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2012 Buick Verano Review By Steve Purdy

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2012 Buick Verano

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

“That was then and this is now,” I can almost hear the Buick team say while distancing themselves from the dismal compact Buick Skyhawks built in the 1980s and 1990s. The earlier Buick Specials and Skylarks of the 1960s and 70s, sometimes thought of as compacts but more accurately categorized as mid-size, still command respect.

So, here we are in an entirely new generation, looking at the newest Buick compact car – Verano - and finding it amazingly good.

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Verano shares the GM global Delta architecture with the Chevy Cruze and Volt as well as the European Opel and Vauxhall Astras. To say this platform is light years beyond the last Buick compact is to understate the case. That they both have four-wheels, front engine, front-wheel drive and unibody may be all they have in common.

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Out test car is the 1SL with leather equipment group that includes heated leather seating, heated leather steering wheel, Bose premium 9-speaker audio system, and push button start. Price listed on our sticker is $26,850 including the $885 destination charge. The base Verano lists for $22,585 with cloth seats and slightly less content. All Veranos come with 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, projector beam headlights, 10 airbags, and 7-inch color LED screen (even without navigation) that displays and controls lots of functions, including Buick’s Intellilink smart phone connectivity system.

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Under the hood, transversely mounted, is GM’s versatile 2.4-liter ECOTEC direct-injected 4-cylinder engine making 180 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque attached to a six-speed automatic transmission. That’s plenty of power for this compact luxury car and acceleration is good. It can feel a bit harsh, though at higher rpms. Rated by the EPA at 21 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway using regular fuel, we managed just about 26 mpg this week with our mix of driving environments. With a 15-gallon fuel tanks our cruising range is barely 300 miles.

Verano, like most GM products these days, is E85-capable, though we seldom see badging that touts that fact anymore. I’m not sure if the issue is just passé, but we’re glad to know that if ethanol becomes more popular we’ll be able to take advantage of it.

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Exterior styling says “Buick” unmistakably. With a shape and profile very similar to the Cruze, the conservative yet stylish details are close enough to siblings Regal and LaCrosse that we couldn’t mistake it for anything but a Buick. From a distance, if you couldn’t perceive the substantial size difference it would be hared to tell them apart. The classic waterfall grille is the same shape on all and, while the rear views are slightly different, they don’t stray far from each other.

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Verano’s interior feels and looks modestly upscale with good materials and design, though it pales in comparison to LaCrosse. Remember, though, LaCrosse is nearly twice the price. Our leather-equipped test car was comfortable and roomier up front than I had expected. The seats are not overly firm or bolstered (this is a Buick, after all) but not too cushy either. Ingress and egress are easy for this big guy.

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The rear seats are another matter. It was quite a squeeze through the rear door but once in I did not feel too cramped. This is a compact car so we don’t expect a lot of room in the rear. I wouldn’t want to be a rear seat passenger with a 6-footer in front of me. The 60/40 folding seat backs are ergonomically good making decent access to the 14.3 cubic-foot trunk. We loaded it up with bird seed and found it quite deep but the opening is rather small.

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Instrumentation is conventional and easy to read and most controls are where we expect them. The one exception on our test car is the push button start. We expect to find a round button low on the dash and close to the steering wheel. And, when we have the push button start option we don’t expect a conventional switch-blade key. Neither of these expectations turned out to be the case. The switch-blade of our key was superfluous and the start button was a small rectangular thing high on the center stack.

Ride and handling are excellent. Suspension design is conventional and they have found a good balance between a firm, European-feeling ride and the comfort Buick owners will expect. Verano is also admirably quiet for a compact car - another characteristic luxury car owners expect. Serious drivers will find the steering feel to be gratifying, cornering ability solid and transmission performance in manual mode quick and smooth.

The standard GM warranty covers the whole car for 4 years or 50,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 100,000 miles.

Overall, we (my pretty wife and I) liked the Verano a lot. She got to drive it a couple of days while I got my knee scoped. She had no problem locating the start button, though I did. She also appreciated the luxurious feel of the whole car.

For the buyer interested in a step up from the economical, but still stylish, Cruze who doesn’t want to spend the kind of money the full luxury or sport compacts from Germany or Japan might cost, the Verano would be a very good choice.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved