It’s no secret that Buick and compact cars to date have been odd bedfellows, and that’s putting it kindly. Half baked, ill-conceived and poorly promoted cars like the Skyhawk, Somerset and the Skylark are bitter reminders that show the brand’s apparent disdain for the compact car. No surprise then that Buick waited a whole fifteen years after the last Skylark rolled off the line to bring us its latest compact, the Verano. When you think of Buick, what comes to mind? A large, roomy, quiet car, right? That’s generally been the accepted perception of the brand, but times have changed. Not everyone wants a large car. Buyers are more concerned about fuel economy as well, but at the same time don’t necessarily want to give up luxury features. The goal of the Verano is to take all that buyers like in a Buick, wrapped up in a smaller package.
Overall, that package is fairly handsome, but lacks distinction. From the front, the car is definitely a Buick with the brand’s signature grill, but from any other angle the Verano is perfectly anonymous. Buick’s non-functional portholes are there, but tacked on the hood, they do the car no favors. You get the sense an old Buick design manager piped in at the very last minute “Hey! We forgot the Buick portholes!” It looks like an afterthought, and a poor one at that. This is supposed to be a modern, contemporary Buick, and staring at those cheap plastic bits stuck to the hood that look like something out of a JC Whitney catalog really detract. Thick, frowning chrome ‘eyebrows’ above the rear tail lights are also a little overwrought. These are minor irritants, but the bottom line is the Verano overall is a pleasing, but utterly forgettable shape.
The good news is the cheesy schtick did not make into the Verano’s cabin. Here, driver and passengers will instantly recognize this as a modern Buick, just slightly smaller. Seats are soft and comfortable, and ready for a long jaunt on the highway. Some reviews complain about an over-abundance of buttons on the center stack, but after fighting Cadillac’s new CUE interface, the Verano’s controls were a breath of fresh air. It only takes a moment to figure out what all those buttons do, and you’re off. Gauges are clear and easy to read. Our test car, fitted with soft Cashmere colored leather lent a bright, airy interior. Darker contrasting color on the dash and door panels, coupled with tasteful chrome, silver and wood trim conspire to make a pleasant, premium experience. Fit and finish and quality of materials are right on par with other entry-level premium cars. While the Verano’s size make it best suited for small families or couples only, two qualities Buick buyers expect are present and accounted for: a very quiet cabin and a very generous sized trunk.
The Buick Verano is available with a choice of two engines, starting with a 2.4L four rated at 180hp, teamed to a six-speed automatic. Our test car was the Verano Turbo, featuring (guess what) a turbocharged four cylinder belting out a healthy 250hp. While a six-speed automatic is standard, a six-speed manual transmission is available as a no-cost option. That’s right, with the Regal GS, Buick now offers two cars available with a manual! The thought alone should warm the heart of any car enthusiast. Clutch and shifter were a cinch to use, and worked well in exploring the rev range. Buick claims a 0-60mph time of 6.2 seconds, and I believe them. Buick sees its competition as the Acura ILX and Lexus IS250, and from a power/acceleration point of view, the Verano simply leaves those cars in the dust. Yet for the speed and joy of shifting for yourself, the Verano never tries to acquit itself as a bona fide sports sedan. Even so, the little Buick is more than capable of taking corners at speed without making a fool of yourself.
While base Veranos start at just over $23,000USD, the well-equipped Turbo starts at $29,105. The long list of standard equipment includes a rear view camera, blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, power drivers seat, heated front seats, leather interior, keyless start, automatic dual zone climate control, nine speaker Bose audio with SiriusXM satellite radio, 7″ color touchscreen, Bluetooth and heated steering wheel and 18″ alloys. Options on our test car were limited to navigation and the Crystal Red paint finish. Including delivery, our Verano Turbo stickers at a very reasonable $31,110, which is a good value for the features and performance on tap here.
While Buick has finally proven they are perfectly capable of building a compact car that upholds the brand’s core values, what is more interesting is Buick’s entry into a small, but growing segment-the compact luxury car. Populated with cars like the Audi A3 and Acura ILX. these are cars that are answering the call of buyers demanding all the features available in larger luxury cars in a smaller, more fuel efficient package. The Verano Turbo is America’s first answer to that call, and in coming years I see more and more buyers adopting the mentality that size doesn’t always matter. This may not be the breakthrough car Buick seeks in reaching a younger audience, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. Still, a Buick that can hold its own against prestige brands from Japan and Germany that looks at home in the corporate parking lot and encourages you to take your favorite winding road on the way to the country club make for an interesting car.