When the new Buick Regal mid-sized sedan came our way for testing, it was truly impressive, and I rated it one of the best cars tested in 2010.
I wondered if Buick's newest offering, the Verano, could possibly match the Regal's impressive debut. After all, the Regal (in it's German Opel Insignia guise) had won the European Car of the Year when it was launched. Could the new Verano match the success garnered by its corporate sibling?
The 2012 Verano is Buick's entry into the competitive compact car sweepstakes, taking on heavy-hitters like the Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra. Based on the Chevrolet Cruze chassis, the Ve-rano is more upscale, consistent with the Buick brand.
The Verano fulfils its luxury compact sedan mission well.
Our test unit was well equipped with all the major option groups, including leather, sunroof, navigation system, premium audio system and 18-inch wheels. We invited some former Buick owners to view our test unit, and they loved everything about it - its sleek sheet metal, luxurious leather interior with heated steering wheel and a cabin spacious enough to accommodate four adults comfortably. They noted the Verano's plush ride and quiet cabin, which betters most of its rivals when it comes to wind and road noise at highway speeds.
This luxury does come at a slight cost. The Verano's suspension seems to be tuned differently than the Cruze, which feels livelier. Compared to the Volkswagen Jetta we tested (and loved) immediately before receiving the Buick, the Verano, not surprisingly, feels more American in suspension tuning. That's not a bad thing. In fact, many people will prefer the plusher ride of the Verano to the sportier Jetta.
GM's 2.4-litre Ecotech four-cylinder mill is the only engine offered in the Verano, and mated to the six-speed automatic transmission, they perform flawlessly.
In daily commuting, acceleration in the stoplight grand prix is sufficient, but at speeds above 80 km/h, a firm foot on the accelerator is needed if brisk action is demanded. And with its large (for its class) 2.4-litre engine, the Buick has about the same fuel economy rating as the Mazda3 GT (2.5-litre engine), neither of which are the fuel efficiency champs of the class.
Behind the wheel of the Verano, Buick loyalists will be happy. The instrument cluster and audio/ HVAC controls still reflect a strong American style, with liberal use of chrome trim and slightly busy button and knob layout, but overall it works - with one exception. This Verano is equipped with a keyless start system. That means with the key in your pocket or purse, the Buick knows you have the key; all you have to do is put your foot on the brake and press the start button. I'm embarrassed to say when I jumped into the Ve-rano, I couldn't find the Start but-ton. I was stymied.
A helpful person at the dealership pointed out the button, which is shaped just like all the other buttons on the dash. OK, once you know where it is, finding it is a no-brainer.
Does the 2012 Buick Verano match the Regal's class-leading performance? Not quite, but it's close. The Verano possesses very nice driving dynamics and delivers a plush ride and luxurious accommodations in a compact package, but it doesn't have that near perfect balance of excellent handling and comfortable ride the larger Regal has.