its redundant touchscreen and multipurpose knob controls. It didn't have the optional sunroof and we never missed it.
A similarly equipped LaCrosse would be about $5,000 more, while the similarly priced Acura ILX can't quite match its equipment (and that's before you take into account the power deficit).
Damning It With Praise
The Verano is still a compact, though, and its cabin was a little cramped during the short interim trip from Grandma's house to pick up the kid and her many accompanying accessories. However, with only the wife riding shotgun, it was all we really needed.
With that in mind, we can't help but think the Verano Turbo is one of the best cars out there for empty nesters or full-fledged retirees. And no, we're not thinking about Grandma Sue flirting with the speed minimum during her weekly venture to the Sun City Safeway. Instead, we envision those young-at-heart active sorts with plenty of time to venture up to places like, say, Avenue of the Giants.
For them, the Verano provides the comfort, serenity and luxury that they desire and expect, while being nimbler, cheaper and more efficient than the full-size sedan their friends might buy. Heck, the manual is even ideal for the older driving enthusiast who still wants the control and involvement you get from rowing your own gearbox.
Yet you certainly don't have to be retired to appreciate the 2013 Buick Verano Turbo — this particular journey was undertaken by a couple at the ripe old age of 29. And as we turned back for the sun-baked morass of Southern California, the 2013 Buick Verano Turbo had clearly proven itself an excellent car for this and many other journeys.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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