Thursday, November 17, 2011

The 2012 Buick Verano: The Brand's Newest Upscale Compact Sedan (First Drive)

What’s New: It’s been a while since Buick offered a luxury compact sedan. The last time Buick was a player in the compact segment was back in the eighties with the Buick Somerset.

Models/MSRP Range:


Seating Capacity: 5

Standard Equipment: 18-inch wheels; dual zone automatic climate control; a sliding front center armrest; steering wheel radio controls; tilt/telescopic steering wheel; a remote starter system; an electronic parking brake; manual operated cloth (front) seats; and fog lights

Standard Safety Features: 10 airbags; a collapsible gas pedal; GM’s electronic stability control system; a tire pressure monitoring system

Standard Audio System: a 6-speaker AM/FM/Sirius XM stereo with MP3 CD player, USB and AUX port, IntelliLink

Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty: 4 years or 50,000 miles

Battery Warranty: 5 years or 100,000 miles

Bluetooth Compatibility: Yes.

USB/iPod Port:Yes.

Standard Engine/Horsepower: 2.4-liter/180-hp (This is the same 4-cylinder engine found in the base Regal.)

Recommended Fuel: Unleaded

Standard Fuel Mileage: GM is estimating 31 mpg on the highway. (However, we’re still awaiting the official test results from NHTSA.)

What Makes This A Buick: The all-new Verano mimics larger Buicks by offering ice-blue ambient lighting like what’s found in the interior cabin of the upscale LaCrosse to the brand’s signature chrome waterfall grille and portholes. 

Why Buick Decided On The Verano: The 2012 Buick Verano is the latest addition to line up. As the brand’s sales continue to rise, the folks from Buick saw an opportunity to jump into the compact premium segment with the all-new Verano, which is based off the same platform as the hot-selling Chevy Cruze. The Verano is indirectly targeting several imports: Lexus' IS, Acura's TSX and Infiniti's G25. Now the folks from Buick do realize that it may be a stretch to go head-to-head with the noted imported competitors, but on the other hand the upscale Buick LaCrosse has given the Lexus ES a run for its money as it relates to price, ride and luxury amenities. So maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to judge a book by its cover.

Now Buick has been down this road before with the Somerset, which was also a compact sedan, in the late eighties. Unlike in the eighties, this vehicle offers both a comfortable ride and the brand’s signature Quiet Tuned interior, which includes sound-absorbing material and thicker acoustic laminated glass to create a near luxury car quiet-like interior.

Buick hopes to capture folks who have no need for a big luxury vehicle, but is willing to sacrifice size without compromising luxury amenities. The Verano, depending on the model, will offer such features as a push-button keyless starter; an infotainment system which allows one to sync smatphones to Pandora and iHeart; a 9-speaker audio system; a rear audible back up alert system; a heated steering wheel and a navigation system.

Cons: Buick is hoping that consumers are willing to paying in the low to high $20k range for a premium class compact. In fact, pricing for the base Verano bumps up against the high-end Cruze which is equipped with leather. However, the Chevy lacks the longer bumper-to-bumper warranty, the additional horsepower this 4-cylinder vehicle provides, the Quiet-Tuned features to minimize the noise level, a heated steering wheel and super comfortable front seats the engineers and the marketing team are touting about the Verano. So, the question Buick faces, Will consumers cross-shop the Chevy and the Buick or will both vehicles lure in a different buyer profile?

Also unlike many of its indirect competitors, we were somewhat disappointed that the Verano lacked a keyless sensor pad which allows one to open the trunk without the use of a key. Moreover, the vehicle lacked a back-up camera and a power recliner for the power-operated leather seating package

The Verdict: During our brief stint behind the wheel of the Verano while cruising the streets of New York City and the back roads of Connecticut we found the brand’s latest entry into the compact market to be a welcome surprise. Although Buick has loaded this vehicle up with a lot of features, we’re wondering if consumers will be willing to pay in the mid to high $20k range for a compact or will they step-up to the sportier, but snug-fitting Regal. Furthermore, will young import buyers who typically consider a Lexus or Infiniti be willing to consider Buick’s newest arrival?

Overall, we found that the snug fitting Verano handled well, while providing an above average ride. We look forward to a more extensive test drive once the vehicle arrives in Atlanta.

Possibilities for Verano: Could GM turn this into a hybrid or an electric vehicle? There is a possibility. 

Availability: Now.

Indirect Competition: Acura TSX, Infiniti G25 and Lexus IS

Ven Lai is one of the creative designers for the interior of the Buick Verano.

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