Here are a few things you probably didn't know about General Motors' Buick brand and its compact, youth-chasing sedan, the Verano:
1. The average age of a Buick buyer is now 57, down from 64 in 2007. The Polk research firm, as Automotive News reports, says Buick is the only brand to see the average age of its buyers decline from 2007 to 2012. Yet Buick still has the second-oldest buyers in the car business, behind only Lincoln.
2. Chinese drivers bought more than 700,000 Buicks last year, up 8 per cent from 2011. Buick sales in North America, according to DesRosiers Automotive Reports, were fewer than 200,000.
3. The Buick brand finished well above average in the latest J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study – ahead of Lincoln, BMW, Volvo, Subaru, Land Rover, Volkswagen, Mini, Mazda, Nissan and a long list of others.
4. Like every vehicle in Buick's lineup, the compact Verano is a Top Safety Pick of the U.S. Insurance institute for Highway Safety.
Buick, then, is a global brand that's a hit in China, the world's biggest car market. Buicks, says the research, are safe and reliable. Rebecca Lindland, owner of Rebel Three Consulting of Greenwich, Conn., recently told The Associated Press that Buick's lineup should appeal to younger drivers what with good fuel economy, pretty designs and solid road manners.
The bad news for Buick is that "it's still not cool to be in a bar and say you have a Buick," said Lindland. The good news is that Buick is slowly, painfully making a comeback.
Remember, Buick's North American sales tumbled to 102,000 in 2009 – from a 1984 high of more than 900,000. If Buick can ever get to, say, 300,000 in Canada and the United States combined, call it a success.
It might happen, as long as Buick operatives remain patient and committed to building and selling handsome, interesting vehicles like the Verano. Odds are, the younger buyers Buick would like to see driving a Verano have most likely never even heard of the car – despite Buick's best efforts at pushing the brand through sports promotions and cheeky brand advertising featuring retired basketball players and even dinosaurs.
The Verano is a competent car and the price is right – $22,895 for the base model, $28,695 for an upscale "leather" package. The base engine is a reasonable four-cylinder rated at 180 horsepower, but if you option up to the Ecotec turbo (part of a $2,625 package), you have yourself a spirited 250-hp machine with just about all you could want, and for less than $33,000, freight included.
The turbo engine is the big upgrade for the 2013 Verano. The standard gearbox is a six-speed automatic and it's good. Throw in dual exhaust, sport pedals and a rear spoiler and you have a sporty, front-wheel-drive, near-luxury sedan.
I'll say this: the Verano Turbo is fast. The 0-100 km/h time falls in around 6.5 seconds. This surprised me. My Buick mindset partially remains in the 1980s, which was about the time I started dismissing Buicks as cars that would never interest me. Times have changed.
The facts say Buick has a case to make for the Verano as an alternative to, say, a Lexus IS 250, Acura ILX or Infiniti G-Series sedan. Dollar-for-dollar, the Verano is better equipped than any of these and the car has more passenger room than the Acura ILX and Lexus IS.
The Verano looks good, too. The basic exterior design is tasteful and handsome, with a distinguishing waterfall grille up front. The windshield is angled aggressively and the rear pillars have a rakish appeal. It all looks good, right down to the projector beam headlamps. Hard to believe the Verano is built on a platform shard with the prosaic Chevrolet Cruze.
Inside, the cabin is a thoughtful collection of basic elements. All the pieces fit well and all the controls are easy to manage. Best of all, the Verano is quiet even at higher speeds.
The "quiet" part of the story is no surprise. The Verano has laminated glass, triple door seals and refined chassis dynamics all aimed at controlling noise. Buick says even the 17-inch standard wheels are manufactured to quell road noise.
Buick would like thirtysomethings to give the Verano a look-see, which is why you find things like the IntelliLink radio. Combine it with the GPS-enabled navigation and sync everything with your smartphone and away you go. Yes, voice activation is in play, or you can use the steering wheel-mounted controls.
The seating is perhaps the most surprising piece, however. They are comfortable and perfectly supportive. This is a car from Detroit? Really?
My advice to Buick: hang in there. The Verano is a good car and it will find an audience. It took GM decades to drive Buick into a ditch. At this rate, it should take only a few years to get back on track – to put Buick back into the car-buying consciousness of young-ish buyers.
2013 Buick Verano Turbo Leather Package
Type: Compact premium sedan
Price: $31,320 (freight $1,550)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Horsepower/torque: 250 hp/260 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.2 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Lexus IS 250, Acura ILX, Infiniti G-Series sedan