Test Driven: Buick Verano, Nick’s Take (8.5/10)

Lets talk about luxury in the modern sense, what is it really? I feel I have to ask this question because nowadays the line between luxury and performance has been blurred by most of the “luxury” brands out there. Cars like the BMW 550i are immensely comfortable and well made, but will also blow the doors off of many cars that were considered “supercars” not too long ago. Such offerings play a game of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide, with the ability to both raise and lower your heart rate dramatically. These are great cars, but “luxury” in the proper sense is really only about relaxing a bit, and lowering your heart rate so that you can travel in peace.  This is what Buick focused on when making the Verano, a car focused on the modern luxury experience specifically.

The term “luxury” has become synonymous with “expensive” but that is largely due to all of the extra performance technology that has been added into many cars; maybe a bit of brand inflation too. The Verano keeps things much more simple, being in essence a luxury version of the Chevy Cruze. The two cars share their chassis and proportions, but with a different engine, exterior, and interior for the Verano. With the Cruze being a highly praised and award-winning car, the Verano certainly has some solid foundations. GM has also entered rather uncharted territory in the modern market with the Verano, making a luxury version of their compact car; yes we could bring up the Cadillac Cimarron but lets not. This is a legitimate, non-half-assed, attempt at a compact luxury car, and if there were any platform to do it on, the Cruze was an ideal pick.

 

To start off, a modern luxury car must have an elegant, tasteful design. The days of huge statement makers has largely passed, and social restraint is all the rage. People want something that looks good but won’t get keyed. The Verano has just the right balance of style and convention. It is far prettier, and more interesting to look at than the Cruze, but it wears its elegance humbly. One area to note is the chrome strips above the taillights, something that could have easily come off as tacky and overdone. Buick found a way to pull them off though, and the design is better for it. The whole car is quite handsome, and has found a nice aesthetic balance between being classy for the gentlemen and cute for the ladies; tough to do while retaining any sort of appeal.

 

I would say the interior is the Verano’s major selling point. It is definitely one of the best interiors to be had under $30k, and feels like it would cost a lot more. The materials all seem to be of good quality, and wherever they have saved money it doesn’t show. There are no tacky annoying bits that remind you you’re in a car so reasonably priced like there are in the new Chevy Malibu. All of the surfaces you touch are silky smooth, and the ergonomic layout is fantastic with an adjustable center armrest, tilt/telescope steering wheel, and big buttons on the dash that are easy to read and use quickly. It is also exceedingly quiet inside the car, easily shutting out the world when you need a break from it all.

Lots of thought clearly went into the interior as a whole, but my favorite part has to be the seats. They are a treat not only for you buttocks, but for your entire body. The seats are bucket style, and they embrace you in a soft yet supportive bear hug. There is also a great contour on the backrest that hits your shoulder blades in just the right spot. The rear seats are also quite comfortable too, maybe a little squeeze to get in for me at 5’11” but great once I was settled. I have been in many six-figure luxury cars, and I am telling you that these seats are right up there in comfort.

Technology wise this Verano was basically loaded, featuring Buick IntelliLink infotainment, navigation, satellite radio, Bose speakers, as well as Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. At this point such features are to be expected at the top trim level in most cars, but they are all present and accounted for in the Verano, and everything works as it should.

On the road the Verano does the number one thing that a luxury car should do, and that is lower your heart rate. This is a car to cruise around in, something to just relax with as the world goes by. Again the Verano is all about luxury, not performance, so keep that in mind when considering the details.

Under the hood there is an engine that is simply adequate. The 2.4L Ecotec makes 180hp and a decent 171ft/lbs of torque, not a huge amount but it suffices for getting on the highway without any problems. The engine is also about as hushed as a 4 cylinder can be, you can hear it but it isn’t that intrusive. Rolls Royce has been known to deem the power of their engines simply as “sufficient” in lieu of an actual horsepower figure, and I would say the same is true of the Verano. It will get you around just fine, but it wants you to take it easy. The upcoming Verano Turbo will cater to all of the lead foots out there, but if you really don’t have the need for speed then the standard engine should suit you just fine.

Ride and handling wise GM has nailed luxury in the modern sense with the Verano. Really until 2008, American car makers had the strange idea that “Luxury” meant having an overly soft suspension with a living room sofa as the seat; this was wrong, very wrong. Thankfully the Verano is nothing like that at all. It is a pretty tight handling little car that gives you confidence from behind the wheel. Steering is light but responsive, the transmission doesn’t jerk you around, and the car is very easy to operate overall. It is a competent machine, which is important if you are to be able to relax while behind the wheel.

One thing that perplexes me about the Verano is the EPA’s rated fuel economy, it just seems too low. The official figures are 21mpg city and 31mpg highway, but on the highway the revs were only at 2500rpm while cruising at 80mph. This leads me to believe that the Verano will be able to exceed the EPA figures if you drive it faster than the EPA tests allow; just like in a european car. This is purely a hunch, but given how solid the car felt on the highway, its tall gearing, and seemingly efficient aerodynamics, I would bet around 35mpg is realistically possible.

So the Buick Verano checks all the boxes for a proper, but affordable luxury car. It has a relaxed nature that keeps your heart rate low, both when running errands around town and when devouring miles on the highway. It is an easy car to drive and to live with, one that will be a pleasure for the sort of buyer looking in this segment. The Verano offers a more relaxed feel than that of the Acura ILX or TSX, which are rather sporty in feel; great for fun but not relaxing. The Verano also offers a much cheaper alternative to the Lexus IS250, and I definitely see the same buyers being interested. So, in many regards I would say that the Verano has a somewhat unique appeal at this point in the market, one that puts luxury and comfort as the top priority at a very reasonable price.

This is another great car from the new, post bailout, GM. The Verano stands in stark contrast to Buicks of 10 years ago, cars that were built shamefully bad in the old style of American luxury. The Verano is a great car for modern times, bringing luxury to the compact segment, at a price most people can afford. I really can’t find any relevant faults with the Verano, other than maybe the fuel economy if the EPA is correct; but even then it’s still far from bad.

For the type of buyer who would consider a car like this, the Verano may well be the best option out there. It feels more expensive than it is, something GM has usually had the opposite problem with. The loaded car I drove was around $28k, but prices start near $23k, and even the base model is still quite a decent car. No matter how you spec it, the Verano is a proper luxury car for under $30k, and that makes it an incredible value.

WoM Score: Buick Verano

Primary Function: Luxury: 2
Secondary Functions: Practicality(2), MPG(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 1
Value for Money: 2

Final Score: 8.5/10

-Nick Walker

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