2012 Buick Verano Review
General Motors delivers a competent compact for its entry luxury brand.
- Rich interior environment
- Capable handling
- Smooth, quiet ride
- Small rear seat
- Power is just adequate
- Frugal but others are more fuel efficient
Luxury automakers have to be careful when offering an upscale version of a compact car. If the base material isn't of sufficient quality for the requisite improvements, the vehicle could be perceived as simply a pig with lipstick; that is, the automaker will be seen as having made a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of the object beneath.
How long did it take, for instance, for Cadillac to live down the ill-advised Cavalier-based Cimarron of the 1980s? Among enthusiasts, and old automotive journalists, they haven't.
For 2012, Buick is offering a new compact car, the Verano. At its essence, the Verano shares much of its skeleton with the Chevrolet Cruze. However, the Verano has more equipment and more power than the well-reviewed Cruze, as would be expected from a gilded ride.
But is it right for the expanding Buick lineup?
The 2012 Buick Verano has no model markings, but it is offered in three trim levels: Base, Convenience and Leather. The Base trim comes with features such as automatic climate control, remote engine starting, 18-inch alloy wheels, and 10 standard airbags, including front knee and rear side bags. The Convenience trim adds heated power mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, 6-way power driver's seat and rear park assist. The Leather trim gets leather upholstery; heated front seats and steering wheel; keyless access and starting; and a Bose sound system. Other options are minimal. They consist of a navigation system, a sunroof, and a different wheel design.
Pricing starts at $22,585 and ranges up to $30,000 with all options.
Under the Hood
At launch, the 2012 Buick Verano gets only one engine: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 180 horsepower and 171 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to just one transmission, a 6-speeed automatic. Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy ratings are 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway.
Due later in 2012 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, the same engine that makes 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque in the Buick Regal. The 2.0 will be offered with the 6-speed automatic transmission, as well as a 6-speed manual. Fuel economy is likely to be close to the numbers delivered by the 2.4.
Like other Buicks, the Verano boasts an upscale interior replete with soft-touch surfaces on the dashboard, door panels and armrests. Warm wood trim adds to an inviting, classy look. The control layout isn't exactly simple, as the center stack is chock full of buttons. Buick offers several paths to the various functions, including the standard 7-inch touch screen, voice command, dashboard buttons and a central knob on the center stack.
New for Buick is IntelliLink. It encompasses some previous technologies, namely Bluetooth cell-phone connectivity, audio streaming and a USB port to connect media players. It also adds access to applications via drivers' smartphones. Only two apps are offered currently, and both are forms of Internet radio. Pandora allows the creation of personalized radio stations with a focus on music, and Stitcher does the same for those interested in talk radio. The use of both is limited by your cellphone signal, but we found them easy to access and use. This is the future of in-car entertainment, and many more apps are yet to come.
Space in the Verano is a tale of two rows. The front seat has good headroom and exceptional legroom. Even very tall drivers will have enough space. The seats are also quite comfortable, just firm enough to provide support and soft enough for long-trip comfort. There is no appreciable comfort difference between the base seats, which have vinyl edges and cloth inserts, and the leather seats, which look quite nice.
The back seat, however, lacks room. An average-size male adult will just fit behind another of the same size. Any front passenger taller than six feet will leave rear passengers with precious little legroom. Head clearance, on the other hand, is pretty good.
Cargo space is quite impressive. The front row has plenty of little bins and cubbies for small-item storage, and the trunk has a large 14.3 cubic feet of cargo space. That's as much as many midsize sedans. The rear seat also folds down in a 60/40 split to expand that room and allow for loading longer items.
On the Road
The Verano wasn't bred to be the best-handling vehicle on the road. Even so, it is quite nimble. Why? It's because the Verano is based on the Chevrolet Cruze, which handles well and is considered the best compact car General Motors has ever built. Of course, all of the suspension settings have been changed to improve the vehicle's ride quality — it is a luxury vehicle, after all. Consequently, the Verano sucks up almost any bump in its way.
Push the Verano through corners and it doesn't complain. The tires don't squeal and the car doesn't flop side to side. Instead, it leans noticeably but rotates nicely and tracks well. The car would feel sportier if the steering were more engaging, though. The heft is light, the response is kind of slow, and the feel is numb.
Buick put a lot of effort into tuning the Verano to reduce, absorb and block sound in the cabin. That makes the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine barely noticeable. Even at full throttle, the engine is fairly quiet, which is impressive.
When it comes to performance, however, the engine is underwhelming. It has enough power for most everyday needs and jumps from a standstill with some gusto. But passing requires some room and planning. Performance doesn't match that of the Acura TSX's four-cylinder or the turbocharged engines from the Volkswagen Jetta GLI or Audi A3. Zero to 60 mph comes in 8.6 seconds, which is about two seconds slower than those turbocharged cars. Thankfully, the new 6-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and responds quickly to maximize what power there is.
Right for You?
The 2012 Buick Verano does several things well, but it isn't great at any of them. It is sort like an athlete that is good at all sports, but not great at a single one. It offers a solid balance of ride and handling, and it gets good fuel economy. The interior is rich and offers decent space, but the back seat is tight. Given its well-rounded character and a modest price tag, the Verano is a fine choice for singles, couples and families with small children.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Buick provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.