The grand poobahs at General Motors (none of whom I know personally) have a colossal task ahead of them. They have to make sure that the noble Detroit automaker refrains from creating products that are too similar to . . . well . . . its other products. Past transgressions, such as the Cadillac Cimarron (1982-1988), which was nothing more than a slightly more luxurious version of the Chevrolet Citation (J platform), have left some consumers a bit skittish to say the least.
But GM has learned from its mistakes. Take, for example, the Buick Verano. Few are those who can tell at first glance – or even after a test drive – that it is actually built on the same platform as the Chevrolet Cruze. Let’s give credit where credit is due: Buick engineers have done a heck of a job in adapting it.
First off, the Verano’s style is pure Buick with its waterfall grille, blue-rimmed headlamps and what I consider a very attractive rear treatment. But then there are the 1950s-inspired decorative portholes on each side of the hood. Now, is it just me or are these tacky beyond words?
The interior styling also gives you the unmistakeable feeling you’re inside a Buick – although there are no retro flashbacks here. The overall design succeeds in being both modern and classic. The fact that there are so many buttons in the central section of the dashboard can be a little confusing at first (finding the trunk release button took an exceptionally long time for TWO – yes, two! – auto journalists). But everything else is quite standard. The gauges are easy to see and take on an icy blue hue at night. The seats (leather on our test model) proved to be very comfortable, as we’ve come to expect from Buick. However, the back seats didn’t knock my socks off. The base trim comes with cloth seats. Oh, except that there isn’t a base trim. There’s just one trim, to which you can add options.
A positively “Regal” engine
Buick engineers made a conscious effort to set the Verano apart from the common Cruze by equipping it with the Regal’s mechanical components. For the time being, the only engine offered on this FWD vehicle is a 2.4L 4-cylinder Ecotec that produces 180 horsepower and 171 lbs.-ft. of torque. It’s mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain isn’t just quiet, it’s smooth. The engine is powerful enough for most circumstances, but you start wishing it had a few more horses under the hood during passing manoeuvres. The transmission performs decently and works hand in hand with the engine to keep fuel consumption down. Later this year, Buick will also offer a 2.0L turbo paired with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic gearbox. This combination is already available on the Regal. And, before I forget, its towing capacity is 1,000 lbs. (454 kg).
Two things will come to your attention on the road. First, the steering is surprisingly light, even from the first spins of the wheels, and road feel is not completely filtered out. Second, the ride is completely silent. Buick may claim that they are trying to shave some years off the brand’s image, but they have totally contradicted themselves by designing such a hushed interior. Note that the side windows are fully 4.85 mm thick, compared to the usual 3 mm. There’s triple the rubber between the doors and the platform, plus three layers of sound-deadening material in the doors and five in the roof – plus, the carpet is twice as dense as usual. Oh, and speaking of contradictions, the super-quiet Verano can be equipped with a 250-watt Bose sound system!
The suspension (MacPherson in front and torsion beam in back) is taken from the Cruze, but it has been tweaked for comfort and quietness. Briefly tested last week, the Verano offered good, predictable handling. It was even stable in tight corners – though I doubt any Buick owners will really test it with a series of right-angle turns. I didn’t have the chance to test it on particularly bad roads, but the usual potholes and other road damage didn’t affect overall comfort one bit.
It’s unlikely that the Buick Verano will revolutionize the automobile world. Nor is it expected to draw in a large volume of younger buyers. But with a start price of $22,595, it’s accessible enough to appeal to drivers who value comfort and the brand’s prestige. The upcoming Turbo version will undoubtedly bring in another type of clientele, much like the Regal Turbo. So there you have it: The Buick Verano is more like a small Regal than a luxury Chevrolet Cruze.
|Test model||2012 Buick Verano|
|Price range||$24,685 - $29,710|
|Price as tested||$29,710|
|Warranty (basic)||4 years / 80,000 km|
|Warranty (powertrain)||5 years / 160,000 km|
|Competitive models||Lexus IS, Acura ILX|
|Value for price|