That the smallest Buick should be the quietist Buick comes as a surprise, but the sounds of (near) silence point to a new hallmark for the brand. Refinement.
Driving at 110 km/h, the engine, the tires, the wind are barely heard at all. Accelerating hard, the engine raises its voice, to be sure, but not as much as with many fuel-efficient, four-cylinder powertrains.
Passing surge is impressive, credit to180 horsepower under the hood, and the newest Buick corners without keeling over like Buicks of old. The 2012 Verano comes on to the market as a credible player among entry-level luxury cars with a base price of $22,595 – or $27,620 as the leather edition we're driving (complete with heated steering wheel).
For decades, General Motors has fussed over finding new customers for its sub-Cadillac line. Forever fearing that younger buyers discount Buick as their father's car, or even worse, their grandfather's, GM image manipulators have tossed aside established model names – Park Avenue closed down, Skylark has taken flight, Apollo is ancient history – and puzzled over what Buick's new identity ought to be.
Enter the Verano. It'd not have been a total surprise if the new model had appeared as a BMW wannabe, recalling the era when Buick tried juicing its demographic with the tire-burning 1982 Buick Grand National, or a four-door coupe with the elegance of the current Mercedes-Benz CLS or Volkswagen CC reflecting yesteryear's Buick Rivieras. But refinement is the Verano's claim to sales.
At worst, it would have been an obvious version of the Chevrolet Cruze. The smallest Buick does share its underpinnings with the popular Chevy, and many readers can recall how GM not so very long ago went bankrupt peddling Chev-Pontiac-Olds-Buick variations that differed mostly in their badges and upholstery while sharing a general crumminess.
But in this introductory drive the Verano looks nothing like the Cruze, feels nothing like a Cruze. That it weighs 70 kg more indicates that far more than plusher upholstery has gone into the new entry. And the body is completely different.
Can it really be the quietest Buick? Paul Hewitt, a product manager with GM Canada, said it is, pending final testing, because of the use of new materials and techniques that will be applied to coming generations of existing models. “A fabric/poly is used in the fender wells,” Hewitt gave as one example. “It's as durable as the plastic traditionally used, but quieter. And rear body components are separated by recycled denim.”
Other more familiar techniques include triple door seals, five layers of thermal fibre in the headliner, nylon baffles in hollow portions of the body, and thicker laminated windshield and side window glass.
It needs to be quieter than – and as luxurious as – a Lexus IS 250 or Acura TSX if GM Canada is to claim territory in the entry-level luxury league. Those cars are more expensive, at $32,900 and $31,890 respectively, but they're the very competitors GM specifies in making its quiet claim.
Comparison shoppers will decide for themselves, not only in terms of interior whisper, but Verano's worth as a luxury player. The grain of the plastic wood door and dash trim appear a little down-market. Although cup holders and places for bits are on the money, the rear seat lacks heat/air outlets.
Another question for full-framed consumers must be, do they fit? The front seats are comfortable but narrow – as a consequence of the modest width of the car. Your reviewer, at 180 pounds, finds perfect support, but a 280-pounder wouldn't and the question must concern all those weighing in between. Rear-seat knee and toe-room is just acceptable, not category leading.
The $27,620 leather edition includes considerable good stuff. On the chilly cold day in March when GM Canada introduced the car to auto journalists, the heated leather-wrapped steering wheel was a winner. Jaguar introduced this feature decades ago. Experience it once and you conclude every car should have it.
Looks? In profile, you'd be hard-pressed to identify Verano as a Buick, but it's handsome enough and from the front there'd be no confusion. Today's Buicks boast an unmistakable grille, similar to those on our grandfather's Specials and Supers. A large version of this brand hallmark distinguishes Verano from the small-car masses.
It's nothing like its Cruze cousin. The only car in the world that appears just like it, in fact, is the Buick Excelle GT, manufactured and sold in China, although the American-built model has a larger engine.
In China, Buick has long thrived as a luxury brand, one that has never questioned its identity. When the Excelle was given a facelift in 2009, the changes were said to be inspired by the Park Avenue – which continues on sale in China, if not here, as a prestigious and desirable full-sized car.
After all of GM's decades of puzzling over what to make of Buick, it appears to have found the answer in its success in China, where the cars are known as not the most powerful, nor the most dramatically styled, but those with the most refinement for the price. Verano makes that case.
2012 Buick Verano
Type: Four-door sedan
Base price: $22,595; as tested, $30,840 (including $1,495 destination charge)
Engine: 2.4-litre, DOHC, four-cylinder with direct injection
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: Lexus IS 250, Acura TSX, Volkswagen Jetta GLI