Test Driven: Buick Verano Al’s Take

Buick has not had the best reputation with smaller cars.  Their most recent entry, the Skylark, turned a once great name into one best remembered for being an elderly librarian’s best friend and a speed demon’s worst enemy on I-95.  However, Buick’s fortunes have turned around a lot in the past two years or so, with newfound success in the larger and smaller portion of the premium midsize market and a newfound lease on life.  So, I took this white Verano you see here for a spin in South Florida to see if it was up to the hype.

The Verano is Buick’s first small car since the Skylark died in 1998 (not that anyone shed a tear for it).  It is based on the Cruze, which normally would make most premium buyers worry about its pedigree, but allow me to calm your fears, Grey-Poupon set.  The Cruze happens to be quite a good small car—probably GM’s best one ever.  The Verano takes this starting point and builds on it significantly, with a larger 4-cylinder engine lifted out of the Regal (the 2.4L Ecotec mill) with direct injection and 180hp, and an upcoming eAssist model, along with a new turbocharged model on its way around the fall of 2012.  The lines are a little large for the car’s size but are not at all ugly.  The porthole vents, a Buick trademark over these many years, are mounted on the hood instead of the front fenders.  The rims, however, look too close to those of the Cruze, but are not that big a deal in terms of styling.

The Verano takes interior cues out of the larger Regal and LaCrosse models, and does not feel cramped despite its smaller size.  The leather seats are big but don’t’ seem to damage interior room much.  The front suspension and the shocks at all corners have been revised from the Chevy model to provide a more comfortable ride and the steering is a little lighter.  It’s reasonably priced as well, with prices starting at $22,585 for the basic models.  A 6-speed automatic is standard at the moment, but the upcoming Verano Turbo will have a standard manual gearbox.   My test car included the Leather Group, which pushed up the price to $28,545–a fairly high price for a small car, but these days, not unheard of.

A 180hp 2.4L Ecotec I4 is standard, but more engine options are on the way very soon.

The first thing I noticed stepping into this new car was the door pulls, which feel genuinely strong and of a higher quality than the Cruze.  Buick sweated the details on this car, as they need to keep up in their markets with Lexus and Acura, and must stay ahead of Hyundai, who is definitely nipping at their heels (if not neck-and-neck at this point).  The seats are comfortable, visibility is very good for a car this size, and yet, Buick still uses some cheaper materials.  Memo to the interior department: stop using Chevrolet turn signal stalks in these Buicks.  Meanwhile, the rest of the quality is pretty good, so it will be interesting to see how the upcoming Acura ILX fares in comparison.

Upon starting the engine and getting underway, my first impressions were very good.  The Ecotec engines are not really known for smoothness, but in the Verano, the Ecotec is very well hushed, a big improvement on the part of Buick’s quality control and testing department.  The 2.4 is no fireball but gets the Verano up to speed just fine for its size, with no major issues.  The transmission is smooth as well, but the entire car still feels a bit lardy—it’s not like a 1994 Roadmaster with a “package” in the trunk, but it needs to get some dieting into its schedule.  The ride quality is that of a larger car—the Verano feels like a true Buick without the traditional big American car shortfalls—the ride is soft yet controlled, and the brake pedal is actually firm.  The seats hold well too, making for a surprisingly satisfying combination of a car.

Overall, the new Verano is a very interesting sort of car.  It definitely will make buyers forget the Skylark of old, and make folks think twice about the Verano as a legitimate luxury competitor.  I genuinely came away happy for Buick.  This is a car that offers a great base platform and I know, thanks to the recent announcement of the upcoming Turbo and the eAssist, that this will only get better with time.  This can function as your grandma’s Buick—but someone my age should not be ashamed to own one.  He/she should be proud.

-Albert S. Davis

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