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Friday, April 19, 2013

Buick Verano

The Buick Verano is a compact four-door sedan. The Verano shares its front-wheel-drive architecture with the Chevrolet Cruze, but almost everything in contact with the driver is new or substantially upgraded.

Introduced as a 2012 model and updated with a new turbo powertrain offering for the 2013 model year, the Verano is aimed at buyers looking for premium features in a smaller package, with a price starting well under $30,000. The Verano doesn't have much competition to date, although the Acura ILX matches squarely up against it in size and price, and so does the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA, which presages other new compact sedans to come from BMW and Audi.

With conservative styling on the outside, the Verano hardly makes a strong first statement; the Buick 'ventiports' feel a little forced, as always, but the roofline and profile are pleasant to the eyes, making it appear as a larger sedan when it stands alone. Inside, there's much to warm up to, though, with well-coordinated trims and rich leather, luxury touches like a heated steering wheel and a standard voice-activated IntelliLink touch-screen connectivity system.

As part of General Motors' plan to better coordinate its global model matrix, the Verano shares much of its layout more directly with the European-market Opel Astra. For 2012, there was only one powertrain: a 180-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission, with front-wheel drive.

In the base Verano, brakes are strong four-wheel discs; and Buick's Quiet Tuning ethos brings a well-controlled ride yet surprisingly deft handling—with quick-ratio steering—compared to some cushy luxury-sedan alternatives.

In drives of the base Verano, we've found it to be impressively refined, with one of the quietest interiors or any compact or even mid-size sedan, plus a rear seat that's contoured for adults—although the need to compromise legroom with front-seat occupants and a somewhat narrow rear bench do reveal it as a compact. Trunk space is great, however.

In the 2013 model year, Buick has added a turbocharged Verano T, with a 2.0-liter turbo four with 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, coupled to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. On turbocharged versions, acceleration is quite strong, with 0-60 mph times of under 6.5 seconds. The manual transmission is an interesting option, giving the Verano a hint of sporty feel otherwise unavailable to it--but ultimately, a feature that seems less in character than its good automatic gearbox. While suspension tuning and steering effort have been dialed to a more sporting level, though, the Verano T remains a quiet, comfortable ride, with just a slight increase in ride firmness and steering heft.

The Verano quickly earned Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and it includes ten standard airbags; rear parking assist is optional. It's also rated at five stars for safety by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The Verano was initially sold in a simplified lineup, with a stout list of standard features and just a few major option groups. IntelliLink strikes us as a connectivity interface that's simpler than MyFord Touch or Lexus' Enform, but one that accomplishes the same tasks; there's even Pandora and Stitcher streaming.

The turbocharged car is essentially an option package on the base car, but it brings with it a nine-speaker Bose audio system; leather seating surfaces; rear park assist; rearview camera; blind spot detection with cross-traffic alert; heated seats and a heated steering wheel. It's priced from just under $30,000, with the remaining options including features such as a power sunroof and voice-guided navigation system.

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