Thumbs Up: Comfortable ride, quiet cabin
Thumbs Down: Turbo engine and manual transmission, but little entertainment value
Buy This Car If: You prefer to row your own gears, yet want comfort over performance
Buick’s Verano sedan was built to deliver the fuel-sipping advantages of a compact, while serving up more content than buyers in the class are used to. While the Verano was new for the 2012 model year, a turbocharged variant, dubbed the Verano Premium, has been introduced for 2013. Now that GM brand Pontiac is history, the company is hoping that Buick can pick up some of the enthusiast buyers left in the cold by Pontiac’s shuttering.
The Verano Premium, then, becomes the most affordable performance option in the Buick catalog. Its forced-induction 2.0-liter four-cylinder cranks out 250 horsepower and 260 pound feet of torque, and even gives buyers the choice of a six-speed manual gearbox. What’s noticeably absent, however, is a sport suspension or supportive sport seats, which makes us wonder exactly what demographic Buick was going for. We’re certain the Verano Premium with the six-speed automatic transmission will be a best-seller, but we can’t imagine Buick delivering many manual transmission examples.
The Verano is a good-looking car, and it reminds us of a three-quarter scale Buick Regal. The Verano’s grille is even more prominent, however, extending all the way to the edge of the hood. Headlights are large (or perhaps this is just a proportional thing), which represents an odd styling departure from today’s mainstream smaller-is-better automotive lighting trend.
In profile, the Verano’s daylight opening is similar in shape to the Regal’s without being a direct copy. Both are trimmed in chrome and both sport a blacked-out B-pillar for a cleaner look, but the Verano sports a sharper angle on its C-pillar trim. The compact Buick sports a styling line that sweeps up from the rocker to match the lower angle of the rear door, while the Regal uses a similar styling trait on its front door; the difference is subtle enough, however, that neighbors will likely ask you how you like your new Buick Regal.
The biggest difference between the Verano and its bigger brother comes at the rear, where the smaller sedan gets chrome tail light trim (as opposed to a chrome trim strip on the Regal), a flat trunk lid and larger tail lights. The rear fascia shape is decidedly different, too, with the Verano going angular to the Regal’s round.
Inside, the Verano’s dash does a good job of reminding occupants that this is no ordinary compact. It’s not full-on luxury, to be sure, but it is an eye-pleasing blend of colors, textures and shapes. The crash pad, for example, is finished in a color to match the Verano Premium’s interior, while the dash upper and lower are finished in black plastic and vinyl. There’s the obligatory faux wood, too, but thankfully this is kept to a minimum and offset by the metallic trim used to highlight the center stack. Our only criticism here is the same criticism we have for most high-end GM vehicles: the center stack is an overly complex blend of multi-function buttons that’s far from user-friendly. Sure, any buyer will get used to this in time, but it’s not nearly as intuitive as the controller-type input systems used by Infiniti, Audi, BMW and others.
Though we’re less than fond of the peppermint-candy-blue used by Buick to light its instruments and controls, we otherwise liked the Verano’s dials. Both tachometer and speedometer use markings that you’d expect to see on a precision gauge or fine watch, and like the dash itself they do a good job of conveying an upscale message. We like the chrome trim on the instrumentation, too, along with the large and comprehensive driver information display.
Front seats, however, fall short of expectations. Buick calls them “sport seats,” but they don’t come close to meeting our standards for lateral support. You sit “in” sport seats, but you sit “on” the front chairs in the Verano, which aren’t even that comfortable for long-distance driving. Seat cushion and seat back are far too soft to be comfortable, and even the driver’s seat lacks lumbar support. Buick claims the seats use “leather appointed trim,” but the upholstery feels suspiciously like vinyl to us. While we can come up with plenty of reasons to buy the Verano Premium, its front seats are not among them.
Rear seats are equally soft and plagued by a short seat cushion, but they’re comfortable enough for the daily carpool commute. There’s about as much legroom as you can expect from a compact sedan, and headroom is ample for those six-feet tall and under. Like the front seats, the rears are “leather appointed,” but feel the same as the front seats to us. Especially at this price point, we’d much rather have a premium cloth seat option.
Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 250 horsepower and 260 pound feet of torque. Buick offers the Verano Premium with the buyer’s choice of a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission, though we can’t imagine the row-it-yourself option will see many takers. It’s surprisingly quick, reeling off a 0-60 mph time of just 6.6 seconds, but its suspension isn’t up to carrying much speed into corners. Fuel economy isn’t bad as long as you accelerate with care and upshift often; the EPA says to expect 24 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 31 mpg highway) from the manual Verano Premium and 24 mpg combined (21 mpg city, 30 mpg highway). We saw an indicated 23.5 mpg in mostly-city driving.
Ride quality is best summed up as “plush,” and in this regard the Verano has more in common with Buick’s LaCrosse than it does with the sportier Regal. Accelerate hard, and there’s noticeable lift from the front end; brake hard, and there’s plenty of dive. The Verano’s steering is nicely weighted, but there’s little feel and too much play off-center. Turn-in is leisurely, and there’s plenty of body roll in corners when the Verano is pushed harder than it wants to go, but that’s the trade-off for a cushy ride. Brakes have decent pedal feel, and we’re sure they’re capable of delivering acceptable stopping distances.
If you test drive it thinking “compact luxury sedan,” you won’t be disappointed; if you’re expecting anything resembling a sport sedan, chances are the Verano Turbo won’t live up to your expectations.
The Buick Verano Premium doesn’t have many in-class competitors, and that alone will help Buick generate sales. If you really want a Regal Turbo or Regal GS and simply can’t swing the payments, the Verano Premium gives you a reasonable alternative. A few suspension upgrades will likely dial in the handling, though we’re not sure much can be done to improve the steering. Still, the car is quick enough, and with a drop in ride height, stiffer springs and firmer dampers, we suspect it would be more than moderately entertaining to drive.
Buick supplied the Verano Premium for our review. Base price on the Premium trim level was $29,990, including a destination charge of $885, and options on our car included the $900 Power Sunroof and the $795 Audio System With Navigation for a total sticker price of $31,685.
For comparison, an Acura ILX 2.4 Premium (which has the larger engine and manual gearbox, but isn’t available with navigation) would sticker for $30,095, while an Acura ILX 2.0 Tech Package (which has the less powerful engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, but includes navigation) would list for $32,295. Audi’s upcoming A3 Sedan, as well as the soon-to-be-released Mercedes-Benz CLA, will also compete against the Buick Verano, but neither model has been priced yet.