I have driven the 2012 Buick Verano, which means I have driven what I’m told is the best-selling car in China.
So scads of mildly upscale buyers from Beijing to Shanghai like a quiet car with plenty of shiny bits. As my colleague Dan Neil at The Wall Street Journal points out, the compact Verano is a “glittery car. Brook trout will love it.”
Trout aside, the lure here for the typical entry-lux buyer – the hook that sets it apart from an Audi A3, Acura TSX or Lexus IS250 – is pricing. And it’s so good, Buick seems to be fishing with dynamite, or at least cherry bombs.
The least-expensive Verano starts at $22,595, which is about $10,000 less than the entry-level versions of the A3 ($34,100), the TSX ($31,890) and the IS250 ($32,900). Buick, of course, wants you to step up to a Verano with leather, but even that one goes for just $27,620 – on par with the base Acura ILX ($27,790). Add in the fancy alloy premium wheels on my tester ($525) and a power glass sunroof ($1,000) and the sticker stays below 30-large until you add in freight ($1,495) and taxes.
You might argue that the front-drive Verano is a dressed-up Chevrolet Cruze/Opel Astra and there is some truth there. But we can also say the ILX shares its basics with the Honda Civic and the A3 is Audi’s version of the Volkswagen Golf. The TSX is sold as a Honda Accord in Europe, too. Big car companies share platforms from which spring vehicles of all sorts; that’s the business.
The Verano springs from the Cruze, true. But what you see and touch, however, is really quite different and the Verano has Buick’s so-called “Quiet Tuning.” I’m not spinning you when I say the Verano is quiet like a politician on plans to raise taxes.
Let’s not overlook the powertrain story, either. The Verano has a decently potent 2.4-litre four-banger (180 horsepower). Look for 0-100 km/h in 8.5 seconds or so. No, not a world-beater, but mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox with reasonably smooth shifts, this powerplant is in the game versus the Audi’s turbo four (200 hp), as well as Acura’s 201-hp four-banger and even the small V-6 (204 hp) powering the IS250.
Buick, of course, has not been in the important corner of the market since 1998, when the unremarkable Skylark was coffined. No one shed a tear for that car and with good reason. It just wasn’t much of a car and certainly not good enough to deliver on Buick’s so-called “brand promise” – the one that today has evolved into this: Buicks are the Lexus killers from General Motors.
A tall order, that. Lexus is arguably No. 1 for quality among all brands. The evidence: Lexus tops J.D. Power and Associates long-term Vehicle Dependability Study. That said, Buick is No. 9, ahead of Acura and Audi, to name two. While we’re on practicalities, the Verano is also a Top Safety Pick of the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
All those things matter, but what I noticed first about the Verano is the design. Yes, there are lots of shiny bits, including non-functioning chrome ports on the side, chrome bezels around the side windows and that toothy grille up front. Once I donned sunglasses, though, I could quietly take in the overall look here, which glitter aside, is otherwise handsome and nicely stated – from the arching roofline to the fast rear pillars, as well as the cuts in the sheet metal of the front doors.
The cabin, meanwhile, is big enough for four adults and has more room than the ILX and the IS250. The instruments stand out for their soft blue lighting and chrome surrounds. They look expensive and have a calming effect. The standard gear includes the things you’d expect – power windows and so on – but there are also some standard surprises, including what Buick calls the “IntelliLink” radio, which I found easy to connect to my smart phone. This allowed me to use voice activation controls for the navigation system. The 250-watt, nine-speaker Bose sound system was crisp and clear.
As well, seat comfort and support is about average for the class and the soft-touch materials throughout fit perfectly well in this segment. The small push-button start button on the centre console took some finding, though, and, as always with these things, left me fumbling for a place to store the key fob.
More than anything, though, what you notice about the Verano is what you don’t hear when you’re driving. Buick says it is the quietest compact in the world and I believe it. What’s the secret? Glass laminated to reduce noise, triple door seals and sound-deadening materials that have been stuffed in all over and everywhere.
So the Verano is a relaxing ride. It’s not a sports car by any means and that’s the intent. And Buick has nailed the price. That should be a good formula in Canada. It already is in China.
2012 Buick Verano Leather Package
Type: Compact entry-luxury sedan
Base price: $27,620 ($1,495 freight)
Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque): 180 hp/171 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.2 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Acura ILX and TSX, Lexus IS250, Audi A3