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2012 Buick Verano 1SL Road Test

What It Is
Buick's a trailblazer in the compact luxury segment, targeting younger buyers in search of a comfortable cruiser.
Best Thing
The interior feels luxury-grade, quiet, and as refined as you'd expect in a luxury car of any size.
Worst Thing
Forget compact car fuel economy; the four-cylinder Verano drinks gas like a full-sizer.
Snap Judgment
A better engine away from unquestionably hitting the top of its class.


A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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The last time someone started a review of a GM product with "This is not your father's [insert brand here]," said brand ended up being discontinued shortly thereafter. So we're not going to go down that road. Instead, we're just going to start off by saying the 2012 Buick Verano is currently garnering one of the youngest audiences Buick has had in recent memory, and there's a very good reason for that.

It's a compact car, Buick's first since the mid-1990s. It's full of technology that can pair to most any cell phone outside of your grandparents' Jitterbug. And it was designed to appeal to the upwardly mobile youth of America and China -- Buick's two largest markets. It's a smart and sensible sedan, packed with luxury features and an interior befitting an audience that wants a luxury car but doesn't necessarily want to fork over huge sums of money for it. It's also for that certain someone who's tired of paying German car repair bills or filling up with premium gas to get the premium experience.

Believe it or not, Buick is ahead of a newly emerging curve with the Verano, helping shape a segment of everyman compact luxury cars. With words like "downsizing," "consolidating," and "changing direction" becoming the standard rather than the exception, Buick took note, basing its latest entry-level car off the same structure as the Chevrolet Cruze, but with its own twist. But the Verano doesn't compromise its mission, sticking with leather and the like to sway the decent-to-do from cars like the Volvo C30, Audi A3, and new Acura ILX. But does it work? Does the 2012 Buick Verano have what it takes to be worthy of your hard-earned money considering there are nice compacts out there like the Chevrolet Cruze? And can it dispel the notion that you have to have your satellite radio perpetually set on '50s on 5 or '60s on 6 to enjoy a Buick?

We grabbed a highly optioned 2012 Buick Verano 1SL for a week to find out.

What We Drove

The 2012 Buick Verano's pricing pretty much picks up where its lesser Chevrolet Cruze stablemate leaves off. Starting at $23,470, including $885 for destination and handling for a standard model, you'll get Buick's IntelliLink touchscreen infotainment system standard, as well as OnStar, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio, a remote starter, and six-speed automatic among a long list of features. But our car went beyond that and the next-higher convenience group to the leather group, which equips it with heated leather seats in place of cloth and "leatherette," a push-button starter, heated steering wheel, power driver's seat, backup sensors, 18-inch wheels, and a Bose premium nine-speaker audio system. With just one extra, the $495 White Diamond Tricoat paint, our car tallied $27,345. A sunroof would have cost an extra $900, and a navigation system replacing IntelliLink would have added an extra $795.

Along with the higher coin, you're getting a passive-entry key that opens the lock when it senses the key is in your pocket; driver and front passenger front, side, knee, and head airbags; rear passenger head airbags; six months of OnStar crash response standard; an alarm; and stability control, traction control, and tire pressure monitoring as standard.

The Commute

Since the Buick Verano is based on the Chevrolet Cruze, we knew it was going to be a smooth operator. But we weren't sure it'd be good enough to justify the $5,000 premium over the Cruze Eco we recently tested. It is. The Verano gains some 200 pounds over the Cruze, most of it going to sound deadening and luxury equipment. That's good for anyone worried that it would feel like an economy car; it doesn't. It's smooth, pillowy almost. But the Verano never wallows over the road; it feels buttoned down. With an extra 200 pounds, the Buick Verano needs some extra grunt to move its mass. So instead of the Cruze's 1.4-liter engine, the Verano gets a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. It's smooth and mostly quiet, except for the coarse drone when you put the gas pedal to the floor. But fuel economy suffers as a result. While rated at 21 mpg city/32 mpg highway, we mustered less than 24 mpg through most of our time with it, even with our resident hypermiler at the Verano's helm. That's 3 mpg less than the bigger, more powerful Hyundai Sonata we tested before taking in this Buick. For a car of its size, the Verano ought to get much better overall fuel economy. The only exception came when staffer Jason Davis managed to get 40 mpg out of the car on one fluke reading.

But enough about the Verano's weakest point. We found the front seats remarkably comfortable, wide and supportive for nearly any size driver. The radio's controls were clustered together and proved intuitive, albeit it took some time to discern each of the rest of the many buttons on the dashboard from one another, and it soaked up miles without many gripes. With the seat heaters on, the air conditioning going at a gentle pace, and the stereo cranked up, the Buick Verano felt pleasant -- utterly pleasant. Isn't that what you expect from a Buick anyway?

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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The Grocery Run

With a deep but not especially wide 14.0-cubic-foot trunk, the Verano didn't let any of us down when it came time to hit the store. Resident wrangler of a trio of young children Keith Buglewicz gave the Verano high praise for its ability to comfortably haul his brood along with a week's worth of groceries.

But the Verano has massively plush front buckets that take up a lot of space, limiting your ability to shuttle around taller folks in back. I stand 5-foot-7, allowing me to comfortably sit behind myself. The over six-footers in our crew thought it was a bit tight in the back seat, but it was acceptable for short trips. In getting around, we found the Verano to be plenty maneuverable, although we quickly discovered its light steering feel was designed for ease of use over connected-to-the-road feel. Still, it got in and out of spaces easily with decent overall visibility. Backup sensors aided the process, but we questioned why this nearly loaded $27,000 sedan didn't have a backup camera to complement its seven-inch IntelliLink infotainment screen.

The Weekend Fun

Six different interior colors and materials. Six. Even when you don't spend too much time in the Verano, you notice it. Although stylishly shaped, the multiple colors make the Verano's interior busy. Then you start noticing some of the materials feel rich, while others look and feel downright cheap upon closer inspection. Some of the car's pillars are also wide, prompting an occasional "Holy blind spots, Batman!" Overall, though, not much of it feels especially out of place in a car of its price.

When the sun goes down and you're no longer distracted by Buick and the Amazing Technicolor Interior, the Verano emits a pleasant seafoam green accent lighting that matches the stitching on the seats. It looks positively rich, and it's very easy on the eyes.

Like all Buicks, the Verano is an excellent long-distance companion, soaking up miles in a near-silent operation. Despite being a relatively small car, it feels and drives like a bigger vehicle, except for when you overtake another car on the road and open up that loud engine. We credit (or blame) the car's weight for its substantial feel. Even having the Verano on stretches of highway where keeping up with traffic meant going almost 80 mph, the Verano didn't bob over the road with any loss of composure. It just went about its business, quietly and confidently.

But as is the case with those of us who will take just about anything to a narrow, winding road that could just as easily be a haven for a family of deer, several staffers took the Verano up north to carve some canyon roads in Malibu. This is where the Verano surprised us. Sure, the light-feeling steering leaves something to be desired with some of our enthusiastic crowd of drivers. And the transmission is best put into its manually shifted sport mode to get the most out of the engine, as it's reluctant to shift on its own. But as our Blake Rong said, "It has better driving dynamics than I ever could have thought." With its QuietTuning insulation, Rong also noted he couldn't hear the Verano's tires howl in the fast switchbacks. So yeah, it's really that quiet.

Summary

A $27,345 luxury car based on the Chevrolet Cruze may be a tough pill to swallow. For that kind of cash, you can get some plenty more powerful, larger rides. Or if you want to stick with compact cars, you can get a barely optioned Acura ILX, or a completely loaded Ford Focus Titanium that includes features like a touchscreen navigation system, and sensors that will automatically parallel park your car.

With its upper-tier equipment level, we can't figure out why the Verano doesn't come standard with a power sunroof. Some of our staffers couldn't figure it out, either, still wondering if it was worth the extra cost. The Verano's inefficient engine didn't help matters, either, and we hope Buick will experiment with adding the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze diesel's engine to the Verano's portfolio in the future, in addition to next year's availability of a class-destroying 250-horsepower turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission.

But most of us really enjoyed it, thinking of it as downsized, but not a downgraded, premium sedan. It's not perfect -- Buick could easily improve many of the Verano's foibles -- but it's a great first shot in what will surely be a war in the burgeoning compact luxury car segment.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $27,345
Fuel Economy
EPA City 21 mpg
EPA Highway 32 mpg
EPA Combined 25 mpg
Estimated Combined Range 375 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: N/A

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Notebook Quotes

"Overall, price is the key factor here, and I think it's priced well. It's not a clinker for too much cash; it's a leap forward for a company that needs one." -- Matt Askari, Associate Editor
"Visibility was worse than originally thought, specifically looking from the driver's seat across the hood to the front-right tire. This proved troublesome when trying to take the last parking spot outback against the curb. Solution: go realllllly slow into the spot." -- Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"Unfortunately, being a dressed up Chevy does nothing to help Buick create its own identity like Toyota did with Lexus and Nissan with Infiniti." -- Joel Arellano, Associate Editor
"The thing I like about the Verano is that you get a pretty premium experience for not much money. The leather feels a lot nicer than you'd get in an equivalently priced Accord or Camry." -- Keith Buglewicz, News Director
"Seriously, this car has to have the best seats out of anything I've put my butt in. Somehow they manage to be firm and squishy at the same time, and you just kind of sink into them, cocooned in a bucket of buttery-soft leather that looks almost edible, like being cuddled by a baby bear cub." -- Blake Rong, Associate Editor

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