Buick Verano: Perfect timing

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on July 20, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Back in 2007 it was easy to come up with an angle when writing about Buick’s new Enclave. It was as poised and handsome as its predecessor, the Rendezvous, was awkward. To a person, every auto writer in America wrote “This is a Buick?”

Then came LaCrosse with its svelte head-turning shape. Again, the collective scribes wrote “This is a Buick?” Since most consumers still believed the brand was a grandpa’s car, it was like shooting fish in a barrel to talk about the new Buick renascence. 

With Verano, it’s not “This is a Buick?” it’s “This is a Buick”. No question mark, it’s a statement. Buick is transforming into what Bob Lutz said it had to the potential to be- an American Lexus. By that, he meant affordable luxury. Buick is a brand that has finally found a unique direction, confidence, and purpose.

Competitors?

In a nutshell the Verano is a very appealing car that has no real direct competitor. It’s the same size as a BMW 3-Series but GM is realistic to point out the uber-sports sedan is not considered competition. Starting at $23,470 with destination it’s much less money than other small luxury cars like Audi A3 and Lexus IS and considering the economy and gas prices, it’s time to market is impeccable.

In the week I drove it, people made it clear that they liked the look of the Verano. The lines are clean, uncluttered and purposeful, except for the non-functional ventiports but hey, it’s a Buick. Let’s let them keep that classic style point. The waterfall grill is classic for the brand, the back has the Angry Birds face going on with the chrome eyebrows. It’s a nice addition to the Buick family which is looking pretty stylish these days.

Contented with Content

Consider this- with exceptionally comfortable heated leather seats, Bose sound, iPod and phone integration, dual zone auto climate, keyless ignition, and heated steering wheel, it retails for… (and I pause here for dramatic effect) $27,175 including destination. Most that rode in Verano this past week guessed mid-thirties and up. Completely loaded with sunroof and navigation it’s 30K.

Verano is based on the same platform architecture as Chevy Cruse but you’d never know by looking or driving. The engine is larger, a 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder with 180 horsepower on tap. Need more speed? The 2013 Verano will get a 2.0-liter Ecotec turbo that makes 220-hp in the Regal CXL. Could Verano get even more than that? That’s the rumor…

The smooth six-speed transmission has a manual mode.  The sheet metal and interior of Verano are completely different than Cruze. In short, the days of GM badge engineering are history. Talking to you Cadillac Cimarron.

Not Just a Cruze

Verano has some spunk off the line, 0-60 happens in 7.5 seconds. There’s also a decent dollop of sport in the chassis tuning. Really. My friend Martin Campbell who drives the cars while I shoot running footage, was quite surprised at how crisp the cornering was while at the helm.  Again, this front-drive car is not a 3-Series, but the driving dynamics are quite good.

Old stereotypes die hard and two classic Buick characteristic remain, but both are desirable. First, the interior is very quiet so you can hear the Bose sound system better. This is a great road trip car. Secondly, it’s very comfortable for a car its size, feeling a size larger in its ability to coddle. That’s appreciated on pockmarked pavement, which seems more common these days.

I’ll stress Verano doesn’t lean and roll in corners like a waterbed on wheels. There’s understeer, but it’s not excessive and even though there’s electric power steering, there’s still a decent amount of road feel. Brake pedal feel is on the soft side

Fuel economy is EPA rated at 21 city / 32 highway. Good but not stellar.

Cabin Comfort

The interior is very inviting with rich colors and very good materials, many of them soft touch. Vent trim has a tinted satin chrome look. The parking brake is electric to free up space in the center console cup holders and there are lots of storage cubbies.  A sunroof and navigation is available, just not on this car. Remember though, with GM’s OnStar you can get audible directions with graphics downloaded to the car just by talking to a friendly agent.

At night the ice blue lighting is very soothing, and lighted accents near the door pulls and center stack base are nicely done. A telling detail, the red and blue of the dual-zone climate control is lighted, not just painted. GM has a new touch screen interface that’s customizable. Called IntelliLink, it makes it easy to choose audio sources, (it’s also voice activated). Plug in a smartphone and you can use its data plan for Pandora and Stitcher.

Evil Twin Rated

Evil Twin has a lot to say about the back seat. The seats are very comfortable and the height is raised so passengers don’t sit with their knees up to their chin. Foot and legroom isn’t overly generous but for a smaller car that’s expected. It’s a very usable space with pockets on both seats, side torso impact airbags, power port, storage nooks, and a fold down arm rest.

Keep it to two smaller adults in back and people will be happy. However, those with long legs might hit their lower shins on hard plastic trim and it doesn’t feel good.

Gripes? I like the proximity key option that unlocks the doors with a touch of the handle. The whole idea is that it can stay in pocket or purse but there’s no handle or release on the trunk lid so owners will have to dig the fob out and use a button. 2012 models do not have a backup camera option, it will be standard equipment on all Veranos for model year 2013. There is a helpful sonic warning system that beeps faster the closer you get to a parked car or pole. Vented seats up front and heated seats in the back are not available.

Verano is not a big car so I was kind of curious about the trunk size. It’s nicely trimmed and gets a real spare tire. Size wise its’ about average taking on six packs. The rear seats split and fold too. There’s a chance for seven but gooseneck hinge arms will do damage to cargo, and I have to bring the TP I borrow from Costco back un-squeezed. Hmmm, wonder what Mr. Whipple is doing these days…

Back To Its Roots

In the days when GM held 50 percent market share in the US, Buick was considered the “doctor’s car”. In other words if your doc drove a Cadillac he charged too much. If he owned a Chevy or Ford it meant he wasn’t very successful. The elegant but understated Buick made the perfect impression. Verano seems to be aimed like a laser at that segment of the market.

It’s not like Verano is aimed at the Scion crowd, but it should draw buyers that are younger than ever. You have to experience this car to appreciate the sweet spot Buick has hit. Verano may be their most affordable car, but it defines what the brand stands for. This is a Buick, and it is good.
 

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