Quick Take: 2012 Buick Verano (Review)

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Much ado about something.

The Verano, Buick’s newest and smallest offering, has made some waves. There’s buzz around this car, and genuine interest. I got to spend a week with one – let’s take a closer look and see if this car is buzz-worthy, or if that’s just the sound of flies circling over the carcass of a car company that many had pegged as down for the count.

The Verano starts at CDN $22,595 – the one I got rang in at $30,840.

 

Exterior/Under the Hood

The Verano is based on the Chevrolet Cruze, an entry-level car I reviewed and quite liked. Buick has taken the clean styling of the Cruze and made it its own. Sure, you can recognize a Cruze in there somewhere, but there are significant changes to the front and rear ends that this car really differentiates itself.

The  vertical-slat Buick grille is subjective, to be sure, but it grew on me. The front end is nice, with great-looking headlight clusters and chrome trim around the fog lights. The handsome 18″ rims are shod with meaty 235/45 rubber. Nothing to sneeze at! The rear end is very nicely styled too, in my opinion, with a classy single oval exhaust and cool chrome “eyebrows” above the taillights.

The Verano got a lot of looks on the road, and even a few double-takes. Although there are a couple of angles where the car suddenly looks very mature or even stodgy, it’s mostly a very good-looking car, and my opinion was shared by every single person who had a look at it.

Motivating this car down the road is GM’s 2.4-Liter 4-cylinder EcoTec. The engine is rated at 180 HP at 6700 RPM, and 171 lb.ft of torque at 4900 RPM. Those numbers don’t seem all that impressive, especially when it comes to moving a 3300 pound car around. The juice hits the road, channeled through a refined but somewhat slushy 6-speed automatic transmission. Let’s cross that bridge when we talk about The Drive, but in the meantime, let’s talk fuel economy. The Verano is rated at 9.9 L/100 km (24 mpg) in the city, 6.2 L/100 km (38 mpg) on the highway and 8.3 L/100 km (28 mpg) for the combined cycle. Those numbers aren’t amazing, and even then, they seem a bit optimistic to me, as I only got 11.9 L/100 km (20 mpg) in mostly city driving. The tank holds 59 Liters.

 

Interior/Tech/Convenience

The interior is not big, but roomy enough to be comfortable. Headroom is decent. Materials are very nice throughout, including rich textures, swatches of glossy modern wood-grains and soft-touch plastics. As nice as the interior is, this particular combination was quite dark and grim – let’s say business-like. The dash is sculpted and interesting to look at.

The seats are wonderful. First of all, they’re covered with leather. Like real cow skin. Not leatherette. The leather is lovely and features classy contrasting stitching, and the seats are very comfortable. They’re heated and mostly manually adjustable, the exception being the driver’s seat fore and aft movement is powered. Bolstering is lacking, and this shows that Buick is still leaning toward comfort over sport.

The steering wheel is great with a grippy, thick rim and buttons for handsfree, phone, media and cruise control. In front of it are two large gauges and two small gauges in a hooded instrument bin – the big gauges are separated by GM’s familiar driver information screen and are easy to read and pretty to look at with extra markings on the bezel, much like an expensive watch.

The center stack starts with a touch screen, a busy mess of hard buttons and knobs below that and a dual-zone automatic climate control at the bottom. The console houses the shift lever with manual slap-stick mode and an electronic parking brake button.

The basics are powered – windows, door locks and mirrors – and the headlights are automatic. There’s a power tilt/slide sunroof overhead, rear distance parking sensors and a push-start ignition.

The sound system is BOSE, and though I’m no BOSE fan, it sounds fantastic. Sources are AM, FM, satellite, auxiliary, USB and CD.

 

Rear Seats/Storage

The seats in the back are clad in the same beautiful leather, and are very comfortable – at least the two main seats are. Headroom is adequate, as is leg and knee room. If you’re taller, and you do run into some leg room issues, those problems will be amplified because the front seatbacks are hard plastic.

There’s enough room for 2 adults, or 3 kids – all mine fit nicely, including child seats. There are 2 LATCH connectors. At the back of the center console, there’s a flip-out 12V plug and a small storage bin.

Regarding in-cabin storage, there’s a deep, angled open bin underneath the center stack with a rubberized bottom and a 12V plug. In the console you’ll find two cupholders and an excellent vertical slot to drop your smartphone into. The armrest, which slides forward and back, contains a smallish bin with auxiliary and USB plugs. The glove compartment is roomy and very usable, with a horizontal divider. All four door bins are small, and not very useful. There’s a cool pop-down bin on the left underside of the dash.

The trunk felt large for this class of car (400 Liters/14 cubic feet), and that capacity can be increased by folding the 60/40 split rear seats down.

 

The Drive

I was very impressed with the way this car drives. The ride is absolutely fantastic – it’s extremely comfortable, but not so soft that it floats. The car feels stable at any speed – from urban commuting to high freeway speeds. The handling is very good – it’s predictable and you can throw this car into corners with abandon. There’s body roll, more than I’d like, but the trade-off is that amazing ride.

Buick makes a big deal about how quiet this car is, and what they’ve done to achieve that. Let me assure you that this car is, without a doubt, the quietest ride I’ve been in in this class, and frankly, probably a class or two above it. Road noise is virtually non-existent, engine noise only shows up when you’re heavy on the gas, and wind noise never, ever became an issue – even at very high speeds. The car continues to impress.

Although the Verano isn’t a fast car, it’s remarkable satisfying to drive. There’s no lag off the line. It won’t snap your head back, but it just goes and I appreciate that. The transmission seemed to be quite intelligent, mostly being in a gear that made sense in terms of what I was trying to do. Occasionally, I felt that the car surged a bit at lower speeds, but overall, it was a very smooth transmission, and the power is just fine for daily driving, and even on the highway. The transmission is a bit sluggish, and takes its time shifting down when you put the hammer down – I wish it would come with a Sport setting that would tighten things up – I think I’d prefer that to the manual mode, which makes little sense considering how long it takes to shift gears.

Visibility is OK, but not great. The rear pillars are huge, but bothered me less than I thought they would. Looking out the back is a tight view, and the rear headrests intrude on it as well. I did appreciate the little windows ahead of the front door windows, which afford you a little more view of the road to the sides.

The steering is good, but a bit numb – low-speed effort is fantastic, and the turning circle is admirably tight. Braking is good, smooth and relatively linear. Oh, and there’s a dead pedal, and it’s a good one. Thank you, Buick!

I found that this car is smooth in almost every situation, and somehow made most things seem effortless. It’s a very nice car to drive, and commuting with it was a pleasure. Cruising at high speeds on the highway? Same deal.

 

Nitpicks

The trunk lid doesn’t offer a release button, which means you have to open the trunk from the inside or with the key fob. Seriously irritating.

This will come across as a first-world problem, obviously, but I couldn’t figure out a way to synchronize the dual-zone climate control system, so you have to adjust both sides to change the temperature throughout the car. Yes, I know the knobs are 3 inches apart. Leave me alone. I’m lazy, OK?

Although I have traditionally been impressed with GM’s voice recognition technology, it left me wanting in the Verano. It often screwed up phone directory names and just wasn’t doing a great job most of the time.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I truly hate Buick’s use of those ridiculous fake heat extractor vents on the hood. They look dumb, they’re not functional, and they need to go.

 

The Verdict

Can I get someone in the sound booth to cue Sade’s “Smooth Operator”? Thanks so much.

Basically this car can be described as smooth. Everything it does comes across as smooth, and for the most part, that’s a very good thing. I appreciate the extraordinary degree of comfort, refinement and apparent build quality the Verano brings to the table, and it is simply a joy to drive. If you want to get a little aggressive, it’ll certainly play in the corners (with a little body lean) and it’ll be compliant – I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s fun to drive, but it IS a pleasure to drive.

You won’t win any drag races, of course, but the Verano never gives you the impression it cares. It’s confident in doing what it’s capable of, and will happily operate in that zone all day, every day.

I said this to a couple of people who came up and had questions about this car, and I’ll say it here. The Buick Verano is a car that I would put my own money down for. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as a very competitive car in this class. I think the fuel economy is a bit of an issue, and it has some catch-up to do in that department. But you will never, ever feel as though you are driving an entry-level car and that’s saying something. Buick has done a bang-up job at making the Verano a desirable ride, and I would be happy to own this car.

I would be very surprised if GM doesn’t drop a turbocharged 4-cylinder into this car sooner than later, which should give it equal or better performance, as well as better fuel economy.

I give the Verano an 8 out of 10, and would give it an 8.5 if the fuel economy were better.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high with this car. She liked the styling, inside and out. She quite enjoyed how it drives, she liked the seats, the lit vanity mirrors, and the depth of the trunk, which she rated at 1.5 shopping trips of capacity.

Considering the Regal I reviewed earlier this year, that makes two Buicks I’ve liked now. So am I getting older, or is Buick getting younger? Whatever it is, I’m liking what they’re putting out.

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by GM.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.

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