NAIAS Preview: 2012 Buick Verano
By Charles Krome
Buick will venture into the compact luxury segment this year by introducing the 2012 Verano, which is slated to make its public debut at the coming North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The Verano sits atop the same platform underpinning the Chevrolet Cruze, but wears all-new sheet metal that is right in line with that of the slightly larger Buick Regal. It’s a sleek, sculpted appearance, with a bold Buick waterfall grille and some subtle but interesting character work on the flanks. The view from the rear, on the other hand, is notably awkward. The chrome accents over the tail lamps, combined with a rear bumper that extends well beyond the end of the trunk, give the rear of the Verano the “face” of an angry robot with a severe underbite.
Things are better on the inside—at least in the photos—where there appears to be a distinctly driver-oriented cockpit that benefits from a nice use of wood trim. I particularly like those accents on the sides of the center stack and the front-door pulls. The press materials indicate the Verano also will boast all the usual high-tech touches, including ambient lighting, a premium setup and a touch-screen nav system, and it seems like the brand is once again pumping up the volume around its “quiet tuning” technologies.
Buick claims that quiet tuning, its comprehensive approach to reducing in-cabin road noise, makes the Verano “the quietest compact sedan on the road—quieter than many midsize and full-size cars.” It’s a strategy the brand has been playing with for over a decade now, and although it hasn’t seemed to gain much traction with customers, it does do the job well, perhaps even too well. Some reviewers have claimed that today’s Buick’s end up blocking out the kind of “normal” noise that keeps drivers aware of surrounding road conditions.
Motivation for the Verano will initially be limited to GM’s proven 2.4-liter Ecotec I4, tuned to deliver 177 hp/170 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. That’s a bit less power than in the starter models of the Regal and LaCrosse, but it should deliver better performance because the Verano will be lighter on its feet that its stablemates. Buick is currently quoting a 0-60 time of 8 seconds here, to go with expected EPA ratings of 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway.
A second mill, a “2.0L turbo engine,” will come later. This is surely the same engine in the Regal Turbo, and if Buick follows the same pattern here as with the 2.4-liter powerplant, it will deliver a few fewer ponies and pound-feet of twist in the Verano, but should make for relatively brisker acceleration in the smaller car.
And make no mistake, this focus on performance is a key part of Buick’s plans for Verano (and the rest of its lineup). The new compact also gets a nifty new suspension with MacPherson struts up front and a Watts Z-link design in the back. Per Buick, this rear suspension setup “helps center the rear axle during cornering, which helps keep the Verano’s handling responses symmetrical on both left-hand and right-hand turns. The linkage’s capability to center the axle during cornering delivers a more-balanced driving experience because the rear suspension better follows the lead of the front suspension.”
Now, the Verano will no doubt catch some heat for being built on the Cruze’s platform, but that’s really not fair. There’s sometimes a fine line between platform sharing and badge engineering, but all evidence indicates we’re looking at an example of the former, not the latter. And remember, one of its key competitors, according to Buick, is the Audi A3, and that sits on the same platform as the VW Golf. (For what it’s worth, the brand calls out the Lexus IS 250 as the other top Verano target.)
The bigger issues will be whether the Verano’s front-wheel-drive setup is going to turn off some enthusiasts, and how the baby Buick will match up against the Regal. Those vehicles will be awfully close in size, looks, fuel efficiency and power, with not too much left to distinguish the two.
The answer could lie in their MSRPs: The Regal starts at $26,245, so the price of admission to the Verano easily could slip into the $23,000 range. If that happens, the Verano should garner plenty of interest. Whether it starts to undercut the premium positioning of the Buick brand at that price point, however, will be a different story.