2013 Buick Verano Turbo First Drive

Fast company for the young and young at heart.

What It Is
An aspirational luxury car you can actually afford, now turbo-enriched.
Best Thing
Buick left the Verano's strengths intact, and changed what needed changing...
Worst Thing
...except for the back seat. It's still lousy.
Snap Judgment
This isn't a sports sedan; it's a compact luxury car finally with the engine it deserves.

When the Buick Verano debuted last November, it surely had to be some kind of a joke. At nearly $30,000 fully loaded, who would buy a compact car based off the Chevrolet Cruze? Why not just buy a midsize sedan instead for that kind of money? Or if people simply wanted a Cruze, they could just as easily get a Cruze.

But after driving the 2012 Buick Verano, we came back surprised, almost startled at what we had found: It was a darn good car, far removed from its humble origins as it could be. This was no repeat of the Cadillac Cimarron, when GM took a Cavalier and gave it leather seats, believing it could offset the stiff competition coming from Germany in the 1980s. We found the Buick Verano to be a certifiably comfortable, quiet, and luxurious compact sedan, pushing the idea of the small luxury car again as other automakers have constantly made their premium cars bigger and more complicated.

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The 2012 car we drove wasn't without its faults, though. As we noted in our Road Test, its back seat is a little cramped. And, quite frankly, its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine didn't meet our expectations for what a Buick ought to have under its hood. The engine droned as we put our foot into it to get a little more power. Fuel economy wasn't spectacular, either.

The 2013 Buick Verano Turbo doesn't fix the cramped rear quarters, but Buick went over the top to compensate for the other indiscretions of lesser Veranos. Starting at $29,990, Verano Turbo boasts 250 horsepower from its 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which doesn't sound like much in a world of 556-horsepower Cadillac sedans and 1,200-horsepower supercars. But consider that its only real competitor at the moment, the 2013 Acura ILX, tops out with 200 horsepower, and that model only comes with a manual transmission; if you want an automatic ILX, you have to go with the 150-horsepower version or the slowpoke hybrid. The Buick Verano Turbo offers not only a six-speed automatic transmission but also a six-speed manual. But Buick says it's not a sports sedan. And after driving it, we can assure you it doesn't pretend to be. It's an evolution of the compact luxury sedan, and perhaps a challenge to the rest of the industry to pick up its game.

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If you haven't noticed, Buick is going for a little more subtlety these days, which is a shame if you still remember the Harley Earle era of seeing just how much chrome veneer covered a Buick. If you do, maybe you should get a LaCrosse, a big car still designed to occasionally cater to septuagenarians. Still, the Verano Turbo wouldn't be a bad pick for that crowd, either.

It doesn't look much different than the standard Verano; even the 18-inch wheel options are the same between both versions of this car. The only exterior modifications that come with a 70-horsepower bump are dual exhaust outlets, an understated rear spoiler, and a red "T" badge next to the car's name on the back.

That might disappoint you if you're into the air-sucking, fanged-front-bumper look of the Regal GS or have a nagging desire for people to gawk at you and your car. But, then, why are you looking at a Buick? Much like the GMC Yukon Denali is to the Escalade, the Buick brand has always played second fiddle to the flagship Cadillac. Driving a Cadillac says that you've arrived; driving a Buick means you got to the party, but used a side entrance instead of the red carpet, and rented your tux.

But it's still very much a quality tux. And it's a good-looking one, too.

Sitting Down

If you're down between getting one of these and a loaded Chevy Cruze LTZ, this is where the Buick simply runs away from its sibling, and most any compact car this side of an Audi A3. Unlike non-turbo versions of the car, the Verano Turbo comes with leather, a heated steering wheel and front seats, a backup camera and cross-traffic warning sensors, and a long list of other features as standard. Its glass is double-laminated; its headliner cloth stretches over the car's pillars where most cars of this size are plastic-cladded. The only options are a sunroof, navigation system added to the standard IntelliLink infotainment system, a choice of 18-inch wheels, and the choice of a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.

Fit and finish is excellent, with soft-touch materials and French stitching adorning nearly every surface. The front seats are stuffed with padding, unchanged from the standard Verano's. While comfortable, they're not bolstered especially well to keep you in place during aggressive driving. Despite this, Buick says it's modestly firmed up the suspension, made steering a little heavier, and added a hint of an exhaust note to give the car a more sporty appeal.

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Before releasing the Verano Turbo, Buick experimented with 18 different exhaust systems. Some made the car's exhaust note silent. Others were straight-through pipes that propagated a wail not even Buick's signature QuietTuning could hide. In the end, Buick chose to go with an exhaust system that's nearly imperceptible when you turn on the stereo. But when you leave it off, pushing the go pedal to the floor, you hear an almost sonorous baritone reverberation unlike the droning noise typically associated with GM's Ecotec four-cylinder engine series.

It's that sort of attention to detail makes the Verano Turbo an enjoyable cruiser, and a decently fun to drive car, too. In making the Verano Turbo, well, turbocharged, Buick paid particular attention to driving dynamics, especially during rapid acceleration. In front-drive cars like the Verano, a lot of power can lead to a disconcerting tugging sensation on the steering wheel called torque steer. But the Verano doesn't have any. You put your foot down or drop two gears in the manual version, and it takes off with immediacy that will throw you into your seatback. And it'll do so with no drama.

The Buick's automatic is silky smooth, with upshifts coming on slowly when put into sport mode with moving the manumatic shift gate to the left when you're in drive. If you're a more aggressive driver, it'll frustrate you some, but that's why the Verano Turbo is also offered with a six-speed manual. Adding the third pedal is a treat, as the clutch engagement point feels well-weighted and natural. This is a car that you can rest assured is sound for teaching anyone how to drive a manual transmission, as it's nearly impossible to stall it with the engine's wide powerband.

We enjoyed rowing through the manual's shiftgate, too, as it's easy to find the proper gear. We just wish the shifter action was a tad less notchy.

As decent to drive as it is, the real reason you buy a Buick is for its totally luxuriant experience, coddling you as it makes long trips seem rather non-eventful. Or even short ones. Despite having a slightly stiffer set of springs, the Verano Turbo rides as you'd expect of a Buick. As we drove it over the Kentucky's country highways, we reminded ourselves that this is no sports sedan. But no matter what sort of road, we were pretty happy with its performance. Curvy road, narrow road, two-lane highway, or eight-lane freeway heading out of Louisville -- it didn't matter. The Buick just quietly went about its job, and did it well.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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It seems that every luxury sedan that comes along anymore has to fit the BMW, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz archetype of relentless efficiency, over-achieving sporting appeal, and, to be honest, a bit of blandness. Their interiors are always stoic. They're often found painted in black, white, or silver. The formula isn't too difficult to duplicate anymore. GM already did it with its 2013 Cadillac ATS because there's a subset of customers who believe that those traits have to be readily apparent in an entry-level luxury sedan.

American luxury cars used to be something different; only in recent years of chasing down BMW and the like have they fallen into the same sort of rut. It's a good thing, then, that a car like the Buick Verano Turbo exists.

It doesn't come with a programmable fuel-saving mode or different steering weights with the press of a button. It doesn't have a confusing scroll wheel-operated infotainment system like the Germans; IntelliLink is pretty straightforward with its touchscreen interface. It doesn't try to be the car that runs an 8-minute Nurburgring time, sacrificing ride quality for a racetrack time with a significance you'll half-understand. The Buick Verano is simple, honest luxury at a reasonable price. And believe us, it is very reasonable.

It's been pounded into our consumer psyche that we must always get the biggest car we can for the money. A Kia Optima Limited is only a few grand more for a substantially larger car, for instance. But the Buick feels more sophisticated, rides more smoothly, and is far quieter. In fact, given its price point, it's eerie just how quiet the Verano Turbo can be. At 80 mph on the highway, you start noticing whispers of wind around its pillars that you've never noticed in any other car because of all the other noises you typically hear. The Buick is so serene that you start nitpicking little things like that on principle.

It's exactly what a Buick is supposed to be -- what the standard Verano is for the most part, but now with better driving dynamics and the kind of power we expect of a car wearing the tri-shield badge. While competing most directly with the Acura ILX and Audi A3, it doesn't attempt to feel like a sporty vehicle all the time, like those two.

But when push comes to shove, the Verano Turbo can more than hold its own against its compact competition -- and unlike the other guys, it can do so without so much as breaking a sweat.

Basic Specs

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive, 250-hp, $29,990, 20 mpg city/31 mpg hwy (automatic), 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy (manual)

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