Buick Enters Compact Sedan Market:
Buick moves into the compact sedan market with its new Verano based on a front-drive Opel platform from Europe.
This has been a successful General Motors strategy of late, revamping its European models and offering the restyled versions in the North American market. Verano’s goal was to reach the entry-level luxury sedan buyer, the first-time luxury car shopper. Buick says its primary targets were buyers aiming at the Acura TSX, Lexus IS 250 and Volvo V30.
It’s good to have a target and in some respects, the Verano is a strong competitor. It’s pricing is much more attractive than those other models and it has a stronger engine than some of its competitors, plus good trunk space and reasonable gas mileage too.
I tested a sparkling white diamond tricoat version of the Verano FWD 1SL with leather interior. That’s the top model with a starting price of $25,965, this one only adding an extra $495 for that gorgeous paint job. Toss on the $885 delivery charge and the test car was $27,345. A base Verano lists at $22,585 and the next level up Convenience model at $23,785, so pricing is quite attractive.
Gas mileage is too. The EPA estimates it at 21 mpg city and 32 highway, with the car capable of drinking E85 fuel, or regular unleaded. I got 26.6 mpg in about 70% highway driving.
In size Verano is about 5 inches longer than a Ford Focus sedan, has about an inch longer wheelbase and weighs about 300 lbs. more. Compared with the current Acura TSX, the Buick is about 140 lbs. lighter, an inch shorter in wheelbase at 105.7 inches and about two inches shorter in length.
Buick offers a fine 2.4-liter direct-injected I4 that creates 180 hp, which is pretty dead-on perfect for this size car. That’s still 30 less than the much sportier handling TSX, but then the Verano delivers a fine 6-speed automatic transmission, compared to a 5-speed in the Acura, although a manual also is available in the TSX, while none is offered in the Buick.
The upshot is that at 3,300 lbs. the Buick feels solid with good acceleration from the engine and silky smooth shifts from its new transmission. Racy? No, but Verano is extremely competent getting up to highway speeds and always with no sudden up or downshifts. Luxury is the aim.
Designers use an independent suspension up front and semi-independent Z-link rear suspension that softens up our often harsh area streets for a comfortable, controlled ride. In compact cars, a stiff ride often is the biggest turn-off for potential buyers. The Buick doesn’t try to be sporty in this area, being perfectly happy to offer comfort over performance.
Steering is relatively heavy and moderately responsive, but there is a bit of play yet in the wheel. Again, Buick goes for luxury over sporty precision, something the Acura has in spades and the Lexus to a lesser degree. Handling is good, but there is some slight lean during cornering.
Braking comes from four wheel discs with ABS and GM’s Stabilitrack stability control system. Traction control also is standard. The car rolls on 18-inch tires and alloy wheels.
Inside you’ll know this is a luxury make once you start the engine. It’s quiet in here, very quiet. Buick has used more sound-deadening material, including thicker acoustic laminated glass and you’ll be happy it did. The quiet interior helps you enjoy a fine Bose sound system, not to mention other passengers’ conversations.
I like the interior styling too. Materials look and feel good with soft leather seats and dash and door trim. This one had had a brown dash (wheel and shifter too) over a tan that was way too far toward a caramel color for me. A creamier color for the lower dash and seats would be better, but then that’s personal taste to be sure. Still, the brushed metal accent trim around small fake wood inserts in the doors and around the center stack look great.
This model had a power driver’s seat, but manual passenger’s seat. Generally they are comfortable, but I found the butt pocket a bit snug after a while, feeling some pressure on my outer thighs as I drove. The seat puts your bottom a bit too low too and while there are several power adjustments, I could not tilt the bottom cushion’s front edge low enough for my tastes.
Rear seat passengers liked the seat’s comfort level and headroom is generous. But if there is an average height or taller person up front, there is precious little legroom in back. Some of that may have been sacrificed for a larger, 15.2 cu.ft. trunk, which is pretty deep. Naturally it also splits and folds down for more cargo space.
In keeping with the Buick’s luxury leanings, there’s a heated steering wheel (controlled by pressing the driver’s side temperature control dial), three-speed heated seats and both cruise and radio controls on the steering wheel hub. The wheel tilts and telescopes also.
All the gauges and buttons are well arranged and look fine. I’m not a huge fan of GM’s aqua colored gauges, but everything is easy to see and use with large buttons on all the center stack controls. There’s a digital trip computer readout between the main gauges, which is controlled via a stalk on the steering column’s left side. A ring turns to select new readouts.
My only real concern, as with many cars of late, is the large A pillar, which partially blocks front to side vision. Buick tries to help that with a small fixed vent window in the pillar, but I still found it obstructing my view at times.
Few cars are perfect, especially the first time off the drawing board. But the Verano is a fine entry-level luxury sedan at an attractive price. If you value luxury and value over sporty feel and performance, you need to check out this quiet, fine riding new sedan.
FAST STATS: 2012 Buick Verano FWD 1SL
Made in: Lake Orion, Mich.
Engine: 2.4-liter I4, 180 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,300 lbs.
Wheelbase: 105.7 in.
Cargo: 15.2 cu.ft.
Base Price: $25,965
Dealer’s Price: $25,552
White Diamond Tricoat, $495
Test vehicle: $27,345
Sources: Buick, www.autos.yahoo.com
Hits: Extremely quiet interior, w/3-speed heated seats, leather interior, heated steering wheel and big easy-to-use and understand center stack buttons. Car offers good power and smooth shifts along with a well controlled ride.
Misses: Seat butt pocket a bit snug and low; seat needs more adjustments. Rear seat has tight legroom if front passengers are average height or taller. The A-pillar is large and partially obstructs view.
Photos: Courtesy of Buick