Buick compares the new Buick Verano to the Lexus IS 250 and Audi A3, and you'll get no dubious looks from us. When you consider the Verano costs thousands less, it looks even better. There's a healthy warranty of 4 years and 50,000 miles.
The Verano is a great looking car, with sleek stocky lines. Beautiful in black (Black Onyx), maybe better in chocolate (Mocha Bronze Metallic). It totally pulls off the wedge look, with a short nose, steeply raked windshield, and good character lines. It will be an impressive car to drive around. That's what Buicks have always been, and what they're supposed to be. What's especially impressive about Verano is that it's a compact car. It's six inches longer than the Mazda3, and three inches longer than the Lexus IS 250.
The interior is classy, with a rugged cloth upholstery in the base model and excellent leather especially in a rich brown. Interior shapes are smooth and the trim elegant, especially in satin bronze with brown leather. The center stack is powerful and graceful, bucket seats exceptional, and gauges beautiful.
We were impressed with the sporty character of the Verano. Cornering, transmission, suspension and engine, all aces.
The 2.4-liter Ecotec engine with direct injection and variable valve timing makes 180 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque, and that's enough for most situations. It's notably smooth and exceptionally quiet. A new 6-speed automatic transmission reacts appropriately whether you're driving casually or hard on the gas.
The Verano finds that sweet spot between good cornering and comfortable ride, a benefit of its Z-link rear suspension. We found the handling crisp and responsive. The brakes were firm, also.
Buick Verano 1SD ($22,585), Verano 1SG ($23,785), and 1SL ($26,000)
The Buick Verano is a great looking car, with especially great lines. Beautiful in black. It totally pulls off the wedge look, short-nosed but still sleek. It will be an impressive car to drive around. That's what Buicks have always been, and what they're supposed to be. What's especially impressive about Verano is that it's a compact car.
Hooray! at last General Motors is paying attention to wheels. The new aluminum wheels are graceful 10-spokes, either standard or upgrade.
The trademark portholes appear, never mind that they're not holes. They couldn't go on the side of the fender basically because it's too shapely, so now they're almost horizontal, showing better to tall people.
The headlights are nice, clean, not overdone on the angularity. Even the grille looks okay, unmistakably Buick, not scaled down much. Except never mind again that it too is faux. Just solid black plastic, grooved and coated to make shiny silver vertical slats, not a single peek through to the radiator. Air comes in through invisible black mesh (black or chocolate paint) under the bumper. Grilles are no longer grilles, they've turned into emblems.
The long chrome eyebrows extending way past the taillights, a creative use of chrome, gives the rear end a face, a character, with those mean eyes. The rear fascia is clean, and doesn't detract, though one tester found it bland. One small understated tailpipe. A dark color, like the elegant chocolate (Mocha Bronze Metallic), enhances the lines. In lighter shades, such as the pearlescent White Diamond Tricoat, it looks a bit dated from the rear.
Chrome trim around the window line. Behind the short C pillar there's a small rear quarter-window, more visible from the inside than the outside, on account of being blacked out. It has chrome door handles rather than clean body-colored, but that might be expecting too much. It's a Buick, make no apologies.
The seats offer the kind of bolstering that the cornering ability (we'll get to that) demands. There isn't anything old-man-like about them. The seats were designed from scratch for the Verano, after about 1000 hours of seat time by testers, from large men to small women. Even with all that input and compromise, we'll be darned, they came up with something that's way comfortable and supportive and sporty.
The leather in the Verano Leather model looks real classy in brown, although it's not the richest leather we've ever felt, but what do you want for a $26,000 car that gives you so much else, including a Bose sound system? In the lighter shades it didn't look rich but it didn't look bad.
The cloth seats that come standard are rugged, nothing old-lady-like about them. In fact the cloth is so rugged it's a bit coarse, and over long distances you might wish for leather.
The interior of the base cloth Verano is as nice as the Leather one, for the most part. Graceful grab handles come in a sweet satin bronze with the brown leather interior, so does trim on the doors and center stack; otherwise it's satin aluminum or wood. All the shapes inside are right, especially the center stack with its powerful arc like a big wave, toward the dashboard. The interior materials used for the dash, steering wheel, and some of the door trim is mediocre, average for the class, and looks like hard plastic in places.
The tachometer and speedometer are gorgeous, elegant in ice blue and easy to read. Digital info between them, easy to read but less easy to scroll through, on the left stalk with push-and-twist movements and access tricks like menus and stuff. The center stack has good buttons and dials, no problem to manipulate or understand. Nice armrests including center armrest that slides forward, but the door pockets might be bigger. The start button is just another button on the center stack but we had no trouble finding it.
Rear legroom is scarce; a tall guy behind a tall guy won't work. The specs say 33.9 inches of rear-seat legroom, which is 2.3 inches less than the Mazda3 but 2.3 inches more than the Lexus IS 250. The back seats are good only for occasional use.
The trunk is a decent 15.2 cubic feet in the lesser model with a space-saving spare, but only 14.0 cubic feet in the upper model with a full-size spare and the Bose sound system, two features we would want on our Verano.
We didn't get a chance to test IntelliLink, but we got off on the wrong foot with the navigation system. Biggest street in town, North Springbrook, the nav wouldn't show us. Not under springbrook, not under north, only under n springbrook, third try, back to scratch each time. It makes you learn its language, and if you're lucky you won't keep coming up against these things.
OnStar is standard, so you can always press the OnStar button if you get lost and a real operator will offer to provide directions. More important, if you crash and set your airbag off, the OnStar operator will ask whether you're okay and will direct the rescue squad to your location if you don't respond.
We're pretty much blown away by the great cornering. We drove 250 miles over some great driving roads in the Tillamook Forest, just inland of the Oregon coast. The Verano loved it all and so did we.
One engine, one transmission, and for this kind of money it's great stuff, especially as it delivers 27.5 miles per gallon with the kind of spirited driving we did. The 2.4-liter Ecotec engine with direct injection and variable valve timing makes 180 horsepower and 171pound-feet of torque, and that's enough for lots of fun. It never frustrated us with lack of acceleration, and impressed us with how smooth and quiet quiet quiet it was.
Don't count on a lot of torque at 3000 rpm. Indeed, we found the response sluggish when merging from around a tight onramp into flying Jersey traffic. But the power comes on good once at 4000 rpm and willingly pulls to 6000. Redline is a screaming 6700 rpm.
Fun can't happen without the right transmission, and the new 6-speed automatic complements the package nicely, being smooth and intelligent. It upshifts sharply at 6000 rpm and beyond.
The rear suspension uses an uncommon Z-link, to center the rear axle in turns and help the car achieve balance. Bolted to a frame crossmember, the Z-link consists of a pivoting center link attached via joints at its ends, to links that go to the wheels. It works for us. We found a secret spot with 16 miles of relentless rhythmic curves (and no traffic!), and this Buick put a big smile on our face. The turn-in was so crisp and responsive! We used the firm brakes pretty hard, and they felt good. The upward motion of the suspension was too sharp at times, however.
The Buick Verano gets top scores for styling, transmission, cornering, comfort, engine and interior. Price and fuel economy make it a winner. We recommend considering it when shopping for a premium compact, such as a Lexus IS or Volvo S40.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive near Portland, Oregon.