Buick re-enters the compact sedan market, but is this attempt a proper Buick? Sort of.
April 10, 2012
By: Nick Saporito
The words “Buick” and “compact” have not been utilized together since about 1998 when the brand killed the Skylark sedan. Since then, a lot has changed both at Buick and within the industry. Today Buick no longer builds large, floaty sedans aimed at elder generations and the industry as a whole is on a downward spiral to smaller, more efficient vehicles. The collision of these two paths is bringing us smaller Buick vehicles, such as the upcoming Encore crossover and—available now—the Verano compact sedan.
Often times car companies get obsessed with trying new segments in an attempt to be first – many times sacrificing their brand identity and image in the process. Buick has been guilty of this in the past (anyone remember the Terraza?). Fortunately in the case of the Buick Verano, it is not just a trend pleaser; it really is a legitimate Buick, which makes for both a compelling proposition and muddled image.
The Verano, like many Buick products today, can trace its linage back to GM’s European brand Opel. The Verano is an Opel Astra sedan with revised front and rear facades. Specifically the front clip of the Verano is entirely unique to Buick, down to the blue rings around the projector headlight lenses.
Verano does a good job of looking like a classy sedan from the exterior, but the only offense with the design is the level of inoffensive traits it possesses. Unlike LaCrosse and Enclave—two Buick’s that wear their brand theme loudly—Verano’s exterior is conservative; a far-reaching derivative of it’s high styled siblings. The conservative nature of the exterior is centered on a greenhouse design that is generic and rounded out by a side profile that has virtually no character lines.
Around back the Verano’s look fits somewhat better with the Buick portfolio, though it too is on the bland side. We would also like to see the Verano sport LED-lite taillights versus the incandescent bulbs that are there now. Though after following a Verano in traffic after our testing we noted that the rear design is more significant from a head-on perspective.
Really the exterior is a tough aspect of the Verano to draw conclusions. The car looks good, and from certain angles it has a premium car presence, but many of the design elements are on the bland side. The lack of Buick traits on the outside really makes this little car have a confused image.
Fortunately blandness is not an issue with the Verano interior. Like much of the exterior, the interior is borrowed heavily from the Opel Astra, though Buick has done a fine job at injecting some tri-shield specific color and trim to make it look much like the rest of the Buick lineup.
Our tester was equipped with Buick’s Choccachino interior palette, which Buick calls their “fashion” interior for Verano. This unique blend of chocolate and caramel colored materials makes for a stunning interior and is really unexpected in a small car—even a premium one. The two colors are accented with aqua-colored French stitching on the seats. The odd color combination is not something anyone of us outside of the fashion industry would select, but it works surprisingly well. Faux wood and aluminum trims round out the interior materials, both of which get a pass for looking good.
One of the focus points on the Verano interior was comfort, and that clearly shows up in two fundamental aspects of the interior: the seats and the noise level. GM spent an insane amount of time designing the Verano seats and it paid off in the form of some of the most comfortable seats we’ve ever experienced. To add to the comfort, the Verano is also one of the most quiet cars we’ve experienced—a Buick trait that has been taken to the extreme. Honestly, the combination can best be described as serene.
That deathly quiet cabin allows for the driver to utilize all of the technology the Verano is packing. Verano comes standard with Buick IntelliLink, which allows the driver to control the infotainment system via voice control, and stream Pandora and Stitcher radio from their smartphone. The system functions fairly well with only minor hiccups during our testing.
The system is mated to a Bose sound system that was specifically designed for Verano. The custom development took place to best capitalize off of the quiet interior and this extra touch has paid off as well. While most GM Bose sound systems leave much to be desired, the Verano’s is incredibly crisp and provides ample bass—a notorious weak spot with Bose.
With uber-comfy seats and a serene cabin experience, it is pretty clear that Verano is not intended to be a performance sedan, and it isn’t. Powered by GM’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder, Verano makes 180 horsepower and 172 foot-pounds of torque. On paper that sounds very impressive for a compact sedan, but we must remember that the Verano is technically a premium compact, meaning it weighs in at a hefty 3,300 pounds; just 300 less than the larger Regal.
So while 180 horsepower sounds like it would move the Verano along pretty quickly, it does not. The power is more than adequate for the car, even during highway maneuvers, and those wanting more will likely be pleased with the upcoming Verano Turbo. To fit with the theme of silence, the 2.4-liter has been specifically tuned to be extra quiet.
The heft and power of Verano do lead to one pitfall that has been the subject of much discussion. Fuel economy does suffer and our time with the Verano confirmed that. We averaged 28.2 mpg driving the car in equally split city and highway conditions. The EPA says Verano should be good for 21 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, so our returns are right in line with what should be expected. The fuel economy problem here is exactly that: low expectations. The 32 mpg figure just “feels” low for a car of this size. Perhaps it is a condition the consuming public will have to learn to deal with as small cars pack on more luxury (and mass).
Verano looks and feels like a mini version of Buick’s LaCrosse sedan, so it is only fitting that it drives like it as well. Like LaCrosse, the Verano drive is no-frills and that isn’t a bad thing. Suspension tuning is fairly moderate, if not slightly slanted toward the soft side. Potholes and rough pavement are absorbed without issue and, of course, are muted almost entirely to not disrupt Verano’s cabin.
Like the suspension, the electric power steering system offers little outside of the expected. The rack provides an appropriate amount of feedback and the turning radius seems exceptional. We would prefer to have a little more on-center feel from this Buick, however.
The bottom line with the Verano is one of mixed emotions. From the inside, no one would ever question Verano’s worthiness of the tr-shield badge on the steering wheel; it looks beautiful, feels great and is serenely quiet—all core Buick traits. On the outside, though, Verano is almost anonymous next to Buick’s larger vehicles, a problem in our eyes.
Exterior design not withstanding, the Verano is a terrific car. It is a few features (rear camera, blind zone alert, etc.) shy of having all of the latest technology; it’s extremely comfortable and has an adequate powertrain. For those wanting a small car that acts like a big one, the Verano is it. Those wanting a little more brute will likely fancy the upcoming Verano Turbo with a six-speed manual. The base Verano has certain wet our appetite for a turbo and manual transmission.
Verano Photo Gallery
- Serene cabin - quiet and comfortable
- Excellent infotainment system
- Priced appropriately
- Inoffensive, un-Buick-like exterior design
- Lacks some of today's premium technologies (rear camera, lane departure warning, etc.)
- Fuel economy seems low for such a small car