GM Seeks To Define Compact Luxury Very, Very Quietly
Every six months or so, we drive a car that exceeds our expectations. Such is the case with the all-new 2012 Buick Verano, the American automaker's fresh new entrant into the $25,000 compact luxury segment.
Wait a minute – what's this so-called "$25,000 compact luxury" segment?
Buick explains that there is a window of opportunity for a small luxury sedan priced below the Audi A3, Lexus IS 250 and Acura TSX sedan, but above the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze. After identifying the void, Buick's objective was to develop a vehicle that was quieter, more luxurious and better equipped than anything close to its $23,470 cost of entry. Even loaded with every option, the Verano won't exceed $29,000, a figure which cleanly undercuts all of the aforementioned luxury imports by several thousand dollars.
Buick flew us up to Portland, Oregon, last week for an opportunity to put more than 250 miles on its new Verano in the spectacularly scenic Northwest. We arrived intrigued, and left very impressed.
Buick's third new model in as many years debuted at this year's Detroit Auto Show. Its first compact since the Buick Skylark was dropped in 1999, the Verano (Spanish for "summer") is built on General Motors' Delta II platform, an architecture shared with the Chevrolet Cruze. But don't be mistaken that this is just another one of GM's ill-advised exercises in badge engineering – it isn't. The Verano shares some suspension underpinnings with its economy-oriented cousin, but the powertrain and cabin appointments scream upmarket Regal - or even baby LaCrosse.
Let's peel back the sheetmetal and take a closer look inside.
A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder model will arrive sometime in 2012.
Set behind the signature waterfall grille and beneath the silly do-nothing portholes on the hood is GM's Ecotech 2.4-liter four-cylinder powerplant that's shared with the Regal. A larger engine than the Cruze's 1.4-liter turbo and 1.8-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder choices, this all-aluminum engine features direct injection and continuous variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust to deliver 180 horsepower at 6,700 rpm and 171 pound-feet of torque at 4,900 rpm on regular fuel. The naturally aspirated, E85-capable engine is mated to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission (Hydra-Matic 6T45) sending power to the front wheels. With a curb weight of 3,300 pounds, Buick says the Verano will hit 60 mph from a standstill in 8.6 seconds – respectable for a vehicle promising an EPA rating of 21 mpg city and 31 mpg on the highway. If you are seeking a bit more punch, you'll want to wait for the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder model that Buick says will arrive sometime in 2012.
The front suspension is independent with MacPherson struts, while the rear is configured with a torsion beam augmented by a Watts Z-link design to keep things in check. There are disc brakes at all four corners, with single-piston steel calipers clamping down on 11.8-inch ventilated rotors up front and 11.5-inch solid discs in the rear. Standard wheels are 18-inch cast aluminum alloy, wearing 235/45R18 all-season tires at all four corners (there is also a compact temporary spare under the carpet in the trunk).
Buick has gone the extra mile, or two, to isolate the mechanical underpinnings and their associated operating noises from those within the cabin. Before sound makes its way to the ears of people riding in the Verano's cabin, it must figure out a way to permeate two damping mats on the firewall, nylon and foam baffles strategically located within hollow parts of the chassis, five layers of acoustic headliner, sound deadener on the underbody sheetmetal and trunk, triple-seal doors, 5.4-mm acoustic laminated windshield and 4.85-mm acoustic-laminated side glass. Even the brake and fuel lines have been isolated to prevent vibrations from entering the cabin. We've talked before about how hushed this car's more plebeian Bowtie cousin is, and the Verano's Quiet Tuning checklist muffles things even further.
In a luxury car, noise abatement is frivolous without a rich interior, and Buick has addressed this as well. For a base price of just $23,470 (including destination charge), passengers inside the Verano are treated to standard leatherette/fabric seating surfaces, cloth-wrapped A-pillars, dual-zone automatic climate control, a sliding center armrest, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth, remote engine start and full power accessories. A high-resolution seven-inch LED backlit touchscreen with GM's Intellilink technology (complete with voice control, integrated Pandora Internet radio and Stitcher application) is also standard on entry-level models.
Verano models equipped with the Convenience Group are fitted with rear park assist, heated side mirrors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Leather Group adds natural hides (the same high-grade skins are used in the LaCrosse), a power-operated driver's seat, push-button keyless start and an upgraded Bose audio system. Navigation and a heated steering wheel are about the only options. Even fully loaded, the new compact luxury car will not surpass $29,000.
We put more than 250 miles on the new Verano last week in Oregon. The scenery was spectacular, the weather was semi-cooperative and the other traffic on the forest roads was simply frightening; nothing is more stimulating than an 80,000-pound logging truck coming the opposite direction on a wet two-lane road at 65 mph (the Verano has ten standard airbags and GM says it should be an IIHS Top Safety Pick, but we didn't want to run any tests for them).
With such luxurious accommodations up front, it's easy to forget that the Verano is a compact car.
Strapped into the front left seat, the driver is presented with an instrument cluster that would be immediately familiar to a Regal owner. Two large analog dials (an 8,000 rpm tachometer and a seriously optimistic 170 mph speedometer) are visible directly through the steering wheel, with smaller coolant temperature and fuel level dials situated above. In the middle is a monochrome multifunction display with trip computer, odometer, and other engine information. The center stack houses the IntelliLink touchscreen at the top, audio/navigation controls in the middle and climate controls at the bottom. A traditional automatic transmission shift lever (PRND +/-) takes front billing on the center console, followed by the electronic parking brake and twin cupholders rimmed in chrome. With the exception of the oddly located start/stop button just below the touchscreen (leaving a strange growth on the side of the steering column on vehicles without it), everything seems logically placed.
We found both front chairs to be very comfortable. The driver's seat on our leather-equipped model was partially power-operated (just the lower cushion), while the front passenger's seat was purely manual in operation, but still adjustable for height (oddly, we genuinely liked it better than the driver's seat for overall comfort). Rear seating was tight for adults, requiring front occupants to slide forward a couple inches to fit everyone agreeably. Yet with such luxurious accommodations up front, it's easy to forget that the Verano is a compact car.
The view outward was good, but the steeply raked windshield means the jutting A-pillar takes some time to get used to as it sits very far forward. Buick has thoughtfully put fixed quarter light windows at the base of the A- and C-pillars to improve cabin light and peripheral vision, while others in this class just plug them with black plastic panels. They work well.
The all-season tires, low displacement engine and soft suspension all seem to throw in the towel together at about seven-tenths.
On the road, Buick's obsession with noise reduction became immediately evident. From the muted hum of the four-cylinder spinning under the steel hood to the barely discernible slapping of all-season rubber on the pavement, the Verano is one quiet little vault. Low interior noise meant conversation was easy and driving became much less tiresome. Even after 250-plus miles with only a few short stops, we weren't the least bit mentally drained and the supportive seats meant our vertebrae emerged unscathed.
The power from the 2.4-liter was adequate, but much of its steam was lost above legal speeds when attempting two-lane passing maneuvers. We did try a few slower twisty sections with the transmission held in manual mode, running it up to the 7,000 rpm fuel cutoff just to see what happened (it bounces madly on the limiter while dire warnings flash on the center multifunction screen). When pushed to the limit, the all-season tires, low-displacement engine and soft suspension all seem to throw in the towel together at about seven-tenths. It performed better than we expected, but it still won't run with the more expensive Acura TSX, Lexus IS250 or Audi A3 with any of us behind the wheel. Of course, those cars all cost more, and Buick offers the Regal GS for those who prefer performance over pampering.
Admittedly, we initially questioned the need for a compact luxury sedan from Buick (after all, don't centenarians generally prefer larger vehicles?). But after spending some time with the Verano, all joking aside, Buick's strategy appears quite solid.
The new Verano is a remarkable entry-level luxury effort. Its long list of standard features and upscale cabin make other compacts in this bracket look cheap and overvalued, and its tranquil cabin will appeal to anyone who has driven noisy cars costing many thousands more. Its sweeping electronics suite, including standard OnStar technology with crash response, will do its best to tempt younger buyers while Buick's comprehensive warranty with free courtesy transportation serves to sweeten the deal. Driving enthusiasts need not apply, but from just about every other angle, the 2012 Buick Verano makes a pretty compelling argument for itself.
New Car Test Drive
New turbocharged model joins lineup.
The Buick Verano is a premium compact car with a luxurious interior that's very enjoyable to drive. Launched as a 2012 model, Verano costs thousands less than the Acura ILX, Lexus IS 250, and Audi A3.
New for 2013 is the addition of a turbocharged engine to the lineup. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It adds to the fun, giving the 2013 Verano Turbo robust acceleration and willing passing power to go with its natural athleticism. The 2.0-liter engine is available with a 6-speed automatic or a new 6-speed manual transmission that makes its debut in the 2013 Verano.
The 2013 Buick Verano comes standard with GM's 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder with direct injection and variable valve timing comes standard. It makes 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, enough for most situations. It's notably smooth and exceptionally quiet. The 6-speed automatic transmission reacts appropriately whether you're driving casually or hard on the gas.
All 2013 Buick Verano models come standard with a rearview camera and Buick's IntelliLink infotainment system, and Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert are newly available. Buick says the IntelliLink system also has improved voice controls this year. SiriusXM Travel Link is now offered, and SiriusXM Tune Select is added; it allows occupants to tag artists and song names, triggering a pop up on the screen when they are played on any satellite radio channel.
A compact car based on the Chevrolet Cruze, Verano is six inches longer than the Mazda3, and three inches longer than the Lexus IS 250. Verano is an attractive car with a short nose, steeply raked windshield, and crisp character lines.
The Buick interior is classy, with a rugged cloth and vinyl upholstery in the base model and excellent leather especially in higher line models. Interior trim is elegant, the center stack is simple and graceful, and the bucket seats are comfortable.
Verano is a very pleasant car to drive. We were impressed with the sporty character. Cornering, transmission performance, and ride quality are all impressive. We found the handling crisp and responsive. The brakes were firm and progressive as well.
The 2013 Buick Verano offers a choice of engines. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The available 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is available with the 6-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual.
Verano ($23,080) comes standard with fabric seats with leatherette trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, OnStar assistance system, tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, height-adjustable front seats, split folding rear seat, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD stereo, auxiliary input jack, USB port, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, Buick IntelliLink infotainment system with voice recognition, trip computer, rearview camera, remote engine starting, automatic headlights, fog lights, and P235/45R18 tires on alloy wheels. Verano Convenience ($24,375) adds blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic alert, auto-dimming rearview mirror, six-way power driver's seat, and heated mirrors.
Verano Leather ($26,755) upgrades to leather upholstery, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, keyless access and starting, and Bose sound system.
Verano Premium ($29,105) features the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and a rear spoiler.
Options include an Appearance package ($695) with a unique grille and a rear spoiler, a navigation system ($795), the Bose sound system ($595), a sunroof ($900), and the rear spoiler ($375).
Safety equipment on all models includes dual front airbags, front and rear side airbags, curtain side airbags, front knee airbags, antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, electronic stability control, and a tire-pressure monitor.
The Buick Verano is a good-looking car. It has a wedge-shaped look with a short nose, but it is still sleek. The trademark portholes appear, never mind that they're not holes. They don't sit on the side of the car. Instead, they are located atop the hood near the windshield. If it's a Buick, it has to have them, just a BMW must have kidney-shaped grilles.
The headlights are simple and attractive, and the grille is the traditional Buick waterfall design finished in chrome and black plastic. Air comes in through invisible black mesh (black or chocolate paint) under the bumper, however.
At the rear, Buick uses chrome creatively, with long chrome eyebrows that highlight and extend past the taillights. This gives the rear end a face. The rear fascia is clean, and it doesn't detract from the look, though one tester found it bland. Non-turbocharged models have one small understated tailpipe, while the turbocharged version gets two, one at each corner. Dark colors enhance the lines, while lighter shades make the rear look a bit dated.
The profile view is highlighted by chrome trim around the window line. Behind the short C pillars are small blacked-out rear quarter-windows that are more visible from the inside than the outside. The aluminum wheels come in two grades and both look graceful with 10-spokes.
The seats offer the kind of bolstering that the cornering ability demands. There isn't anything old-man-like about them. The seats were designed from scratch for the Verano, after about 1000 hours of seat time by testers, from large men to small women. Even with all that input and compromise, they're comfortable, supportive and sporty.
The cloth seats in the base models are rugged. In fact the cloth is so rugged it's a bit coarse, and over long distances you might wish for leather. The optional leather looks classy in brown. It's not the richest leather we've ever felt, but it's about right for the price point.
Otherwise, the cloth and leather interiors are pretty much the same. The trim is satin bronze, satin aluminum or wood. The interior materials are generally soft to the touch and fairly substantial, but the lower dash and some of the door trim is hard plastic. The environment is generally quite refined, but it's not up the standard set by most European and Japanese cars in this entry-luxury class.
The tachometer and speedometer are attractive, elegant in ice blue and easy to read. Digital information is displayed between the gauges. It is easy to read but less easy to scroll through using the left stalk with push-and-twist movements. The center stack has simple pushbuttons and dials, though there are quite a few of them and they are grouped close together, making specific buttons hard to pick out at a glance. Conveniently, the center armrest slides forward, but its bin is fairly small and the door pockets could be bigger. Buick also provides plenty of small cubbies to put keys, cell phones, and the like.
While the front seats offer plenty of space, rear legroom is scarce; a tall guy behind a tall guy won't work. The specs say 34.7 inches of rear-seat legroom, which is 1.5 inches less than the Mazda3 but 3.1 inches more than the Lexus IS 250. If there's anyone tall in the family, the back seats are best used for children.
The trunk has is fairly large, with 14.3 cubic feet of cargo space in the lower line models. When the Bose sound system is added, that drops slightly to 14.0 cubic feet. A standard split-folding rear seat allows longer items to fit.
Buick's IntelliLink system is standard. It comes with and without a navigation system, and acts as a central control panel for your phone, radio, media players, and navigation system. It also connects with drivers' smartphones to provide access to the Pandora and Stitcher internet radio apps. The system features large icons on the touchscreen and its controls are easy to access and understand. Systems like this are the latest in in-car entertainment, and IntelliLink is certain to offer access to more apps in the future.
GM's OnStar system is standard, so you can always press the OnStar button if you get lost and a real operator will offer to provide directions. More importantly, if you crash and set your airbag off, the OnStar operator will ask if you're okay and will direct the rescue squad to your location if you don't respond.
The Buick Verano rides nice and is delightful to drive. We drove 250 miles over some twisty roads in the Tillamook Forest, just inland of the Oregon coast. The Verano loved it all and so did we.
The 2.4-liter Ecotec base engine produces 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, and that's enough for most needs. Zero to 60 mph takes a modest 8.6 seconds, but it never frustrated us with lack of acceleration, and it impressed us with how smooth and quiet it was. Plus, it delivered 27.5 miles per gallon even with some spirited driving. EPA estimates are 21/32 mpg City/Highway.
Don't count on a lot of torque at 3000 rpm. Indeed, we found the response sluggish when merging from a tight onramp into flying freeway traffic. But the power comes on stronger at 4000 rpm and pulls willingly up to 6000. Though the engine is usually quiet and subdued, it becomes louder as you approach the 6700 rpm redline.
The 6-speed automatic complements the package nicely, being smooth and intelligent. It upshifts sharply at 6000 rpm and beyond, and downshifts quickly to provide extra power when needed.
More fun is the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. It cranks out 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, adding power to the Verano's mix of refinement and responsive handling. Buick says it cuts the 0 to 60 mph time to 6.2 seconds, though it doesn't feel quite that quick. Still, it adds power throughout the rev range, making passing a breeze and offering much more aggressive launches. Despite the extra power, the 2.0 is even quieter than the 2.4, and there is very little fuel economy penalty. The 2.0 is rated by the EPA at 21/30 mpg with the automatic transmission and 20/21 mpg with the new 6-speed manual.
Car guys will like the fact that the 2.0 is offered with a manual. Gearshifts are somewhat long and rubbery, but it's still cool to row your own gears, especially while driving in the twisties.
While the Verano doesn't have an independent rear suspension, its Z-link is almost as good, and it contributes to the car's impressive handling and balance. Bolted to a frame crossmember, the Z-link consists of a pivoting center link attached via joints at its ends, to links that go to the wheels. It works for us. We found a secret spot with 16 miles of relentless rhythmic curves and no traffic, and this Buick was up to the task. While the steering is a bit slow and too light for our tastes, the car is still crisp and responsive upon turn-in. We used the firm brakes pretty hard, and they felt good. The Verano is not a sports sedan, but it handles very well and rides smoothly.
The Buick Verano gets top scores for styling, handling, comfort, and refinement. Verano finds that sweet spot between good cornering and comfortable ride, and tops it off with a very pleasant interior. Two engines are available and both are good choices. Add in reasonable pricing and thrifty fuel economy, and it's a winner. It's one of the better values on the market. We recommend considering it when shopping for a premium compact.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses reported from Portland, Oregon; with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.
Buick Verano ($23,080), Verano Convenience ($24,375), Verano Leather ($26,755) and Verano Premium ($29,105).
Options As Tested
Buick Verano Leather ($26,755).
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