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2012 Buick Verano. (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)
2012 Buick Verano. (Bob English for The Globe and Mail)

2012 Buick Verano Leather Edition

The Verano: Buick’s game changer Add to ...

The gear lever in Buick’s new Verano nipped me on a couple of occasions, but I’m going to be big about it, put the pinch down as a minor peccadillo and call this first size-small offering from a brand that built its former reputation on barge-sized behemoths, a thoroughly pleasant car anyway.Yep, it bit me. The button on the back of the gearshift lever managed to grab some skin twice before I became wary of it, as you would, and became careful how I operated it. Now it’s just possible this has never happened to anybody but me, so as I said, I’m not going to make a big deal over it, it didn’t leave a mark after all. I’m just saying ….

In virtually every other respect, the 2012 Verano does its best to isolate you from any form of pain.

For starters, its pricing – from $22,595 to the $27,620 Leather Edition test car – won’t bruise the bank account too deeply for anybody used to purchasing cars from the entry luxury level category. The Verano occupies the low shelf in this classification, a small group of cars aimed at people with a few bucks to spend and who like luxury features, but have been persuaded that size is no longer as relevant as it once was.

And the Verano won’t hurt your self-esteem, assuming you can get over its un-Buick-like compactness, as its overall look is sophisticated and its external accoutrements add a luxury high note with a suitable nod to Buick tradition.

Angst over the fact it’s wearing Buick badges, rather than those of some trendy Euro marque, won’t likely be much of an issue. I’d guess the Verano’s main appeal will be to buyers of traditional North American brands, although anybody shopping in this category would be remiss not to give it a look.

Inside (our leather-wrapped version anyway), you’ll find yourself coddled in comfy seats from which you can reach out and touch, or speak to if you choose, a generous list of comfort, convenience and infotainment features and plug in your own devices – while enjoying the end result of a development campaign Buick is making a lot of noise about, its successful efforts to provide a quiet cabin environment.

Performance with the standard engine won’t result in mental anguish. It’s not quick, but its performance is brisk enough and, if you need more, a turbo-version has been added for the 2013 model year. And it takes the sting out of visits to the pumps with reasonable fuel economy numbers.

Although the Verano shares the basic bits of its development architecture with the Chevrolet Cruze, its bodywork is completely different and a little longer, wider and taller with more room inside. It isn’t as roomy inside as, say, Buick’s last big sedan, the 1996 Roadmaster, but it will hold four comfortably.

In as-tested form, the goodies list included smart-looking sterling-silver-finish 18-inch alloy wheels shod with beefy P235/45R18 tires, fog lamps, a sunroof, heated outside mirrors and extra chrome trim.

Inside, there’s auto climate control, push-button start, remote keyless entry, cruise control, Bluetooth, a driver info centre, a Bose premium speaker audio system with touch screen, power driver’s seat, seat heaters, tilt/telescope wheel with audio controls, electronic parking brake and a 60/40-split rear seatback that extends the usefulness of the 405-litre trunk. And you can add navigation and an even zoomier audio system.

Like the Cruze, it has a MacPherson strut front suspension, but holding up the back end is a Watts Z-link setup, both optimized to improve handling as well as ride. Buick builders going to extra lengths to improve handling is a major attitude shift.

Over-the-road behaviour is biased to comfort rather than carving up corners, but it acquits itself competently. Spring and damper rates are soft enough to isolate your backside from bumps, but it doesn’t float around and steers with a firmly fluid feel.

Its 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine has less than half the old Roadmaster V-8’s 5.7-litre displacement, but at 181 hp well over half its 260 hp (the new turbo will make 250 hp). And it produces 171 lb-ft of torque, which is delivered to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.

This is a very driveable combination that will more than meet any acceleration requirements that aren’t initiated by a complete lack of judgment.

And it has been awarded fuel economy ratings of 9.9 litres/100 km city and 6.2 highway. Not quite as good as you might expect, but it’s got more power and, at 1,497 kilograms, is a considerable chunk heavier than less luxuriously equipped members of the compact class cohort. I averaged 8.8 litres/100 km over a week with the car and it consumed 7.4 litres/100 km at highway speed.

I added the word “former” to the comment about the brand’s reputation in the opening paragraph with good reason as the Buick division that built this new entry – for what is expected to be a burgeoning market segment for small, efficient yet luxurious cars – is a discernibly different organization than it was a few years ago and the Verano reflects that.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

TECH SPECS

2012 Buick Verano Leather Edition

Type: Four-door sedan

Base Price: $27,620; as tested, $31,220

Engine: 2.4-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 180 hp/ 171 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.2 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Acura TSX, Audi A3, Lexus IS250, Volkswagen Jetta GLI and (stretching) BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Infiniti G25

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Globe rating for the 2012 Buick Verano

Our ratings guide
9

Ride

Like other current Buicks, it has muscles, but flexes them only when necessary.

8.5

Looks

A pleasing shape that captures the Buick look without being too obvious about it.

8.5

Interior

Not very fancy, but roomy and bright, well-equipped and tastefully decorated with neat alloy trim.

8.5

Safety

With 10 airbags, StabiliTrack skid avoidance and a strong structure, it’s a good safety bet.

7.5

Green

Green isn’t a colour that comes to mind when you think Buick, but this one helps change that.

8.5

Overall

(out of 10 / Not an average)

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