Tight rear legroom, dated center console, some poor sight lines.
When you see the 2012 Buick Verano in person, you quickly understand just how far Buick has come. In this pearlescent off-white with "choccachina" leather interior, the Verano is one handsome car. Unlike other manufacturers, which blatantly pander to young buyers with overwrought sheet metal, Buick has embraced modernity and shed stale design features while preserving the good taste that is its heritage. The result is a legitimate new contender in the crowded segment of compact luxury cars.
More importantly, the performance of the 2012 Buick Verano is as good as its looks, even though it shares a platform with the rather ordinary Chevrolet Cruze. There is little to complain about and plenty to be admired, and the Verano lives up to the standard set by Buick's latest offerings, the Buick LaCrosse and Buick Regal.
Still, Buick might be a bit overconfident to say the Verano competes against the 2011 Lexus IS 250, which carries a price tag that's more than $5,000 higher and has expressed the essence of a compact luxury car for many years. While the Buick has come a long way, it's a stretch even to put the new Verano up against the 2012 Acura TSX, which is only a couple thousand dollars more expensive. But in the realm of domestic manufacturers, the new smaller Buick might compete against the 2012 Chrysler 300.
Under the Verano's hood is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. This inline-4 engine runs on regular fuel or E85 (85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol) and is coupled with a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts with exceptional smoothness. The powertrain delivers plenty of power for normal driving conditions and feels sporty and responsive, although the engine noise gets a bit harsh at full throttle.
At the Edmunds test track, the 2012 Buick Verano weighs in at 3,431 pounds in this fully optioned version. It sprints from a standstill to 60 mph in 9 seconds, which is acceptable for most driving conditions. The brakes brought the car to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet and the car tracked straight with only a mild amount of dive at the front. There seemed to be a lot of pedal travel, but the feel was firm and it was easy to modulate the pedal pressure for a smooth stop.
The good news is the way this sedan handled; our test driver called the steering feel "crystal-clear" and the Verano threaded its way through the slalom at 64.6 mph. The P235/45R18 Continental Conti ProContact all-season tires provided "trustworthy grip," according to our test driver, and the car cornered with crisp responsiveness.
Around town, the 2012 Buick Verano proved lively and fun to drive, and its athletic character gives the driver confidence. The EPA rates the Verano at 22 city/31 highway mpg, and we observed 20 mpg for the term of our test. Over a 30-mile commute in stop-and-go traffic, we also observed 30 mpg, showing that it is possible to drive this car economically.
The leather seats were comfortable, with what seemed like aggressive lumbar support (welcome news to anyone with an aching back). The seats might not be big enough or provide enough support for large people, though. In general the interior space feels a little tightly enclosed due to the combination of high window sills and a low, sleek roof line. This could give some people a welcome feeling of protection and comfort, while others might prefer a more open-feeling cabin. The rear seats were comfortable, although the legroom was limited.
The Verano's suspension handled the bumps with confidence and provided an exceptionally comfortable ride that's far from the wallowing you might associate with Buicks of the distant past. This car also boasts many noise-reducing features, including thicker laminated glass in the side windows and a five-layer piece of acoustic insulation within the headliner.
Our cell phone paired easily and the Bluetooth system worked flawlessly in Buick's all new IntelliLink system. A USB connection can also be used to connect a smartphone to the car's sound system. The stereo enables the streaming of Internet sites such as Pandora.
The center console is busy, but the climate controls on the dual-zone climate system are easily operated and create a comfortable environment. The trunk release button is on the far right of the center console — not really a problem but somewhat illogical.
One problem the 2012 Buick Verano shares with many modern sedans is a thick A-pillar that creates a blind spot to the driver's left. The triangular window at the base of the A-pillar provides no extra visibility and actually obscures the road. Unfortunately this is a common liability in modern car design because of the need both to package the curtain airbag within the A-pillar and also provide stout structural support for the roof in case of rollover in an accident.
The trunk provides 14.3 cubic feet of cargo space with plenty of space to allow golf clubs. The Verano comes with an actual full-size spare tire, which bucks the current trend of providing only an inflation kit.
Design/Fit and Finish
The lines of this new Buick are subtle and pleasing with some nice design touches, such as chrome inserts in the door handles. Inside the cabin, the wraparound dash extends its sweeping lines to the driver and passenger doors in a way that rivals premium brands. The leather-wrapped shift knob and interior lighting are nothing short of elegant.
One small misstep is the center console, where the feel of the knobs and controls doesn't match the level of refinement in the rest of the cabin. Most glaring is the small start/stop ignition button, which seems awkwardly wedged into the upper left corner of the console as if it were an afterthought.
Who should consider this vehicle
It's probably fair to say that this division of General Motors has never had a truly outstanding small car, but the 2012 Buick Verano rewrites history, delivering all the attributes that you expect of a Buick yet in a way that seems modern, not retro. The Verano definitely provides a feeling of quality and substance both in the way it looks and the way it drives. It's a huge step forward for this venerable carmaker that might be just the ticket for some buyers tired of the same old thing.