The Buick renaissance began with the Enclave utility vehicle. It was followed by the LaCrosse and then the Regal sedans. Now comes the brand’s first foray into the compact luxury class – the 2012 Buick Verano.
It’s a gutsy move aimed at attracting a new body of customers to the brand. The current occupants of the segment are cars from established luxury marques like Audi, Acura, Lexus and Mercedes.
All are positioned to capture what demographers see as a batch of empty nesters looking to get out of a minivan, SUV or other people carrier into a smaller, luxurious and hopefully more fuel-efficient vehicle.
The Verano shares its global small car (Delta II) platform with the Volt and Chevrolet Cruze, but the engineers insist they went to great lengths to ensure the Verano hits above that class with extensive work on NVH and other refinement issues.
The Verano has the same wheelbase but is 75-mm longer, slightly wider and taller. Internal dimensions are closer to its Regal sibling than to the Chevy.
It certainly doesn't look like a Cruze. The black chrome waterfall grill, silly vents tacked on top of the hood and Regal-like sidelines shout Buick.
The coupe-like profile and nicely rounded rear quarters and chrome "eyebrows" over the rear lights speak of class. And its proportions help it to look much larger than the tape indicates.
Big (optional) 18-inch alloy wheels and gleaming paint, applied through a new more eco-friendly and energy-conserving system, lend further credence to the luxury car claim.
Quiet and well appointed
The interior has come in for an extra dose of attention and it shows. There is nothing subtle about the styling with enough angles, curves and surface variations to warrant a course in design school.
The Verano is an extremely well appointed car. Again, worthy of its luxury vehicle persona. There are soft touch surfaces everywhere; wood and satin metal trim and supple leather (again, optional). The seats are great and the ambient lighting most effective.
Two large adults can be accommodated in comfort up front. The same duo would be somewhat confined in the rear and hopefully a third person won't want to share their space.
One of the most effective, but difficult ways to impart an impression of luxury is silence. The Verano development team deserves high praise for their efforts.
Triple door seals, laminated acoustic glass, dual-density carpets, five layers of acoustic material in the headliner and more than twice as much sound-deadening foam as the Cruze aid the cause.
The list is extensive and evidence is everywhere. This is an extremely quiet automobile, among the quietest I have driven at any price.
Loads of standard equipment
Verano's long list of standard equipment includes: power windows, locks and mirrors, OnStar, automatic climate control, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a tilt & telescope steering wheel, cruise control and 10 airbags.
My test vehicle had what was called Preferred Equipment Package 1SL, which bumped the price by many thousands of dollars.
The good news is that the combination of features, if ordered separately, would cost much more. The bad news is that you get them all whether wanted or not.
The list includes "convenience" features like remote start and fog lights, an audio system upgrade with Bluetooth and colour screen and dual-zone climate control.
"Comfort" features include heated power mirrors, a power driver seat, auto-dimming mirror, rear park assist leather, a 250-watt, nine speaker Bose audio system, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and push button start. Whew!
Add on a $1,100 sunroof, the big 18-inch alloy wheels and delivery charges and you are looking at the wrong side of $30,000. But that equipment list and price are competitive, perhaps even a bargain compared to some competitors wearing luxury names.
Under the skin
The suspension is comprised of MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam rear axle at the rear. The money and weight-saving beam-type rear axle allows a low trunk floor.
There is no pretense of being a sports sedan. The emphasis is on ride and luxury. The suspension soaks up major blemishes with ease and exhibits good control over lean but understeer is quickly evident in the turns and the steering offers little feedback.
Nevertheless, the car feels extremely solid and composed until pushed beyond where the intended buyer will ever venture.
Performance is similarly tilted to the quiet and luxurious side rather than quick or powerful.
The 2.4-litre Ecotec engine develops maximum power at a lofty 4900 rpm, so requires a fair bit of prodding and sustained heavy throttle to impress. The six-speed automatic does a good job of ensuring you are in the right gear at the right time, but downshifts are slow to arrive and fuel economy is the main game.
Speaking of fuel economy, the Verano can be a very thrifty little car when driven in the intended manner. I managed 7.2-litres/100 km over a varied road loop with no special effort to save gas.
More power is on the way for the 2013 model year with an optional turbocharged four promising in excess of 225 horsepower.
All told, Buick’s first foray into the compact luxury sweepstakes is a praiseworthy effort that is well aimed at its market, and hits it.