2012 Buick Verano with Leather Group - Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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2012 Buick Verano

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

SEE ALSO: Buick Buyers Guide


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2012 Buick Verano

In common with most luxury car manufacturers, Buick has had to deal with generational shifts in customer tastes and preferences. Compounding that challenge, Buick's position as the entry-luxury brand in the General Motors portfolio means that it needs to adapt to customers younger than its traditional market. So there has been quite a turnover in the Buick lineup in the past few years. Gone are old-time nameplates like Park Avenue, Le Sabre, and Century, replaced by new names such as Enclave, La Crosse, and now Verano.

The Verano is interesting as it is the first small Buick since the demise of the Skylark some years ago, and it is the first Buick made with people who would otherwise buy an import in mind. The Skylark was downsized American Traditional luxury, soft and cushy and made for sedate drives on the highway. The market for that type of car is long gone, and today's upscale sedan customer wants comfort, prestige, contemporary electronic connectivity, and a more connected driving experience than his or her grandparents desired. Decent performance and good fuel economy are further plusses.


Watch the introduction of the Buick Verano at the Detroit Auto Show


GM shares platforms among its brands -- like every other multi-line manufacturer -- and the Verano is based on the same platform as the Chevrolet Cruze and Volt. Any resemblance ends right there. In place of the Cruze's 138-horsepower 1.8 liter naturally-aspirated or 1.4-liter turbo engines is a 2.4-liter four with 180 horsepower, driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. No exterior or interior styling is shared, and the Verano's interior is much better appointed. Buick benchmarked cars including the Acura TSX and Lexus IS 250 for interior noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), and claims to best them. At a more attractive price.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Buick Verano

The car in the global GM lineup that the Verano most resembles is its German cousin, the Opel Astra. And the Verano's suspension and steering feel is far more European than Traditional American. The Verano is not your grandmother's Skylark.

For simplicity, there is one well-equipped trim level of Verano, with two equipment groups, several standalone options, and dealer-installed exterior and interior trim upgrades. All Veranos have a leather-wrapped, manually tilt- and reach-adjustable steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, dual-zone automatic climate control, multiple auxiliary power outlets, ambient lighting, auxiliary jack and USB input, and remote keyless entry. And more… The Convenience Group adds an auto-dimming inside rearview mirror and heated outside mirrors, a partially power-adjustable driver's seat, and ultrasonic rear parking assist. On top of that, the Leather Group replaces the standard leatherette and fabric upholstery with leather and adds heating to the front seats and steering wheel, pushbutton start/stop and entry, and a Bose premium audio system. Factory options are limited to a navigation system, sunroof, and choice of 18-inch alloy wheels.

My test car for the past week had the Leather Group and upscale crystal red (metallic) paint. At an MSRP of $27,175 including an $885 destination charge it handily undercuts any import-brand competitors. Even better, it's quiet and comfortable, and conveniently-sized for urban and suburban congestion. In ride and handling its inner Opel shines through; this is not your late great-uncle's LeSabre. Power is more than adequate, and drivetrain refinement is up to entry-luxury standards. The old Buick is dead; long live the new.

APPEARANCE: Buick's latest design language works well on the Verano. It's commendably compact in size, with simple lines giving strong shoulders and wheel arches. At the front, the signature Buick waterfall grille is proudly displayed -- in matte black with chrome trim -- flanked by projector-beam headlights, with the auxiliary intake and foglamps below. The hood is short, standard fare for a car with a transversely-mounted engine underneath, and the rear deck is shorter. So the passenger cabin, with steeply-raked windshield and rear window, is the dominant part of the car, offset with chrome trim around the windows and on the door handles. At the rear, chrome brows over the taillights are the most visually interesting feature.

COMFORT: The interior space promised by the large passenger cabin is delivered, in style and comfort. In design, the Verano's interior is quite similar to the Opel Astra, and so more international than any Buick of old. It's good-looking, but fashion does not trump function. Backlit instruments are placed directly in front of the driver, with a useful trip information system display between the tach and speedometer. The center stack has the interactive touch screen for the audio system (replaced by the navigation system if so specified), with the start/stop button, audio controls, and climate system controls below. The parking brake is electrically controlled, via a small switch on the console between the shifter and cupholders. An auxiliary jack and USB port, plus a power point, are found in the console box. IntelliLink uses Bluetooth and/or the USB port to allow connection of a smartphone and streaming audio services like Pandora® and hands-free phone operation.

Seat comfort in front is good, and with the option groups the driver's is power-adjustable for everything except back angle. Materials used for the interior trim are appropriate to the Verano's place in the world - no cheap hard plastics here. The "woodgrain" is artificial, but the brushed aluminum on the steering wheel, around the vents, and on the door scuff plates looks more convincing. Plusses for the small windows between the outside mirrors and A-pillars for important visibility and heat ducts in the A-pillars aimed at the front side windows for defrosting. In the leather group, more plusses for heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. There is space for real people in the rear seat, and its back folds 60/40 for outsized cargo. Which should be a rare problem as the trunk is large enough. There's a real space-saver spare under the trunk floor, not a fix-a-flat kit.

SAFETY: The Buick Verano has been given a "Top Safety Pick" rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). High-strength steel is used in 60 percent of its unibody structure, for strength and lightness and protection of the passenger cabin. There are ten standard airbags: dual front, front and rear outboard seat-mounted side, full-length head-curtain, and driver and front passenger knee. Detachable pedals further protect the driver in the event of a frontal collision. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and the Stabilitrak electronic stability enhancement system ensure good stopping ability and control. The basic OnStar telematics and information system is free for first six months.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Once, Buicks were cars that floated down the highway, in a detached, almost nautical sense. Which was fine for the desires of customers of that day, but wouldn't even begin to please anyone today, especially the younger import-minded people that Buick is trying to reach with the Verano. So the Verano is very little changed in suspension and steering tuning from its German Opel cousin. Its MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension is firm but well-damped, and with good H-rated tires and quick steering that even has some road feedback (surprising and commendable since it's electrically-assisted) the Verano is not just a car for the straight and level highway. Call it Euro entry-luxury sport, and if the last time you were in a Buick was a decade or more ago, prepare to be surprised.

PERFORMANCE: With fuel prices ever escalating and a new generation of drivers to please, four-cylinder engines are now perfectly acceptable in an entry-luxury car, even one from an American manufacturer. And with developments in engine design and materials over the years, the Verano's 2.4-liter four makes as much power as many a larger and thirstier V6 of the past. A dual overhead cam design with variable phasing on both and four valves per cylinder, it's most advanced feature is direct fuel injection, which allows higher compression for greater efficiency. The result is 180 horsepower (at 6700 rpm) and 171 lb-ft of torque (at 4900 rpm), with plenty of lower-rev grunt for real-world use. The six-speed automatic is a fine match for it, and shifts quickly and nearly imperceptibly. There is even manual-shift mode, but, as is the case with most automatics today, that's more for driver entertainment than necessity. EPA fuel economy is 21 mpg city, 32 highway, and I got 24 overall.

CONCLUSIONS: Buick aims to appeal to a new and younger market with its compact Verano.


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SPECIFICATIONS

2012 Buick Verano with Leather Group

Base Price $ 25,965

Price As Tested $ 27,175

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing on both camshafts and direct fuel injection

Engine Size 2.4 liters / 145 cu. in.

Horsepower 180 @ 6700 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 171 @ 4900 rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode

Wheelbase / Length 105.7 in. / 183.9 in.

Curb Weight 3300 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 18.3

Fuel Capacity 15.6 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline or E85

Tires P235/45 R18 94H Continental ContiProContact

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS and EBD standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut, semi-independent torsion beam

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon

city / highway / observed 21 / 32 / 24

0 to 60 mph 8.5 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Crystal Red paint $ 325

Destination charge $ 885

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