Slick Verano hopes to change Buick's reputation
Aside from the odd hiccup such as the Grand National, Buick has built its reputation as a manufacturer of staid, solid, comfortable, and essentially unexciting sedans that might appeal to grandpa but aren’t going to stir the blood if you’re under 40. As I have tried to explain to my American colleagues on more than one occasion, Buick doesn’t have the same kind of resonance up here in the frozen north as it does in the States; Canadian buyers tend to favour models like the Civic, Corolla, VW Jetta, and red-hot Hyundai Elantra when they’re choosing a compact sedan. Buick’s biggest obstacle in Canada may be overcoming buyers’ prejudices when it comes time to buy.
But with the new Verano, General Motors is hoping to change all that. Older folks may still like it, but, according to Buick’s vehicle line director, Chuck Russell, so will younger buyers. “There are two different types of vehicles in the compact market,” he explains. “Civics, Corollas, the Chevy Cruze and so on, and then the luxury models. There is usually about a $10,000 price spread between them. We think the Verano bridges that gap.”
Russell claims that the “aspirational” models for the Verano were the Lexus IS250 and Buick Lacrosse, and the Verano bears a family resemblance to the latter model, which is probably a good thing. This is a tidily styled four-door sedan, pleasing to the eye and very contemporary looking.
Built on the same basic platform as the Chevy Cruze, the Verano is powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine only. This is the ubiquitous Ecotec unit and, in this configuration, is rated at 180 horsepower. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission only, and Buick is claiming fuel economy of 9.3 litres per 100 kilometres in the city, and 6.4 on the highway. This is not the top of the heap—the four-cylinder Camry has 9.0 and 6.0 respectively—but reasonable nonetheless. The Verano also has E85 capability, which means it will run on ethanol fuel—if you can find it.
Without stating the obvious, the Verano is not a pavement-scorner. By the company’s own admission, performance was not at the top of the list of priorities during the R & D process and it’ll leap from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in about nine seconds. “This is not a ’66 Corvette Stingray,” concedes Russell. “We like to call it a ‘comfortable fortress of solitude’ ”.
To that end, Buick has spent considerable amounts of time and energy making this a welcoming and comfortable car to spend time in. Sound-deadening is impressive, with things like a five-layer headliner, liquid sound-deadener, isolated brake and fuel lines, and sound-absorbing foam used throughout the car. The result is one of the quietest models in this category, and certainly better in this respect than, say, the Honda Accord. I’ve driven this car on a variety of road surfaces, including that harsh gravel/asphalt aggregate used throughout the U.S., and the Verano never loses its composure. If you want a quiet placid ride, this could be the one for you.
And if you’re a younger buyer and want to be plugged in and online, the Verano has a plethora of electronic modcons, including OnStar, Bluetooth, and Stitcher radio. Briefly, this latter feature is a media service that provides audio content, such as talk radio and sports, and can be linked to your mobile phone. Unfortunately, one of Stitcher’s content providers is Fox Radio, so that may give you an idea of what to expect from this particular service. An audio-command navi system is also available. To quote Russell again: “The Verano keeps the ‘white noise’ to a minimum and at the end of the work day, the decompression process should start in your car.”
A word about the Verano’s handling. Suspension is handled by MacPherson struts up front and a “Z-link” arrangement in back with ABS as standard equipment. In a nutshell, it was a pleasant surprise. No wallowing in the corners or lurching through the turns. Potholes are nicely absorbed and the car has a good sense of balance. Steering is a trifle vague and feedback could be a little better, but, for the market it’s aimed at, the Verano is right on target. For its under-$23,000 starting price, the Verano has all the basics. Climate control, electronic parking brake, push-button start, one-touch up-and-down power windows, and steering-wheel-located radio controls all come standard, and you can order things like a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, leather interior, larger 18-inch wheels and tires, and GM’s IntelliLink system, which allows you to access its various electronic features verbally.
The Verano is a fundamentally sound car with a lot going for it, but it’s still a Buick, and to many people that conjures up visions of the Roadmaster, Rendezvous, Century, and Park Avenue. What can I say? My father drives a Buick.