December 3, 2012
Managing Editor - CheersandGears.com
It is Buick Week here at Cheers and Gears this week and each day we will be featuring an article about one of the new Buicks. We start off with Buick's re-entry to the compact segment, the 2013 Buick Verano.
Buick has dabbled in the compact sedan market off and on since the 1960’s. After an initially successful run with the Special/Skylark in 1961, Buick’s compacts quickly grew in size and out of that segment of being true compact cars. In the mid 1960’s, Buick began importing Opels from Germany to sell as a captive, compact Buick-Opel sub-brand. The exchange rate between the Dollar and the Mark conspired with some questionable engineering to keep Opel’s sales low in the US. With the Opel’s failure to catch on, by the end of the 1970s Buick returned to American built, badge-engineered compacts that were shared with nearly every division inside of GM. Buick has technically not sold a car in the compact sedan class since the J-body Skyhawk went out of production in 1989.
The 2013 Verano rides on GM’s Delta II compact car platform. There is an instinctual reaction in North America to call the Verano a Buick re-badged Chevrolet Cruze and while the Cruze is a fine compact in its own right, this would be inaccurate. For their new entry to the compact market, Buick went back to its history with Opel and as such, the Buick Verano is a much closer relation to the Opel Astra sedan developed and sold in Europe than it is to the Korean developed Chevy Cruze.
Is there really such a thing as a compact luxury car?
Inside, however, is where Buick makes its best case yet for a premium car in the compact class. Decked out in a handsome two tone design, the Verano looks the part of a high end luxury car. Plush yet supportive leather seats are an excellent place to spend some hours driving. Finding a comfortable seating position was easy, though I am disappointed that a “premium” car does not have a power seat recline. Front passengers are even more disappointed that they have no power seat at all. In front of the driver is a fairly standard GM steering wheel with all of the familiar controls located at your thumb tips. The gauges glow in indigo blue that has become a bit of a Buick trademark, though the font size of the numbers is a bit small. The engine start/stop button is not in the standard place on the dash, but rather at the top left of the center instrument panel. Even after a week of driving the Verano, I had to think about which button to push to start it up.
The HVAC controls are simple enough to operate, but the infotainment system can get a little confusing as sometimes your instinct is to use the hardware buttons and sometimes to use the touch screen. This Verano came with the upgraded Bose 9-speaker sound system and to be honest, considering the $595 up-charge I wasn’t very impressed as it doesn't seem to offer much depth or clarity over the standard GM systems I'm used to.
On our return trip, I was fairly well exhausted and asked my partner, who hates driving and simply doesn’t understand what us car guys are going on about, to drive at least the first half of the trip and then we could switch over. At the half-way point, he wouldn’t give the Verano back! By the time we made it to Pittsburgh, he decided he wanted one.
The trunk is deep, with a wide opening for easy access, though you must be mindful of the gooseneck trunk lid supports so they don’t crush your luggage. I did feel that having the backs of the speakers exposed and so visible in the trunk was a glaring omission in the level of finish on this car.
But does it have Buick power?
Well yes and no. Buick opted for the tried and true 2.4 liter direct injected 4-cylinder producing 180 horsepower at 6700 rpm and 171 lb-ft of torque at 4900 rpm. The gearing in the 6-speed automatic is set up to give you spritely starts and an adequate amount of passing power on the highway. Darting around town can be quite sporty feeling, but try passing on an uphill climb with a full load of passengers and luggage and the Verano gets a bit breathless. You’ll pay for that sporty low-end gearing at the pump with a mediocre 21mpg city EPA rating and an unimpressive 32mpg highway. There are larger vehicles with more power that can beat those figures. On the return of our 367 mile trip, we averaged 27.9mpg with 4 passengers and a full trunk. Calling on its Germanic roots, the Verano handles very well for a front wheel drive compact sedan. While it is tuned for a comfortable ride, it leaves plenty of firmness intact for cornering and overall responsiveness.
Has Buick hit the mark in the premium compact market?
As far as I’m concerned, the answer is a resounding yes. Buick has been absent from this segment since 1989 but has produced a car that has a premium feel to it and with a price tag starting at just $23,080. For your $23,000 and change, you leave the dealership with a car that acts and feels like a much more expensive model.
But no need to take my word for it, Buick went from selling zero compacts per month to selling 3,500 Veranos per month in less than a year. Total sales for 2012 as of November 30th are 36,222. The Acura ILX (1,529/month - 7,658 Jan-Nov) and Audi A3 (400/month - 6,808 Jan-Nov), the Verano's closest competition, aren’t even close.
Be sure to stop back tomorrow for a First Drive of the 2013 Buick Enclave.
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Comfortable front seats
Good rear leg room for a compact
Front license plate space
No power front passenger set, not even an option
No power driver seat recline
Disclaimer: Buick provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gasoline.
Year - 2013
Make – Buick
Model – Verano
Trim – Leather Group with Nav
Engine – 2.4L DOHC 16-Valve Inline-Four
Driveline – Front Wheel Drive, 6-speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM – 180 HP (@ 6,700 RPM)
Torque @ RPM – 171 lb-ft (@ 4,900 RPM)
Fuel Economy: City/Highway - 21/32
Curb Weight – 3,300 lbs
Base Price - $23,080
As Tested Price - $27,550* (not including $885 destination charge)